World Day to Combat Desertification and Droughts is an attempt to promote public awareness of international efforts to combat desertification. The day offers the opportunity to address land degradation through cooperation at all levels. Driven by factors such as population growth, which increases demand for energy, food, and other goods and services, climate change in Africa has posed numerous environmental pressures, including desertification and droughts, and stimulated several violent conflicts.

While both phenomena and the broader climate change phenomenon have become highly securitised and top-priority matters on international policy and development agendas, there is a need for more strategic problem-solving and more vital community involvement to address the challenge in Africa.

Since the turn of the modern environmental movement which began in the 1970s, representing the emergence of the so-called ‘new environmentalism’, global attention has deepened on ecological questions. Importantly, desertification and drought have posed a significant threat to international peace but more harshly to Africa’s security and human well-being.

Violent conflicts between nomadic herders and sedentary agrarian communities in Africa have escalated in recent years, threatening the region’s security and stability. Stretching from the Sahel to the Horn and Eastern and Southern Africa, the actors have engaged in these bloody, violent questions with substantial death tolls. Most of these farmers’/herders’ conflicts resulted from environmental changes.

Apart from inducing internal and external migrations across the world, desertification and drought – some of the significant drivers of farmers’/herders’ conflict – have been linked to the diminishing natural resources, depleting grazing areas, and undercutting the availability of pastures and water sources which are critical to the survival of livestock. Emergent studies have shown that in some parts of Nigeria, Burkina-Faso and Mali, over 75% of grassland has been encroached by desert, inducing significant land scarcity.

Such scarcity has driven herders and livestock across international boundaries. While farmers and herders had previously had cordial relationships in Burkina-Faso, Cameroun, Mali, Senegal and Ghana, these relations were hitherto strained due to the enormous and growing impact of desertification and drought.

In Nigeria, apart from the movement of herders across international borders, such land and other natural resource scarcity have driven herders and livestock from their traditional abode in northern Nigeria towards the south.

Past pastoralists and farmers remarkably managed changes, such that they developed complex natural resource management (NRM) systems that guaranteed their survival for over a thousand years. However, these systems need to be more effective.

There is a need for more strategic problem-solving and more vital community involvement to address the challenge in Africa.

In Northern Nigeria, such as the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, droughts are standard features. In a report of the National Meteorological Agency (NMA), the agency noted that the rainy season in the north of Nigeria – an already arid and semi-arid region – dropped from an average of 150 to 120 days over the last 30 years. The report suggested that within the previous seven decades, over 350,000 km2 of northern Nigeria was becoming desert, with the phenomena progressing southward at 0.6km per year. The implication of this is that pastures and fresh water continued to dwindle. This forced the movement of pastoralists towards the south, leading to a complicated interaction between farmers and pastoralists.

One of the biggest threats to managing NRM/desertification/drought is that policies counter the growing body of knowledge. Some brilliant policies are rarely implemented from below, inhibiting the relevance of partnerships. Consequently, partnerships at all levels and initiatives are crucial for safeguarding land resources. Apart from the need for an expanded knowledge base and the design of appropriate policies, managing the phenomenon requires implementing scientifically based, sound and socially inclusive methods and indicators for monitoring and assessing the extent of desertification, land degradation and drought.

Article submitted by Onyekachi Nnabuihe


The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.