Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom has urged the Soil Science Society of Nigeria (SSSN) to collaborate with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to find a lasting solution to the underlying causes of the seasonal migration of herdsmen and their cows from the North to the South and back.
The governor also called on the Federal Government to dump the controversial idea of the proposed RUGA (Rural Grazing Areas) settlements and instead seek solutions to the issue of desert encroachment and lack of sufficient vegetation, which he indicated are responsible for the movements of nomadic herdsmen around the country.
Represented by his deputy, Engr. Benson Abounu, at the 43rd annual conference of the Soil Science Society of Nigeria being held at the Federal University of Agriculture, (FUAM) Makurdi, the Governor said desert encroachment could be remedied as was done in Israel, where a complete desert was transformed into a rich agricultural hub that now feeds the rest of the world.
“If the sandy Negev desert, which had no water or vegetation, could be so transformed, there is no reason the same cannot be done in the north of Nigeria, where there is water and vegetation but where the only problem is desert encroachment,” he stated.
Declaring the conference open, Ortom, Abounu, speaking on behalf of the governor, enjoined the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources to engage the services of the SSSN to study the soil in the far North bedevilled by desert encroachment, and find solutions to the problem.
He expressed the assurance that if this is done, it would check the encroachment of the desert, and help transform the North into a rich vegetation belt, ideal for pastures and crop cultivation as is the case in the south of the country.
The governor charged soil scientists in the country to rise to the challenge of meeting the growing demand for food occasioned by the negative impact of climate change on food and nutrition and the limitations imposed by insecurity.
He said the idea of establishing RUGA settlements for herdsmen from the North and their brothers from Mali, Senegal, Niger and Libya was not a solution to the herder-farmer conflict in the country, but rather a great danger that could lead to its disintegration.
He called on the Soil Science Society of Nigeria and the broader scientific community to give more attention to the effective and practical application of their scientific findings, instead of concentrating more on paperwork.
Earlier in his speech, SSSN President Prof. Bashiru Raji said the theme of the conference, ‘Understanding Nigerian soils for sustainable food and nutrition, security and healthy environment,’ was chosen to reflect the topical issue of soil management in enhancing food and nutrition security in the face of climate change, rising insecurity, kidnapping and increasing herdsmen and farmers clashes.
Raji posited that soil management strategies are key factors in climate change mitigation and adaptation into the farming system, stressing that significant advances have been made in technologies of agroforestry that can help in the mitigation and adaptation to climate change and eliminate rising clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
He explained that the conference affords members of the society opportunity to interact professionally with each other, share research findings, and cultivate enduring collaborations with each other.
Highlight of the conference was the conferring of an honourary Fellow of the Soil Science Society of Nigeria to Governor Ortom for his outstanding contributions to agricultural development in the country.
There was several goodwill messages delivered from many personalities, organisations and agencies, among them the Vice Chancellor, Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Prof. Anande Kimbir; the President, Nigeria Institute of Soil Science, Prof. Ogunkunle; permanent secretaries, Federal Ministries of Agriculture and Natural Resources and rural Development, and that of the federal ministry of Environment.