Nigeria was conspicuously absent as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) conferred with African nations with significant Sahel Savannah landmass, on how to boost agriculture in these regions, despite their severe ecological challenge.
The Sahel is the eco-climatic and bio-geographic zone of transition, in Africa, between the Sahara desert to the north and the Sudan Savanna to the south. Having a semi-arid climate, it stretches across the southernmost extent of Northern Africa between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea.
The Sahel covers parts of (from west to east) the Gambia, Senegal, southern Mauritania, central Mali, Burkina Faso, southern Algeria and Niger, northern Nigeria and Cameroun, central Chad, southern Sudan, northern South Sudan and Eritrea.
While nations like Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal took advantage of the opportunity provided by the FAO initiative to chart new courses for their nations’ agriculture, Nigeria, with significant Sahel land mass, was absent from the meeting.
THISDAY could not confirm however, whether Nigeria’s noticeable absence from the forum was as a result of negligence on the part of the federal ministry of agriculture or neglect by FAO; an organisation with which the federal government of Nigeria is actively involved.
At the meeting, sound water management was said to be the key to building resilience in Africa's Sahel and can free rural communities from the vicious cycle of weather-related food security crises that have plagued the region over recent years.
According to FAO, with both drought and flooding posing recurring challenges to the livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists, “water is often a problem in the Sahel, whether too much or too little. And the poorest and most vulnerable are the most affected.”
Owing to its often harsh agro-climatic and environmental conditions, the Sahel is one of the most vulnerable regions of the world. Still, agriculture is the most important economic activity in the Sahel.
Local economies and livelihoods in the Sahelian countries depend heavily on soil, water and vegetation, but the state of these resources has been steadily deteriorating as a result of expanding human settlement, erosion and demand for food, fodder, fuel-wood and water. Yet agriculture in the region – put on a path to resilience – holds great potential, FAO Director General, Graziano da Silva argued.
While the Sahel is characterised by low and erratic annual precipitation, with irregular short rainy seasons, its renewable water resources put regional supplies above the standard water scarcity limit of 1,000 m3/yr per capita. Indeed, with the notable exception of Burkina Faso, there is no aggregate physical water scarcity in the Sahel.
"The region's agriculture potential, when properly mobilised, could easily go beyond local sales and serve regional and even international markets," said Graziano da Silva.
But to unlock this potential, more effective, sustainable and integrated management of water resources for agricultural productivity and rural development is necessary.
The FAO chief urged governments, development partners, academia, civil society and private sector participants at the Dakar meeting to be creative and uncompromising in their search for solutions.
“We have the tools to transform the vulnerable communities of the Sahel into much stronger and more resilient communities, and we cannot wait anymore for the next drought or the next flood,” he said.
Investments in small-scale water harvesting and water storage have a tremendous impact on rural families, he said. Flexible irrigation systems giving farmers better control over water can significantly enhance their incomes.
At the same time, more investment in medium to large-scale irrigation systems through effective partnerships between public and private sectors is needed, according to Graziano da Silva.
The event in Dakar was second of two back-to-back high-level meetings on boosting rural resilience in the Sahel organised by the World Bank, the Comité permanent Inter-Etats de Lutte contre la Sécheresse dans le Sahel (CILSS) and the governments of Mauritania and Senegal, with the participation also of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS).