June 17, 2024

Tackling desertification and drought


Today, June 17, 2024, is Desertification and Drought Day, an international day set aside by the United Nations to draw attention to desertification and drought, two of the most threatening geographical situations which breed misery among the world’s populations.

The day serves as a reminder for individuals, communities and governments to take action in order to combat these environmental challenges. The theme for this year is: “United for Land, Our Legacy, Our Future”. It underlines the interconnectedness of the people to their land and water resources and emphasises the problems that ensue from the ever-expanding human populations and shrinking arable land and water.

Desertification and drought can lead to reduced agricultural productivity, causing food scarcity and threatening the livelihoods of farmers and rural communities who depend on agriculture for their survival. This can result in increased poverty, migration and social unrest.

Desertification and drought can exacerbate competition for limited natural resources, such as water and grazing lands, leading to conflicts between different groups and communities. This can further strain intergroup relationships and escalate into larger-scale conflicts.

In Nigeria, increased desertification, coupled with poor governance and corruption, have combined to drive millions of people from the Sahel regions southwards in search of better lives. Also, many nomadic herder groups have taken up arms to attack farming communities with the intention of seizing their lands, while people who used to be farmers have also formed bandit gangs to terrorise many loosely-governed spaces in Northern Nigeria.

The main cause of desertification in Nigeria is linked to unhealthy traditional practices of cutting down trees for firewood and bush burning for agriculture and the hunt for bush meat. Also, the unregulated cutting down of trees in the rain forests and mangrove belts have denuded these areas, rapidly predisposing them to desertification.

To ameliorate this dangerous situation, there is a need for concerted action at universal, regional, country and community levels against desertification and drought. We must embrace sustainable land management, adopting practices such as agroforestry (cultivation of trees), terracing and soil conservation to prevent soil erosion. These can help restore degraded land and improve its productivity.

Adoption of water conservation and management techniques are vital. These include rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation among others. These can mitigate the impact of droughts on agricultural production and livelihoods.

We must aggressively engage in reforestation and afforestation programmes. Tree planting can help combat desertification, stabilise soils, conserve water and provide habitats for biodiversity. Focus must be on promoting the cultivation of native trees and plants.

Addressing climate change is crucial in combating desertification and drought. This can be done through reduction of greenhouse gases and energy sources and promotion of sustainable energy.

Unless we adopt the discipline required in reversing desertification and drought, we are headed towards a catastrophic breaking point.