It is time to give the environment the needed attention
Against the background that climate change and environmental degradation are having a significant impact on food and human security in our country, the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation last week hosted a public policy forum on desertification and deforestation in Nigeria.

Attended by the Environment Minister, Mrs Amina Mohammed, the Senate environment committee chairman, Senator Oluremi Tinubu and several other stakeholders, the aim of the session was to raise awareness about the impact of climate change on our country. But it was clear from what transpired that many Nigerians still do not understand how such issues impact their lives.

A quick take-away from the engagement is that accelerated desertification is threatening food supply in the Northern part of the country while rapid deforestation is shrinking agricultural productivity in the South.

Unfortunately, many key stakeholders are either unaware of the scale of the problem or have failed to make the connections between the growing human and food security issues and the creeping effects of climate change. This lack of awareness is hampering effective policy and process response to the issues of environment on which the Yar’Adua Foundation has held advocacy events in over 25 cities across Nigeria, featuring film screenings and panel discussions involving stakeholders from government, civil society and local groups in their respective communities.

The EU Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS described climate change as “uniquely global, uniquely long-term, uniquely irreversible and uniquely uncertain”. While observing that there was tremendous room for improvement for Nigeria with respect to energy efficiency, he also challenged concerns that combating climate change would hamper economic and infrastructure growth in developing countries like Nigeria. He said that combating climate change was actually compatible with economic growth.

Mrs Mohammed argued that tackling desertification and deforestation required ownership and collaboration right from the grassroots communities even as she assured that the Great Green Wall project would create new economic corridors. Senator Tinubu said as at 2009, almost half of Yobe State had been overtaken by desert. “We must discourage tree logging, bush burning and monoculture farming (planting of only one type of crops on a piece of land and we must emphasise education and awareness”, she said.

Saleh Momale said that resource use conflicts needed to be managed by key institutions and well-trained people while arguing that Increase in land conflict could be traced to the collapse of the traditional conflict resolution system in the North. “The clearing of forest areas in the south encouraged the growth of grass which created attractive pasture land for livestock grazing. This has contributed to escalated farmer/herder clashes”, Momale said.

Henry Nwawuba, a member of the House Committee on Environment said Nigeria could not afford to continue with a “business as usual approach to deforestation”. Most of the critical stakeholders at the session agreed with him on the need for the relevant authorities to be more proactive in tackling the problems associated with climate change in Nigeria.

While advocating that a national programme was needed to promote transition of rural and urban homes in Nigeria from dependence on fuel wood to use of LPG gas for cooking, participants argued that replacing forests with plantations is just as bad as deforestation. The general conclusion was that since plantations are not forests, they do not provide similar ecosystems and certainly will not provide the same level of biodiversity.

As we have repeatedly reiterated on this page, it is time Nigeria became part of the global trend of putting issues of the environment on the front burner. That is the only way we can secure not only today but also the coming generations.