…Insists FG ignoring actual problem and solution with RUGA programme
…Says in other countries, herdsmen gag cattle when passing farmlands
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta
FOUNDER of Fight Against Desert Encroachment, FADE, Africa and Conqueror of Sahara Desert, Dr. Newton Jibunoh, has revealed that the people of Makoda community, Danbata Local Government Area, Kano State, built a hut for him after his nongovernmental organization reclaimed the town from desertification between 2000 and 2006.
Jibunoh, whose organization, some years back, assisted Mauritania in a land reclamation project using the Makoda model and Agadez in Niger Republic to develop surface irrigation, water supply and sustainable farming systems, told Saturday Vanguard, said the Federal Government has still not drawn up a feasible action plan to tackle desertification decimating some areas in the north..
He noted that at the time, he came in to reclaim lands in Makoda, the menacing desert had eaten up farmlands, water was scarce and people were leaving with their animals heading towards the South, “yet we needed the people to say to nurture the young plants until they take roots.”
He also disclosed that in other countries where cattle also move through farmlands, they muzzle their mouths not to feed along the way contrary to the obtainable practice in the country where herdsmen graze the farm crops of other people.
Recalling his Makoda adventure, the adventurist and environmentalist asserted, “The Makoda community in Kano state was one of the worst areas in the city suffering the effects of desertification. This was the reason the State government recommended it for us to use as a pilot study.”
“Their lands were barren; farmers were migrating since they had lost their only source of income; the only school in the community was experiencing near zero attendance, as parents needed all hands on deck to till the land and were not making enough yield to generate income to pay for their fees.
“In November 2003, FADE visited the community with the officials of Ministry of Environment from the state and met with the local leaders and groups to explain what we wanted to do. Simply put for trees to survive in the desert, the species must be right for the environment; there must be water and people to nurture the trees.
“Since the farmlands were failing and water was a very scarce resource in Makoda, the people were leaving with their animals heading towards the South. Yet I needed the people to stay to nurture the young plants until they take roots.
“With a promise to restore the vegetation in the community, we started by sinking a borehole that would not only serve the trees we plan to plant but could be used by the people to meet their daily needs. We built a water reservoir as well to store the water. Next was to begin the land reclamation exercise.
“We brought in seedlings of Neem trees from Kano city after International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, IITA, had given us the advice on what plants to use. Having suffered a considerable amount of mortality, we quickly learned that we could mix some local herbs with cow dungs to fight termite infestation. We involved the community from the very beginning. We sourced the farm workers for land preparation from Makoda.
“Believing that the youth are essential for the advocacy on climate change and desertification, I enlisted the participation of Secondary School students from neighbouring towns
“Using economic incentives in form of farming potentials and processing of the Neem seeds, we also enlisted the participation of the women folks,” he said.
According to him, “FADE discovered that mixing woodlots and wind-breakers with fruit trees and crops provide the right incentives when backed with adequate water supply for communities to thrive.”
“Therefore, the Makoda Wall of Trees project was built around this philosophy, providing training in cottage industry for women as well. We were in Makoda for four to five years to ensure the trees started fruiting and the community could implement the same system we introduced to ensure the sustainability of the Wall of Trees project.”
“FADE went further by replicating this project in 15 schools in a competitive spirit that rewards the best school plantation with gifts of learning aids. This made it easy to spread the program across different communities. Makoda also served as a good example to help preach the gospel of climate change and how to combat it,” he added.
Fleeing villagers came back
So what is the situation in the community today and what nostalgia does it evoke in you today?
The elder statesman replied, “A good number of the farmers migrated back to the area because they could till the land again. With the help of the British Council, we refurbished the school with modern furniture and equipment; we also expanded the classrooms to accommodate the increased number of pupils.”
“The community started thriving as farmers were experiencing better yields, rainfall increased and the school that had less than 30 pupils in 2003 now had over 300 by 2006. Some of the women started to eke a living by turning the fruits and seeds from our trees into further finished products.
“The community built a hut for me as a way to show their appreciation and that always brings me great joy whenever I look at the pictures. In that hut, I hosted the deputy governor of the state as well as other dignitaries that came to visit the project. During my last visit to Makoda, they gave me many fruits to take back by the farmers as evidence of how well their farms were now doing,” he revealed.
