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How Drought and Desertification in Sahel Fuels Herders Farmers Crisis in Nigeria

Great Green Wall Project is the solution - Prof Oladipo

by Isaac Mintah
How Drought and Desertification in Sahel Fuels Herders Farmers Crisis in Nigeria

The Sahel is a sem-iarid region spanning western and north-central Africa, extending from Senegal eastward to Sudan. Sahel is a zone or strip of land which stretches for about 5000 kilometers in between the Desert and the Sudan Savannah of Africa .

It encompasses parts of Africa from the west to east parts including parts of northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, central Mali, northern Burkina Faso, the extreme south of Algeria, Niger, the far north of Nigeria, the extreme north of Cameroon and Central African Republic, central Chad, central and southern Sudan, the extreme north of South Sudan, Eritrea, and the extreme north of Ethiopia.

Environmental Hazards Facing Sahelian Countries

The Sahel region is facing the adverse effects of climate change . These changes have helped in many ways to degrade the soil, temperature and water availablity of countries in the Sahel .

Temperatures in the Sahel are on the rise. According to report by the United Nations Organization, the temperature of the Sahel is rising 1.5 times faster than the global average, and with current projections, it means that by 2030 temperatures could be well over 4 degrees Celsius higher than any part of the globe if nothing is done to curb the temperature increase.

If that happens, vegetation which are already dwindling in the region who be almost extinct while it would trigger drought .

Another climatic challenge facing the countries in the Sahel is the lack of adequate rainfall .

Just as the temperature is rising in the Sahel, the rainfall decreases. Rainy seasons are becoming shorter, more intense, and unpredictable, raising the risk of flash floods in what is otherwise one of the driest places in the world.

The combination of high temperature , drought and increasing sand storms in this belt have also led to increasing loss of stable lands in countries like Mali, Niger, Tchad Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Cameroo.The sand dunes are now on its way southward.

The dangers of sand dunes dust storms which are regular occurrence in this belt can not be underestimated , farmlands, grazing lands,oasis and lakes for fishing and agriculture have been decimated by the ravaging sand storms and dunes

On 23 March 2010, series of sandstorms hit Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and inland Sierra Leone. Another struck in southern Algeria, inland Mauritania, Mali and northern parts of Cote D Voire at the same time.


In Northern Mali, the Lake Figibin which is located in Timbuktu has almost dried up as sand dunes continues to eat up into the waters of the Figibin
According to Mamodu Oussamane, a fisherman who for the past 30 years fishes on the lake, ” I have stopped fishing because nearly all the waters of Figibin are gone .

Oussamane, further explained that, “the temperature of Timbuktu is over 50 degrees Celsius and that mango trees, oasis and waterbeds have all gone because of the heat,dryness and encroaching sand dunes”.

The fisherman further continued,

when the lake was at its peak, wheat, rice and other cereals are cultivated in huge amount but now, all the farmers have deserted the areas surrounding the lakes, fishermen like me have to look for another source of survival.

The little amount of water that is available is now controlled by Alquaeda and it’s affiliates.

In nearby community in Timbuktu, sand dunes have swallowed many houses as the phenomena inches closer to the South. Hama Abacrene,Mayor of Bintagoungou town lamented that sand dunes have swallowed most houses in the areas and that the phenomena is now threatening the only school in the town.

The only school located in this town is now been threatened by sand dunes .Already the dunes have swallowed up to two blocks.

If the situation persist, the school would be gone soon and the school has about 400 pupils .That means an entire generation would be lost , he added

As the drought bites harder in Northern Mali, water bodies such as oasis, wells and streams are getting dried or disappearing.Farmers and herders are engaged in bloody conflicts for water and land.
Moreover, armed groups such as Alquaeda and their affiliates have taken control of sources of water where there is no government presence, and they giving water to those willing to join their ranks .

According Alimatou Aamodou of Committee of Red Cross,
“The combination of armed conflicts and the effects of climate change is like a death sentence for the population of people living in that area.

She went on to add that locals often have to flee to neighbouring communities in search of water and sources of livelihoods resulting in more conflicts .
Still in Northern Mali, over 300,000 persons have fled their homes due to lack of water, increasing desertification and harassment by armed groups .
Most of those fleeing would go southwards to Niger Republic and many would eventually end up in Northern Nigeria .

According to Katch Ononuju, a Nigerian researcher, the ongoing conflicts between Hausas who are largely farmers and the Fulanis who are mainly herders have its origin in Mali .
He said that the conflicts between the Fulas and Doggon tribes in Mali had led to massive influx of herdsmen into Katsina, Sokoto and other places in the North .


