‘Paying attention to mitigation reduces climate change impact on food security’
Leader of a six-man team on expedition to Sahara Desert, 70-year-old Newton Jibunoh speaks on his mission on February 11, 2008 in Lagos. A Nigerian soil engineer Newton Jibunoh is leading a six-man team on his third expedition to sahara desert in his campaign against the menace of desert encroachment. In his effort to check desertification, Jibunoh has partnered with private organisations in tree-planting campaign in northern Nigeria, where desert encroachment is a real problem. AFP PHOTO PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
Newton Jibunoh is an environmentalist and migration expert. A farmer of vegetables, Jibuno is also the founder of Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE), an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) accredited to the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development. He tells JOSEPHINE OKOJIE, in this interview, that Nigeria can reduce climate change impact on the country’s food security when the government pays more attention to mitigation.
Recently there has been so much talk about climate change. What is climate change and its impact on Nigeria’s food security?
In my state our planting season starts from March to April after the first rainfall of the year. Most of the things farmers plants which have to do with our thanksgiving and it starts from September, October to November and that is when we are harvest a lot of our staple food we have planted in the cause of the year. It takes a maximum of five months for what is planted to fruit or not. But now September will come and the farm produce is not ready because of the late rains. Recently we had a meeting in my community to shift the periods for various festivals like the new yam festival. For the ordinary farmers that didn’t see the fore wall of a school or university is already knowing what the climate change is all about because there is a change in climate pattern that is making the rains to fall when it’s not supposed to fall, which is making the hot season come when they are not supposed to come, which is making the harmatan come when it’s not supposed to come. The farmers are beginning to ask questions about what is happening to the climate because it has affected their whole system.
Climate change is a major threat to food security in Nigeria and across the globe and it’s now glaring for everybody to see. If you look around the world, you will see various phenomenon that are occurring such as mudslides, hurricane. When we talk of climate change, we talk about how the rain is falling more intense than ever, when it is hot how it’s getting hotter and this is what is bringing about the shift. This goes back to the eye of the storm, the way it is moving and dictating the level of winds and storm that carries the climate. And this is why we say does that those that are responsible for warming up the atmosphere and bringing the anger of the storm must pay more so that does of us having the effect will pay less. Sometimes when you see the eye of the storm in the Pacific you think it wouldn’t get here but these things travel thousands of miles within a short period and this is what I have been talking about for a long time. We need to first understand what climate change is all about before mitigation
Recently I delivered a lecture at Abuja and it was beautifully organised by the ministry of environment. It had some farmers in attendance but I would have preferred it is done in the hinterland where majority of the farmers are, that are affected by climate change but I understand that it’s quite difficult to have it in those places. Awareness of climate change is very vital, to let the people understand the local ways of interpreting mitigation that is needed. There are two things you have to look at mitigation to see what can be done to reduce the effect of climate change on farmlands, food security and land degradation. But anytime we have a disaster be it invasion of locust, floods, famine government is always very quick in relieving by releasing billions of naira to the various communities but if I go to them two years before the events to tell them that by watching the climate movement there is going to be droughts in this place, we need to start mitigating against it with just N200 million they would not attend to you even with your scientific information. This has been the case for several years. Until the government starts paying more to mitigation and not adaptation because it happens first before you starts adaptation before the impact on food security can be reduced.
What is the connection of climate change to farmers/herders conflicts in the country?
The heat in the deserts is like a 150 degrees everyday between five and six hours, hardly any rainfall and it’s burning the sand, turning it into dust, bakes the ground until it becomes dust because the ground is now dusty it is no longer farmable, liveable, and the slightest wind turns it into land drones with some reaching a six story building high and when this happens and there is a storm the storm carries the dust into farmlands and communities and this is where the degradation comes from and this is climate change.
In Nigeria this is the region of the herdsmen. The nomadic population in Nigeria are about 60 million populations. Most of grazing fields of the herdsmen have been taking over by dust because when there is no grass for their cattle or water so it is either they sit and watch them die or they migrates to other parts of the country where the fields are still green and this is major reason responsible for the farmers/herdsmen conflicts. The herdsmen don’t want urbanisation because they are not meant for the cities they are use to open fields where they can take the cattle’s to in the morning to graze. Now we find them over all our cities because they are looking for fields for their cattle to graze. That is their life investments and they cannot just let their cattle die. The government is not looking into the causes and how do we mitigated. In Kano in Dambata area, one of the first places where I went to carry out mitigation, the villagers built me a house because I use to leave in a tent then when I was carrying out the mitigation on their land, the villagers in Mokuda came together to build the house, put a fence there and is still there till today. Because of what I have done by rescuing their land that brought about land reclamation and now they can farm on their lands
Sir can you talked more about land reclamation as one of the ways of militating against climate change?
