By: James Bwala

James Bwala reports the activities of Borno State government targeted at scaling down desert encroachment.

Borno State has an area of 69,436 sq km, lying roughly within latitude 110N and longitude 113.50E and is one of the largest in the federation in terms of landmass. The state occupies the greater part of the Chad basin located in the Northeastern corner of Nigeria and shares border with the republic of Niger to the North, Chad to the North-East and Cameroun to the East. Within the country, its neighbours are Adamawa to the South, Yobe to the West and Bauchi to the South West. Based on the 1991 provisional census figure, Borno State has a population density of approximately 38 inhabitants per square kilometre. There are two major vegetation zones in the state; the Sahel in the north with severe desert encroachment covering most of the Chad basin area and the Sudan savannah in the south, which consists of shrubby vegetation interspersed with tall trees.

The gravity of desert encroachment and soil erosion particularly in the northern part of Borno is becoming a source of concern to the people and indicates the fact that the people of the state are facing not only problems of environment in which people are living in fear of any natural disaster. Statistics have shown that desert is encroaching with about 20 to 30 kilometres annually or more than that in contrast to 10 years back, when it was far less.

Nigerian Tribune gathered that over 154,725 people have lost their farmlands and more that number were rendered homeless, as result of such disaster within seven years of assessment in five states according to experts’ reports. The story of model villages in some local governments in some states of the federation is still fresh in most of the affected communities. In both Borno and Yobe states, where lives and property worth millions of naira were lost to desertification and erosion in the past, the people are still living with the pains of their loss.

Environmental changes and desert encroachment is one of the major problems affecting the people of Borno State, especially those who live in the northern parts of the state. Speaking on its plans against desert encroachment, the Borno State government recently said it would plant two million trees across the state in order to check desert encroachment. The state Commissioner for Environment, Alhaji Mustapha Hassan, told journalists that the tree planting exercise would empower rural farmers so that they could generate income from the trees.

Hassan said that the state government would soon procure the seedlings which would comprise economic and non-economic trees and that the establishment of orchards in all parts of the state would be encouraged to further accelerate the programme. According to him, government intends to use the programme to encourage farmers and individuals to plant trees as part of efforts to make the environment more conducive for human habitation.

“What we are facing in terms of desertification can be traced to the neglect of the past when individuals were allowed to fell trees without replacement,” he lamented. He advised against indiscriminate felling of tress and urged the people to support the government initiative of planting new trees for the overall good of the populace.

Nigerian Tribune also reports that the aforestation programme initiated by past governments at national level in the area of tree planting has only brought temporary measures in curtailing desert encroachment by getting 5.7 million seedlings to 750 villages of the six most affected states including Borno. There are indications that not more than 25 per cent of the project has succeeded in the targeted areas, this is due to untimely death of the trees, neglect from agencies responsible; or destruction by animals on such shelters-belts.

This problem is completely different from the one in Borno State, where some parts of the farmlands and roads are covered by sand dunes. Nigerian Tribune observed that not much is being done apart from age long traditional tree-planting exercise that always ends with providing animals with their new grazing area, despite huge amount of funds being spent, as there was no time that plants had grown to solve the problems of desert encroachment or yielded any results for those living in the areas most affected.

The menace is spreading like a bush fire, it is imperative to realize the danger posed to the lives of the people, and it is expected that government should stop playing politics with the menace and come out to salvage the people from the danger of desert encroachment.

Speaking on ways to fight desert encroachment, Governor Kashim Shettima said that his administration is embarking on an aggressive tree-planting campaign in its bid to tackle the problem of desert encroachment in the state.

“So far, we have been able to procure about 400 kilogramme of high quality gum Arabic seedlings from Sudan. My Commissioner for Agriculture and Environment recently went to Sudan and procured these seedlings, and right now in our custody, we have started raising them, in addition to other ones we acquire from Kazaure. We are doing this because of the economic importance attached to it. If countries like Sudan can earn as much as 200,000 dollars per annum from the export of gum Arabic, I see no reason why we cannot replicate such gesture in our own part of the world; after all, we are in the same zone. So, I can assure you that in the next cropping season, we hope to plant 20 million gum Arabic trees in Borno State.

“In terms of power generation, Jatropha is a miracle tree. It has the capacity to give us as much as 30 to 40 per cent oil content per seed, and we intend to use Jatropha to fight desertification and deforestation. We also want to use it to fight poverty, create employment opportunities for our people and the bi-products from the excretion of the oil can be used for fertilizer. So in a nutshell, we want to use Jatropha to generate gas/diesel that we are going to use for our power-plant in New-Marte, which has the capacity to generate over 36 megawatts of electricity.”

He reassured that in the next raining season, government would plant 20 million gum Arabic seedlings. He added that Jatropha would be test-run in order to see its adaptability in the area.

“I was made to understand that Jatropha can survive in any terrain, and one of the good things in the technology and extraction of Jatropha is that it is not costly, as it will only cost us not more than $50,000 to procure the machine. I see no reason why we cannot explore that option of fighting desertification as well as producing bio-diesel in our state. We are going to buy all the seedlings in the farms of Admiral Murtala Nyako, so Insha Allah, in the next cropping season, a lot of environmental activities will take place in the state,” he explained. The governor also said that his government had procured 25 compacting machines/trucks for use in collecting wastes from our urban centres.

“Plans are in the pipelines in the next two weeks to train the personnel that will man these trucks, and they will soon swing into action. We have also procured the containers that will keep separate items that can be used as measures, and I can assure you that very soon we will swing into action and our compactors will start working, especially in metropolitan areas of Maiduguri, Jere, Bama, Biu and Gwoza. The only thing that is holding us back for the past couple of months has to do with the security challenges we are facing, but I believe that tough times never last forever, and so, is a temporary eclipse that by the special grace of God, we shall get out of very soon, and these compactors will swing into action in Maiduguri, Bama, Biu, Jere, Gwoza and probably Monguno, as these are some of the major cities we have in Borno State,” he added.

Talk is cheap, the governor would always say, and while past governments in Borno State were busy talking, sand dunes continued to force people to abandon their houses, farmlands and historical places, to migrate into other place completely, because they have lost all their property to sand dunes.

It is hoped that Governor Shettima would remain focused on his promises as it is imperative for government to realize that beautification of township; construction of roads in cities would not benefit the masses who are battling with desert encroachment.