Just like it’s northern neighbour, Niger Republic is bedecked with the problem of drought, high temperature, creeping sand dunes and it’s attendant problems .
And like it’s southern neighbour, Niamey has one highest birth rates in the world .

With a population of 24.2 million ranks number one in the world in term of birth rates and by 2050, the population of that country would have increase to increase to 65 million in 2050.

This pace of population growth grossly outstrips the country’s economic development, resulting in a decline in living standards and greater competition for resources.

Futhermore, adverse climate change effects such as desertification, flash floods and drought are leading to high levels of food insecurity and water scarcity.

Flash floods and droughts in Niger had in 2019 to 2020 caused a 12% decline in cereal

Secondly, being a major agrarian country, the adverse effects of climate change which led to food shortages have plunged around 83% of the population, or 17.8 million people in got food insecurity.

In addition, water shortages, lack of green vegetation for cattles have forced herders into neighbouring countries such as Chad , Cameroon or Nigeria .

Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, one third of the country’s territory, or over nine million hectares of once productive land has been degraded. Land degradation projects to expand by 360,000 hectares per year.

Farming is one of the main sources of income and employment for the country but as land becomes barren the ability to produce crops and raise livestock becomes difficult.

Widespread desertification puts increased strain on economic livelihoods and food production, resulting in low social outcomes, food insecurity and the forced migration of communities and eventual recruitment of affected persons into ranks of criminal gangs .
As the situation worsens in Burkina Faso, Alquaeda linked groups have made a land-grab for that country’s lucrative gold rich areas located in the Northern parts Burkina Faso.
A recent Reuters reports also indicated that these Alquaeda linked groups are also illegally mining gold in Niger Republic .

Burkina Faso is the fourth largest producer of gold in Africa with it’s worth at about $2 billion. That sector is now under threats by Alquaeda linked armed groups
There are fears that there is a close nexus between the terrorists in Burkina Faso, Niger Republic and Nigeria .
According to a 2019 report by Council on Foreign Affairs

“Islamist terrorist groups in northeast Burkina Faso are following a strategy of violence reminiscent in some ways of Boko Haram’s early days in Nigeria. The groups are attacking Protestant and Catholic churches, killing pastors, priests, and congregants, and also teachers in secular schools.


Nigeria is bordered in the North by three major Sahelian countries – Niger Republic by about 1,497km; the North-East if Nigeria borders Chad by about 87km; the eastern part borders Cameroon by about 1,600km, and the western part borders the Republic of Benin by about 773km.

According to Nigerian government officials, the borders of Nigeria and especially that with Niger and Chad Republic are very difficult to patrol .

Nigeria sits at crossroads which cattle from other countries: transhumance migrants from Cameroon, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad routinely pass through in search of better climate, pasture and more plentiful water. Though there are fewer than 100 official border crossings into the country, Abba Moro, former Minister for interior Affairs was quoted as saying that there were more than 1,499 illegal entry routes into the country as of 2013.

As the result of these circumstances, herders from Niger Republic, Mali, Tchad and Cameroon have been trooping in Nigeria in search of forages for their livestock thereby putting the scarce land resources under pressure.

These foreigners especially the nomadic herders engage cattle rustling, encroaching on farm lands causing farmers

Clashes between herdsmen and farmers have doubled in recent times and has also caused heavy bloodshed .

In the same way, foreigners from Guinea, Libya, Niger, Mali and Senegal have been found to have engaged in illegal activities in parts of Central Nigeria, notably Plateau, Nassarawa and Niger States,
where the illegal mining of solid minerals has gained much grounds, alongside illegal foreign currency exchange deals.

These set of people are also found in Zamfara, Sokoto and Kaduna where they carry out deadly activites that often bring local Fulanis who are mainly innocent in conflict the Hausas, Tivs Kataf and others

The New Reality

As climate change effects caused foreign nationals to migrate into Nigeria, the new reality on ground is that the cattle population in Nigeria which was about 9.2 million in 1981 has doubled to about 20 million in 2021 while the population of Nigeria has also increased to over 200 million .

