Can the Great Green Wall Combat Desertification, Deteriorating Rural Economy and Improve Security In Northern Nigeria ? By Abdullahi Murtala and Fakhrriyyah Hashim

The historic Sand Red 14th century Kano City Walls were built to protect the inhabitants of the city of Kano against its adversaries just as the Great Green wall in Northern Nigeria is designed to protect the region against desert encroachment and desertification, as a part of the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel initiative to battle climate insecurity. The Great Green Wall programme involves the establishment of a greenbelt covering 1500 km from Arewa Dandi Local Government Area in Kebbi State to Abadam Local Government Area in Borno State. About 60 million drought resistant tree seedlings are expected to be planted in 38 communities using a flexible mosaic greenland concept.

The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel initiative was launched in 2007 as a pan African and sahelian game-changing initiative with the aim of serving as defensive shield against the invading Sahara desert. Its aim, to restore degraded landscapes and in the process transform millions of lives in one of the world’s poorest region. Once completed, the 8000km wall from Senegal in West Africa to Djibouti in East Africa will be the largest living human wonder and structure on the planet. It will boost food security and resilience to climate change whilst creating jobs for the many communities who live along its trail. In the process it will provide long term solutions to many urgent threats that plague the region-notably land degradation, drought, famine, deteriorating rural economy, conflict and climate migration.

In Nigeria, the Great Green wall programme, which began in Bachaka in Kebbi State isn’t only about afforestation, reforestation or establishment of a green wall of trees but a planned action towards  improving rural livelihoods and rural development, climate change resilience and adaptation in the eleven desertification and desert encroachment frontline states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara. Inhabitants of the  communities in these states are among the poorest and most vulnerable to climatic variability, their once arable land is no longer fertile and only sand lies where trees and water source used to flow. Forage for cattle to graze has become increasingly scarce giving rise to trends resulting in a deteriorating rural economy, climate and economic migration Instability and conflict .

With seasonal pastoralist migration becoming more permanent, coupled with other social stressors, incidents of violence between pastoralists and farmers have increased tremendously .According to a report released by the International Crisis Group in July 2018, the violence between Nigerian farmers and herders killed at least 1,300 people in the first half of 2018 – “about six times more civilian lives than the Boko Haram insurgency”. Smallholder farmers are also forced to migrate to new towns and cities in search of a new occupation while those remaining in desertificated land have become vulnerable to recruitment by various criminal groups.

Women and girls are the most vulnerable group in conflict ridden areas due to their susceptibility to gender based violence. The prevalence of farmer-herder crisis as a result of desertification, drought, loss of grazing routes and largely absence of governance to mitigate impacts of climate change results in an onslaught of family breadwinners, which are mainly men in the Sahel due to cultural dynamics. This leaves the women in precarious situations where they are left to fend for themselves in absence of the decision maker of the families in communities attacked, women are often kicked off their farmlands or have their herd forcefully taken away. The loss of income and livelihood from mounting impacts of climate change in the absence of their male relatives killed in conflict, puts women and girls at the risk of sexual and economic predation. Access to girl child education is heavily impacted which contributes to a greater cycle of poverty contributing to long term factors that impede development such as poor maternal health, child hawking and Almajiri concentration in Northern Nigeria. Furthermore, lack of inclusion imposes an economic and social disenfranchisement of women and girls posing as lasting effects of conflict due to weak post conflict resolution, peace building reconstruction and rehabilitation support.

The Great Green Wall includes framework for livelihood support projects, shelter belts, provision of enhanced wood stoves, fabricated and distributed to communities. The provision of alternative domestic energy through solar, wind and biogas micro plants, that help sustain the great green wall project, provide clean water for human consumption , livestock and farming. Restoring woodland and shrub-land through ecological restoration will contribute major gains to the ecosystem; climate regulation, carbon sequestration, forest resources, pollination, hydrological and nutrient cycles, as vegetation cover is important for reducing surface flows of water and improving infiltration of water and water storage in the soil.

The planting of economically important trees such as Gum Arabic, Baobab for restoration of degraded land will be encouraged in places like Bauchi, Jigawa and Sokoto states. Gum arabic is used as a binder in sweets, sodas, medicines and can be profitable for rural communities and government. In 2016, Nigeria generated a revenue of $43 million from exporting Gum Arabic. The Great Green Wall can be a vehicle for towards stability revamping of rural economy and improving standard of living through embedded social, economic, education, and development projects such as healthcare centers, vocational and technical schools and roads.

The Great Green Wall faces major challenges that continue to affect the effectiveness of the project. They include vandalism of installed and built facilities, weak land ownership laws such as the land use act, inability to protect forest reserves and trees due to weak conservation and tree protection laws,  lack of ownership of the Great Green Wall by local and state Governments. The success of the great green wall is heavily dependent on the level of support from the State Governments of affected states and ownership of the project by local communities, which is only achievable through improved engagement with communities, use of local language, culture and historical resources and knowledge to improve local resilience to climate change, participation and acceptability of the green wall project i.e through use of local engineering techniques which mostly depend on local resources and planting of indigenous local trees.

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