Towards a greener future in Nigeria

Salihu Wamdeo and Hadiza Galadima

MEDA WAY project supports efforts to plant trees, offset negative effects of climate change

In northern Nigeria, the need for increased tree cover becomes apparent with the changing of the seasons. “At the beginning of every rainy season, there is a sandstorm that destroys a lot of structures and buildings,” Salihu Wamdeo says. Wamdeo is climate smart technology coordinator for MEDA’s Nigeria WAY project.

In Bauchi State, the area of Northern Nigeria where the WAY (women and youth) project operates, the rainy season has become increasingly unpredictable and extreme. “Unfortunately, last year was a year that we saw the danger of some of these activities firsthand. The winds did a lot of damage, and then comes the flooding.”

For the past three years, a three-to-four-month rainy season, historically between June and September, has been delayed by more than a month. The water table often goes down between 20 and 30 meters (65 to 98 feet) during the dry season, Wamdeo said. There may be very little precipitation at either end of the rainy season, with torrential downpours in the middle.

The intensity of rainfall over short periods of time causes flooding and soil erosion. Changing patterns of precipitation and climatic conditions are taking a major toll on the agriculture sector. These changes reduce farm incomes and have contributed to skyrocketing costs of agricultural products.

MEDA’s WAY project, which began in 2018, has taken a leadership role in response to environmental challenges facing farmers in Bauchi state. The WAY team has played an active role in the creation of a climate collaboration strategy. That work paved the road for the establishment of a Bauchi state environmental stakeholders committee. The committee includes representatives of government agencies, the private sector and civil society organizations. It has identified environmental problems within the state and proposed strategies to address them.

Hand-woven baskets protect seedlings from foraging goats.

In 2021, its focus was the growing threat of drought and desertification. That focus led to the planting of 9,500 trees in the areas where MEDA works. Tree planting is a frontline defense to slow the expansion of the Sahara Desert, protecting farmland and natural vegetation.

Nigeria’s National Agency for The Great Green Wall has been a major stakeholder in the effort. It supplied most of the seedlings for the tree planting effort and woodlots for breeding seedlings. Trees were selected for planting based on their drought resistance, Wamdeo said. “The rainy season here, it’s getting shorter and shorter. At most we have three months of rainfall. That actually informs the kind of seedlings we are selecting.”

Drought resistance wasn’t the only consideration in ensuring that the trees would grow and thrive. In a culture where people can be tempted to cut down trees for firewood or to make charcoal, public education is also a necessary ingredient. The WAY project, through its partners and the Bauchi state sports council, helped to get 1,000 youth to support the tree-planting program. Youth were invited to football (soccer) matches, with players wearing Great Green Wall jerseys.

Nigerian youth carry tree seedlings to plant following a soccer match.

“We used those periods to sensitize youths to the dangers of tree (harvesting) for deforestation, and illicit practices such as for charcoal making,” Wamdeo said.

Some local laws forbid cutting down trees such as the shea tree, which takes between 20 and 30 years to grow to maturity. But because of its high lignin content, bakeries like to use that wood for the fires in breadmaking. “We understood that it is the youth that actually go to cut down these trees. That is why we centered the (promotional) activities around the youth, so we sensitize them to the dangers (posed by deforestation),” he said.

A parallel education effort is the Green Environmental Promoters Society which was introduced last year. The society is a youth platform to sensitize youth to environmental programs. Those efforts led LaFarge Cement to donate 2,700 tree seedlings.
The Green Environmental Promoters Society hopes to build environmental clubs in secondary schools, polytechnic colleges, and universities throughout Bauchi state.

Wamdeo is optimistic about the future of the Bauchi state environmental stakeholders committee. The head of Bauchi’s environmental protection agency has joined the committee and is now leading this work, he said. MEDA is now in the background of the committee, providing support.

MEDA has suggested that the committee’s focus for this year should be sustaining tree planting efforts. It is promoting an increased focus on women and youth. The proposal is to plant 16,000 trees. The hope is to encourage every client involved in the WAY program to plant at least one tree.

Planting efforts will include three types of trees — the Neem, the Malena, and the Acacia. The Neem tree is “very, very resistant to drought” and was selected for the drought-prone northern areas of Bauchi state. It begins fruiting after about two years. The Malena tree grows fast — one to 1.5 years — and has fruit “that animals take a lot of.” The Acacia is a leguminous tree that fixes nitrogen in the soil. But the committee will plant less of them than the other species, as they take three to four years to mature.

Drought and sandstorms followed by flooding makes agriculture challenging in northern Nigeria.

The WAY project was originally scheduled to end in March 2022 but has been extended for another two years. MEDA’s environmental work between now and 2024 will focus on sustainability. The organization wants to ensure that tree planting and other efforts continue after MEDA’s involvement ends, Wamdeo said.

“My biggest hope is to see all hands on deck without reward (like the football match) by MEDA. I want to see a spontaneous response by all stakeholders to combat this mutual problem that we have. “I’m looking to a period where we all agree that we have this problem and we work together to see how we can address it, together.”

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