These scenarios have led to the following, cities growing bigger and wider, in some cases into formerly designated cattle routes and reserves. Most of these routes which dated back to the 1950s, in line with colonial arrangements, have either been overrun or dominated by new human settlements – pushing herders further into contested territories

The influx of thousands of foreign herders into the country as earlier explained has also caused a lot of problems as their livestock encroached into farmlands deatroyng crops and putting farmers out of business

The two scenarios has put the nation on an edge , while most of the Fulani Herdsmen are seen as Muslims , their victims from the North Central, the Beroms, Tivs, Jukuns and Katafs are Christians .
As the move farther South, the mainly Christian South are also miffed about theur activities. Thus most Southern States in Nigeria have started implementing law that would curb the movement of Fulani Herdsmen Southwards.
Given the the happenings in 2021, where the Southern and Middle Belt parts of the country have expressed a kind of apathy towards the activities of the killer herdsmen and the reaction from Fulani leaders, iris obvious that if not checked , Nigeria may be heading to a bigger civil war .


Malam Tukur Mamu ( Dan Iya Fika) the publisher of Desert Herald Newspaper and Magazine who had been to the camps of the Herdsmen more than a dozen times in company of Sheik Ahmad Gumi said that military approach to the situation would not be the answer .He is of the opinion that the Herdsmen’s complaint of neglect and being victims of cattle rustling be addressed .

The Dan Iyan Fika also proposed that contacts be made with the bandits, negotiation and possibility of amnesty for the bandits be explored .He further that the education is the most vital for them to quit their evil ways .

The Federal Government, meanwhile, has taken only half-hearted measures. In 2018, it proposed Cattle Colonies and funded grazing settlements called Ruga across various states in the country. However all these measures were rejected by most state governors who fear that the Fulanis would use that to grab lands

As the climate crisis persists, the government has come up the National Livestock Transformation Plan, which aims to modernise the livestock sector through a series of phased interventions from 2018 to 2027. Ranches for breeding and processing will be created, and several pilot projects have already been established.

Nonetheless , this plan, too, is encountering difficulties. According to Khalid Salisu, a journalist in one of the pilot project regions, “It doesn’t serve the needs of cattle herders adequately. The herders in the ranches are struggling to find enough water and pastures to keep their herds alive during the dry season.”.

According to Alex Agbo, a public affairs analyst an environmental Journalist, the solutions to the problems of climate change in the Sahel lies with the implementation bit the Great Green Wall blue print

He explained,

The Great Green Wall” project is meant to plant an 8,000-kilometer line of trees meant to hold back the Sahara from moving towards the South .

Thus, if Nigeria fulfil its own project by planting trees and other vegetation, the problems of drought and desertification would be curbed

Agbo added that,

It is projected that by 2030, the Initiative aims to plant 100 million hectares of trees along the Sahel, the semiarid zone lining the desert’s southern edge. That completed tree line could as much as double rainfall within the Sahel and would also decrease average summer temperatures throughout much of northern Africa and into the.

Agbo’s assertion is supported by another environmentalist, Prof Emmanuel Oladipo.
The lecturer explained that the direct causes of desertification and arid land degradation stem mostly from drastic reduction or destruction of the perennial plant cover, particularly trees, and simplification of the vegetation structure.

Soil surface not protected by permanent vegetation becomes subject to: erosion by water and wind; crusting by raindrop splash and trampling by animals; salinization by evaporation; and water logging in topographic depressions since water is no longer extracted by permanent vegetation,” he added

He further explained that most of the government’s counter-desertification work is done through the National Agency for the Great Green Wall, an ambitious plan launched in 2007 to plant a 15-kilometre wide swathe of trees along 8,000 kilometres of the southern edge of the Sahara. More than 20 countries in the Sahel are involved, and some $8 billion has been mobilised for the initiative.

Despite the claims by the Federal Government that the Great Green Wall project is recording successes which include planting of 5 million diverse trees, forests, fruits, seedlings and hectares of tree belts, indications from frontline states bordering the Sahel showed that Federal Government bureaucracy is slowing down and in most cases eradicating the limited successes .

the planting of five million assorted forest and fruit tree seedlings, as well as hundreds of hectares of shelterbelts and community woods and orchards.

the planting of five million assorted forest and fruit tree seedlings, as well as hundreds of hectares of shelterbelts and community woods and orchards.

Apart from planting trees, Federal Government need to curb the increasing demands of charcoal which gotten from the felling of trees mainly in Northern Nigeria. So far, the use of charcoal accounts for about 50 percent of the nation’s primary energy consumption with rural communities accounting for over 32 percent.
It is also estimated that Nigerians burns about 32 cubic metres of charcoal yearly- thus is mainly in the northern parts of the country .

Alex Agbo believes that Federal Government funding of alternatives such as electric stoves, solar stoves and reduction in electricity tarrif and as well as cooking gas price would do much to reserve the trend.

Experts have also posited that the Federal Government embarks on effective border management control with the use of kinetic technology so that influx of foreign herders and terrorists be checkmated

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