The Federal Government is now doing land reclamation in what is called the Great Green Wall Project. You first of all build a wall of trees to stop the desert from encroaching because it is only trees that can use. Ones the dust is allowed the degradation of the land begins and ones that happens you cannot farm on the land any more. This is what the government is now doing through the Great Green Wall project but you know anything being done by government takes a lot of time because before it will be budgeted, committee setup and the likes. This is why I advocate for Public Private Partnerships (PPP) to allow the private sector drive the initiative while the government do the monitoring.
Do the Botswana ranching example points way for Nigeria in terms of addressing the farmers/herders conflict?
We do not have a ranching culture in Nigeria. We have grazing fields as against ranching. People normally make jokes that meat from Botswana and other countries that use ranches are richer than that of Nigeria because our cattle’s work distances to get fed. I heard that that the Agricultural Ministry is looking at establishing grazing fields as a possible solution to the farmer/herder feud. Ranch ownership will be a very big problem in Nigeria because it will cut across various communities since it requires a huge expense of land. So what we need in Nigeria is grazing fields and not ranches. We can have a farmer with a big land space just like in the middle-east countries called bird-wings where you pay to allow your cattle to stay. This is what can work in Nigeria but it will still take some years to get it ready because the lands need to be prepared, the grasses planted and the likes.
So what are the quick wins in addressing the issues?
We need to start now in establishing grazing lands so that in the next 5 to 10 years the grazing fields will be ready. Also we need to start mitigating against climate change now as well.
What are the causes of climate change?
We have abused our land. We are taking so much from the land and we have giving very little back. Our forest cover use to be about 40 percent at independence today it is about 6 percent. You can now see what we have taking from our land. We drill our oil, farm the land, cut down our trees, we drill our bore hole to mess the whole ecological process of the grounds. This is the land that gives us what we breathe, food we eat, water we drink and go to when we die, yet we give very little back in return. So the land is beginning to fight back and that is what is happening all over the world and this is what the Paris Accord is all about which the country have signed into to see how we can replenish the earth. Countries that pollute the world so much like America, Japan, Brazil and the likes have been asked to pay more so that the process of replenishing the world can begin. Nigeria was quite okay but now we are one of the polluters. The water we drink in Nigeria comes from the ground and the ground water is from mainly the rain but most of them is now acidic because the atmosphere is heavily polluted so you have to treat the water heavily and when you treat it heavily it becomes poisonous because of the amount of chemical you have to use in treating it. This is what we have done to our planet. We have taking so much and give very little in return.
Would you say the recent clean-up of Ogoni land is a right step to address the issue of climate change?
The government means well but it is not just cleaning up it has to be a work in progress not just because there is a spill. There has to be mechanisms that will be a continuous basis to clean the land. I applaud what the government is doing now but they should create a department that will be cleaning up the land. When you are exploiting the land you are taking so much from there is bound to be effect.
What is climate adaptation and how has it impacted the country’s agriculture?
Recently the country had floods across major crop producing states and the government made available some funds to the affected states to assists the people whose farmlands have been taken over by floods. A good part of Benue State is on the flood plains, and if the plains are ignored and we start building on it. We also have the wet lands, which nature had created for us to catch our crabs’ and shrimps; people sand fill it now to build on them. Adaptation does not end with giving relief it goes with finding why and doing something about it. As we speak flood plains and wet lands are being built on. For me that is where the whole adaptation should start from. If we must build on wet plains and wet lands we should adopt an engineering scientific system that are available that can take care of it in the event the whole thing should burst somewhere.
I saw the impact assessment report written on Eko Atlantic, brilliant document. The document was well written and very well documented on the things we should do in the next 20 years to stop certain things from happening. Who would be there 20 years from now to ensure that all those things stated in the document is carried out. In Nigeria nobody looks at the master plan before doing anything and this is the major issue with our environment.
Climate change outlook for 2018
The Paris Agreement was a landmark event not just for our children but our grandchildren. We are going to continue to suffer from the effects of changing climate for some years before the accord that was signed by almost 200 countries begin to have effects. Apart from Nigeria being a signatory and adhering to the latter there is need for continuity. Climate has no boundary; it depends on the wind speed and direction, so we cannot say how it will be in 2018 but it will definitely get to us one day. We shouldn’t say because we have not experience sever catastrophe that it would not come it will because we are not become one of the major polluters because of our gas flaring and the likes.
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