Nigeria has a total land area of 923,768 km², with highly variable land cover, including tropical rainforest, Sahelian savannah, mountain plateaus and coastal plains. The country has diverse and complex vegetation types with contiguous ecological zones. The ecological zones from north to south are namely: Sahelian savannah, Sudanese savannah, Guinean savannah, derived savannah, lowland rainforest, freshwater swamp forest, mangrove swamp forest and vegetation coastal, and the Jos Plateau in the middle belt of Nigeria .
Land degradation is a serious environmental problem in all the country’s ecological zones . According to reports from the Nigerian Government and its partners, land degradation and desertification are critical threats to the country's progress towards sustainable development . Based on data from the country’s Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) report provided to the UNCCD Secretariat, Nigeria lost over 463,360 ha of forest land during the period 2000 to 2010, of which 344,710 ha was converted to shrub, grassland and sparsely vegetated areas, and 118,570 ha was converted to cropland. During the same period, a total soil organic carbon loss of 1,307,187 tons was estimated due to conversion of forest land to other land uses in the country, representing 0.04% of the national soil carbon stock . The soil in Nigeria is of low to medium quality and overexploited, especially in the delta region, due to industrial agriculture, mining and oil extraction . The resultant effects of land degradation in Nigeria include unemployment, pockets of conflict for resources (herdsmen crises), food insecurity, desertification, drought, flood and erosion .
Desertification with inextricable links to land degradation in Nigeria's arid, semi-arid and subhumid dry areas, continues to proliferate and poses a threat to the livelihoods of more than 40 million people. The affected states are Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Yobe. These states constitute about 35% of the country’s total land area and support a considerable proportion of Nigeria's livestock populations and crop production. A continued rise in desertification thus signifies grim situations for Nigerian communities and for the wider progress of Nigeria .
Key drivers of land degradation in Nigeria include unsustainable land management practices, especially in Nigeria's farmlands and rangelands. Additional drivers are sprawling urbanisation and deforestation which deprive the land of its vegetation cover . Other drivers include overgrazing, land pollution, increasing population, mining, unsustainable water usage, poverty, climate change, subsistence and commercial farming, limited financial resources, poor financial management, weak policy implementation, lack of technology adoption and political interference in land management .
Key policies and governance approach
Nigeria has subscribed to several land-related multi-lateral environmental agreements including the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The country’s National Action Programme to Combat Desertification (NAP) was developed in 2000 in line with Article 10 of the UNCCD, spelling out long-term integrated strategies that focus on improved productivity of land, and the rehabilitation of resources in the dry sub-humid, semi and arid areas of Nigeria, with particular emphasis on agriculture and water resources management .
Nigeria has also joined the holistic UNCCD process to address land degradation through setting voluntary preliminary Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) targets to be achieved by 2030. Nigeria has the national target to achieve LDN by 2030 as compared to 2015 and improve an additional 20% of the national territory (net gain) .
Additionally, Nigeria has adopted a multitude of laws, policies and regulations that are relevant for Land Degradation Neutrality, such as the National Policy on Environment, the National Drought and Desertification Policy, the National Policy on Climate Change, and Nigeria’s Agriculture Promotion Policy, among many others .
The Federal Ministry of Environment and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development are the key institutions responsible for the implementation of desertification control in the country . The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development oversees policies aimed at improving agricultural production and combating poverty, particularly in rural areas .
Successes and remaining challenges
The LDN target setting process highlighted Nigeria’s commitment to addressing land degradation. This is particularly important for data management, as the country lacks reliable data at the national level for defining the LDN baseline and for setting LDN targets. Due to the absence of and low quality of national data in respect to the three indicators for assessing LDN, namely land use/cover, land productivity and soil organic carbon at the disposal of the country, Nigeria used the default data provided by the UNCCD secretariat during its Land Degradation Neutrality Target Setting process.
Additionally, although the aligned NAP is generally well-equipped to support Nigeria to achieve land degradation neutrality, it does face several challenges that will need to be addressed if Nigeria is to achieve LDN. Such challenges include, among others, no clear mandate for the Federal Ministry of Environment regarding land use planning, there is no clear single way to create a monetary value to land degradation (i.e., compared to carbon credits), and limited capacity in the implementing agencies.
Further factors that threaten Nigeria’s progress towards LDN include inadequate funds for the implementation of land-related projects, high staff turnover in governments that could derail or slow the progress towards LDN, and the uncoordinated implementation of land degradation related research work by academic institutions causing overlaps in research and constraining the already limited funding resources .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Nigeria has pledged to restore 4 million hectares of degraded land and forests by 2030 under the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100). In addition, Nigeria is committed to TerrAfrica on Sustainable Land Management (SLM), which focuses on the investment-based articulation of the nation’s land and renewable natural resources management agenda, with an emphasis on reducing the risk posed by climate change on the livelihood of rural farmers, mitigating climate change through sustainable practices, and securing appropriate benefits .
Nigeria has also been one of the pioneers in the fight against desertification and land degradation. The country has been at the forefront in advocating, together with other Sahelian countries and the African Union Commission, the launch of the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative . The Great Green Wall is aligned with the AFR100, which is a Pan-African initiative implemented at country level to restore 100 million hectares of land in Africa by 2030. AFR100 contributes to the Bonn Challenge, the African Resilient Landscapes Initiative (ARLI), the African Union's Agenda 2063, the Sustainable Development Goals, and other strategic goals for sustainable development.
Nigeria now holds the presidency of the GGW initiative from 2021 to 2023 and is leading efforts to mobilize the US$14.3 billion recently pledged to the Initiative . Through the initiative, five million hectares of degraded land has been restored and 20,000 jobs created in the process since 2007 .
Goals and Ambitions
By 2030, Nigeria is aiming for integrated and inclusive national land use planning and has committed to restoring 4 million hectares of degraded land and forest under the Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative Africans (AFR100). In addition, Nigeria aims to achieve LDN by 2030 as compared to 2015 and improve an additional 20% of the national territory (net gain) .
To increase resilience to climate change and effectively reduce GHG emissions in the AFOLU sector, Nigeria has the vision that by 2050, Nigeria is a country in which sustainable land use and Climate Smart Agriculture (including livestock and fisheries) practices are adopted by all large-scale farmers and more than 75% of smallholder farmers, while forestry management practices are in line with the global mechanism of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) .
- For national development to be sustainable, it is imperative to conceptualize the environment as a cross-cutting development issue and ensure that environmental resources are properly valued and accounted for in the development process.
- The existence of clear targets will make it easy for national institutions to work on preventing land degradation, and the development of a LDN index makes it easy to measure progress.
- Reduction in the cost of satellite images will make land degradation monitoring cheaper.
- The availability of open-source software will reduce the costs of data processing.
- There are nearly 70 million hectares of arable land in Nigeria, of which about 40% is used for agriculture. Nigeria could achieve LDN by improving land productivity and rehabilitating croplands with declining productivity and cropland showing advanced signs of declining productivity.
- Increase irrigation infrastructure, which currently benefit only one percent of agricultural land.
- Halt and reverse the conversion of forests and wetlands into other land cover classes.
- Increase the country's forest cover through reforestation and rehabilitation actions.
- Restore savannah and sparsely vegetated areas through sustainable land management.
- Increase investment in sustainable land management programs and initiatives.
 Anne Hennings,land portal (2021). Nigeria - Context and Land Governance. [Online]. Available: https://landportal.org/book/narratives/2021/nigeria.