Interventions in Niger, Mauritania
On FADE’s intervention in some African countries, he confirmed that some African countries, indeed, sought assistance of the organization. “We carried out projects at Agadez in Niger Republic 2008 and 2010. It was development of surface irrigation, water supply and sustainable farming systems and in 2008, we did land reclamation in Mauritania (a similar model used in Makoda was replicated in Mauritania to help with issues of desertification in so areas).
On the success of the interventions in the three lead projects, he said, “The three pilot projects in Kano; Mauritania and Niger were fairly successful. The goal of reclaiming the land and improving the livelihood of the community was met in all three states.”
Commenting on his involvement with international bodies in checking desertification, he said: “Yes. We have been actively involved at all levels in checking desertification and desert encroachment. Through our various programmes, we have collaborated with national and international organizations to effectively increase the discourse around desertification and provide solutions to the issue.
Due to this, we have been invited to make presentations in the House of Commons, London; various embassies across the nations; and at numerous government functions.”
“FADE is also one of few African organizations to be accredited by United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, UNCCD and United Nations Development Programme, UNDP. This has enabled us participate fully for years in major international climate forums like COP and United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP.
“Our book, Bridging the Sahara which proffers solution to the untamed desert by building a Trans Sahara highway which will improve cross border trades, reduce desertification in frontline states and create job opportunities for many.
“We have also been engaged in a number of researches on desertification like the time I spent in Gobi, China learning about how the desert was tamed and turned into a city; same thing with Arizona and Nevada in United States,” he asserted.
Why is it that in other countries where individuals and groups rear cattle as family business, the activity does not generate the kind of furore witnessed in Nigeria?
Cattle rearing in other countries
“In other countries, where cattle also move through farmlands, they muzzle their mouths so they do not feed on the farmlands along the way. We also have well-established ranches in many developed countries so cattle would not need to move around from place to place.”
What is the progress so far on the agreement entered between Nigeria Society of Engineers, NSE and FADE to handle the threat of desertification to Africa? Saturday Vanguard asked.
NSE/FADE desertification partnership still in early stages
He said: “Unfortunately, the impact will not be felt for some time still. Anything to do with land reclamation, tree planting and the likes will take a long time, between 10 – 15 years. Now, we are still working on the early stages of securing the necessary partnerships across the 16 countries in Africa affected by desertification. This will not happen overnight but will require a sustained and concerted effort by all the stakeholders.”
My participation in govt committees
Asked why he did not demonstrate his knowhow in some pertinent committees that government appointed him in the past, Dr Jibunoh asserted, “I have been a member of a number of committees in the past as you have stated; they include The Shelter Belt Commission during Obasanjo’s Regime, Abuja Green Society and The Great Green Wall Board.”
“We did a lot with the Abuja Green Society as our mandate was to hold the parks in trust for the people of Abuja and develop parks, open spaces, tree corridors and recreational facilities in line with the original Abuja master plan.
“However, The Shelter Belt Commission was dissolved before anything could start. It looked great on paper but when it came down to executing our mandate, it became apparent that this was not to be. In the Abuja Green Society, the entire board resigned when after a couple of years due to certain objections we had with actions by some government quarters infringing on the society’s mandate.
“I was not even aware when the Great Green Wall’s board was dissolved and I was supposed to be a part of it. This happened even before we had started to implement any of the projects,” he stated.
Govt still wasting time with RUGA
The elder statesman expressed dissatisfaction with government’s effort so far to tackle desertification, saying, “For government to get it right, there has to be a forward looking plan that will push back the desert by carrying out various projects for the reclamation of the land, restoration of greenery and grazing fields as it was done in other places.”
“These are things that will take upward of five years so it ought to have started yesterday and the next best time to start is now. RUGA would not bring back the lost land or prevent further desertification of fertile land. It is not a solution to the issue of desertification and desert encroachment; it is an avoidance of the problem.”
He cautioned, “If the present fields become deserts tomorrow, where will they go to? RUGA in itself is not a solution to the land degradation problem facing the north. There is no quick fix when it comes to desertification.”
Would he clap for Senator Orji Kalu, who boasted recently that he started RUGA in the South during his tenure as governor?
Jibunoh said: “If I clap from where I am, he may not hear me. RUGA is only a temporary fix even if mutually accepted but farmers and the herders; it does not address the problem and will become unsustainable with time.”