The Lake Chad region has been bedevilled with many challenges over the years. This location has been the site of severe violent encounters perpetrated, especially by the Boko Haram sect.
In recent times, the front burner issue is the intense fight between farmers and herders in the area. The basin’s economic potentials attracted herders from other ecological zones in Chad, Niger, and Cameroon to settle in the hinterlands around it.
Nevertheless, conflict between freshly arrived herders and their host farmers became prevalent, resulting in several deaths and mass destruction. These clashes are becoming as lethal as the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast, with an estimated death toll of almost 2,500 people in 2016.
The clashes have not only worsened the country’s security challenges, but they have also shown a significant potential to exacerbate the food crisis in Nigeria and other nations.
The dispute stems from herders being forced to migrate south due to drought from their traditional grazing lands, largely in Nigeria’s northeast.
Lake Chad, which was formerly the world’s sixth largest lake, providing freshwater to over 40 million people in Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, began to decline in the 1960s owing to changing climate trends.
According to the Nigerian government, the lake has shrunk in size from 22,000 square kilometers in the 1960s to less than 1,500 square kilometers, and it may even dry up entirely within 20 years.
As the lake dwindles, herders are forced to look for other pastures and water supplies for their cattle, resulting in intrusion on communities and farmlands.
Conflicts over crop damage and cattle theft have erupted as a result of these intrusions, which have often devolved into violence. Religious radicals have exploited the dispute because the herders are primarily Muslim, while the farmers are primarily Christian in the middle-belt region.
In addition to these problems are environmental issues. Drought and desertification have degraded pastures, dried up many natural water sources across this location, and forced large numbers of herders to migrate southwards in search of grassland and water for their herds. All these have made agriculture an unpleasant endeavour, and has disrupted the source of livelihood of most of the populace.
According to the Minister of Environment, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, it is projected that about 35% of the total land area of Nigeria, which include the dry lands zones lying between Latitude 10oN and 14oN, is threatened by desertification.
He claimed that Lake Chad, which is located in an extremely dry region, has lost nearly 90% of its water over the years, making farming in the basin undesirable.
Rapid population growth, increased demand for energy, food, fibre, and other resources places great strain on limited land resources, resulting in resource degradation and depletion, while increasing the threat to food and water security, livelihood, and life sustainability. It also encourages biodiversity loss, forced migration, especially with resource-use conflicts, making the community more prone to climate change impacts.
In view of these problems, the Minister of Environment Dr. Mahmood Abubakar, expounded that the Federal Government has resolved to resuscitate Lake Chad in an attempt to further revive agriculture in the area. He made this known when he led the Ministry’s management and staff to celebrate this year’s “World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought”, at Bwari Area Council of the FCT.
According to the Minister, agriculture is no longer practiced in the Nigerian side of the Lake Chad basin. Therefore, the ministry’s responsibility as an agency of the Nigerian government is to make sure that it regains what the nation had lost in terms of water volume.
This limitation has created huge unemployment among the people and had negatively affected the people’s capacity to get back their land which was lost due to the speedy disappearance of the lake.
The Minister explained that the FG plans to afforest the lake’s perimeter in order to regulate the basin. According to him, President Muhammadu Buhari has already given his agency marching orders to intensify forestation specifically, in the country’s five northern border states of Sokoto, Jigawa, Yobe, Borno, and Katsina.
He claimed that land deterioration and desertification, which resulted in the loss of livelihoods, had caused young people to migrate from the north to the south. To reduce migration, it is necessary to revitalise the area so that farmers can return to their holdings.
The Ministry has already succeeded in spreading awareness among residents in these dry areas that small-scale irrigated agriculture can be used to combat degradation, aridity, and barren soil.
The Nigerian government has equally made significant efforts to combat the threat of desertification by developing policies and strengthening institutional and legislative capacities.
These policies include the National Policy on Drought and Desertification, National Drought Plan, and implementation of a number of other programmes and projects such as the Sand Dune Stabilisation, as well as the development of shelterbelts and wind brakes.
Others include the establishment of woodlots, drought mitigation structures, and, lately, the Great Green Wall initiative, which includes planting trees from the west coast of the Sahara Desert to the east coast. This would stop the desert from moving southward and making it more productive, among other benefits accrued to these programmes and initiatives.