Ambassador Dennis Garrity Phd is the Head of United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification. He spoke to Focusonabuja.info on how to combat desertification and achieve Land Degradation Neutrality, on the sideline of a four-day Steering committee meeting organized by the National Agency For the Great Green Wall in Abuja.
Focus: What is desertification & why do you combat desertification?
Garrity: Well, desertification is the process of creating a desert or degrading a land that is no longer productive or have no value to the people. Of course we all want to stop that from happening and it is cleaning the world. So the UN got together to bring all the nations into a common frame work for battling desertification & land degradation by learning from each other on the successes of applying science & technology to regenerating the land and we have made a lot of progress.
Focus: Why is it so important to fight desertification?
Garrity: Well, if we don’t fight desertification, much of the land surface of Nigeria and other countries will be lost. It will be totally useless for the production of food, livestock, and woods and other products for the people.
This is why Nigeria has to be very much engaged in the Great Green Wall because that program is enabling investment in helping farmers and herders to regenerate the land and revive the productivity of degraded lands.
Focus: What is the relationship between UNCCD & GGW
Garrity: That’s a very good question. The UNCCD is the global convention of all the countries in the entire world; they are all members of this convention to combat desertification. The GGW is a monolithic partnership of African countries that borders Sahara desert, they are the focused countries of the GGW. And the GGW initiative which is coordinated by African Union is part of the UN convention on desertification. So the GGW is one part of the world that is suffering from desertification and it is an important part of the UN convention.
Focus: What is UNCCD’s level of participation in the GGW initiatives?
Garrity: Like I said, the UNCCD is global, so the GGW is part of that global effort. But UNCCD takes special attention to the GGW because this is an area of very serious land desertification and degradation, a lot of stress on what is happening there. So the convention keeps a very close watch on successes and failures, struggles and challenges of the GGW and helps to mobilize investments for farmers to be able to improve their practices. It also mobilizes science and technology, exchanges information and builds capacity by sharing that information amongst many organizations across the GGW countries.
Focus: You are supporting interested countries in the Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN). Why are countries setting target for that?
Garrity: Countries are setting target for land degradation neutrality in order to focus their policy and their work more effectively. You know, when you set a target as an individual or as a country, you are declaring: “this is what I’m going to do by setting such a date”, and that focuses the mind like new year is coming, I’m gonna have a resolution, I’m still a young man, I will be going to the gym 2 times a week to keep fit.
That is your target. The same thing with a country, unless a country have a quantitative target, like we in Nigeria are going to target the restoration of 4 million hectares of degraded lands by 2030, that’s our target. That’s your target. Now, because Nigeria has declared that target, only a few months ago, it has focused the government of Nigeria and all the mechanism by which it could achieve that target. First of all it has to find out where are the 4 million hectares of degraded land? They have to map out the area and then prioritize which area that will get attention first and which state will get priority because they have more degraded land and what programs of government are going to support these efforts. When you identify the community, which will be focused of those efforts and guiding those communities to start working with people on the ground. So targets are very critical to achieving anything valuable because it focuses the mind.
Focus: Is there any relationship between LDN and GGW?
Garrity: The LDN is a global program also. This is one of the goals of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The LDN target is a target by which all countries are now agreeing that you establish at the country level make sure that degraded land are less than restored land in quantity. This process is Land degradation Neutrality. So we want to exceed the area that is becoming degraded. So countries will be able to restore land and will do their best to protect land from being degraded so they get higher advantage of land that is no longer degraded – that is the basis of LDN goal for Nigeria or any other country.
Focus: Are there plans for increase in awareness campaign to ensure citizen participation?
Garrity: In fact, one of my propositions of being in Abuja this week is to have meetings with many of my friends and colleagues in the Nigerian Government and non government institutions to discuss an idea we have been promoting and developing over the last several years. You know, in Niger, which is the North of Nigeria; there has been an enormous land transformation. Niger has actually done a tremendous amount of land restoration through the efforts of millions of small herder/ farm families who are regenerating trees on their farm lands they call it: ‘farmer manage natural regeneration of trees’ and we have just mapped out this process two months ago and it is now over 7 million hectares of regenerated land due to the efforts of farm families. Now, we’ve never had over the cross-over years a number of monitoring trips from Nigeria to Niger to see what they have done in the regions of Mahragi and Zindu.
And hundreds of Nigerians farmer leaders & policy makers, politicians and business men have invited the region and have seen for themselves how these was done and came back to Nigeria inspired. “You know we can do this here, we can surely do these here”. And Nigeria doesn’t have environmental challenges as Niger. Niger is right on the Sahara desert, Nigeria is better; we can do these even faster.
So we are planning a big conference that will focused on developing a comprehensive plan whereby state and communities across the Northern Nigeria could get involved in doing farmer manage natural regeneration trees. And quite frankly for you to do these does not any cash investment. It can be done with no cash cost. It means selecting valuable trees from your land when they come up as seedlings from the soil and protecting and pruning them and forming them into trees that can provide foods, father for your livestock, timber for sale, fruits for your family etc. these are indigenous trees that come up naturally. You might call them weeds but they are not weeds it you manage them for the benefits of their produce.
This practice is so simple and so cheap and it’s effective that we have now inspired so many other colleagues in Nigeria to look at how we can do these for millions of farmers across the state in the North and we hope to have this conference probably about July, 2018, and this will answer your question on how we begin to share the knowledge and get people involved in training, capacity building and exposure. Once people are exposed to these practices, they will realize that it is not so difficult to do. We can do that in our village as they have done in hundreds of villages in Niger. So I am very excited about coming to Nigeria and to participate in this conference and I know there are many others in Nigeria who are already supporting this and we can have a very successful launch of a new program of support which could mean that Nigeria creates a model on how this could be done for at least half of the country. You know half of Nigeria is dry and we could do this with the inspiration of the people.
Focus: Finally sir, could you let us know your target for Nigeria in particular and Africa in general, in ten years?
Garrity: absolutely, well Africa has already determined its target for the next ten years and I will just share that with you.
This is Africa restoration initiation which has a target of restoring 100 million hectares of degraded farm land, range land and frost land, now, 27 countries have now joined as members of the program even though only launched two years ago and they are voluntarily committed to restore over 90 million hectares of land. Nigeria has joined the program and made its target of 4 million hectares about two months ago, I believe, it was very recent and Nigeria is a member among 27 countries and we are now focusing on the attention on the whole continent of Africa to restore a 100 million hectares of land. That’s our target and that’s what we are shooting for so let’s check in for 2030 if we have done the job.