By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame in Ankara
Turkey is brandishing its environmental credentials in the fight against desertification as a perfect example to be replicated by countries in Africa especially those in the Sahel region suffering from prolonged droughts and malnutrition.
Vast tracts of Turkey impacted by desertification, affecting millions people in the past decades have today been covered by forestland through dedicated efforts by the government and other stakeholders to combat the climate monster, the government announced at the opening of the UNCCD COP12 October 12, 2015 in Ankara-Turkey.
‘’Combating desertification is of great importance. Our country has taken steps to combat desertification through afforestation programs nationwide,’’ said professor Veysel Eroglu Turkish minister of forestry and water affairs at the opening of the congress on Monday 12 October.
In the last 12 years, some 4.2 million hectares of land has been rehabilitated and almost 3 billion trees have been planted. Some 250 million of tree seedlings are planted each year creating food-producing land for farmers and putting an end to the displacing of people from their homes.
Innovative methods to halt arable land from being degraded and to rejuvenate desert have been effective in decreasing desertification, State Forestry Administration statistics show.
‘’As a result of good practices, forestland in Turkey has been increased by 900 thousand hectares. We have taken adequate action plan to combat erosion, built dam catchment Green belts afforestation and actions to control floods in the upper river basin,’’ the minister disclosed.
Turkish government says it spends billions each year fighting desertification.
In the 70’s over 500 million tons of soil was lost annually by moving into the sea as a result of rehabilitation works. This amount has reduced to just 168 million/tones in 2014. The government says it is aiming to increase human-made tree cover from 40 per cent to 75 per cent of the country’s vast landmass.
“These forests are envisioned to stretch across over 4/5 of the country’s territory by the year 2050,’’ the minister said.
The executive director of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification,UNCCD told the media at a press breifing that Turkey’s efforts provide three important lessons.
“I think the Turkish example has shown the world especially desert prone regions like Sahel región in Africa that the restoration of even a severely degraded world is possible. It has also shown that the role of government in creating the right policy incentives is cardinal and also that it is time we start thinking outside our traditional boxes regarding land stewardship ,how we value, manage and invest in it,” Monique Barbut said.
While the mitigation efforts have shown some success, a quarter of Turkish territory still remains desertified. But the Mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokecek says it is a gradual process.
‘”In 1994 Ankara had just approximately two square meter of green space per person but todat this has increased substantially while the population doubled in the same period,’’ he said at the opening of the congress.
As the sand and its associated storms approach, many Turkish people are forced leave their home regions to move towards the greeneries of the METU Forest area.
Makish Kursek is a farmer who moved into the region in the North from his desert South.
“In my hometown it was impossible to grow any vegetable or any fruit because of the increase in the number of annual sandstorms,” said Makish. “Now conditions are much better, and I don’t have to deal with such hard life any more.”
About 178,000 people have been relocated from desert land to the new forested areas as part of regional authorities’ anti-desertification efforts, and more than 67,000 square kilometres of forest have been planted in the region over the past 12 years according to the ministry of forestry.
“It is urgent to strengthen the forest building, to promote the combat of desertification, and to improve the environment,” Makish said. For him it is a “long term task with difficulties” . Makish says many of the farmers there have been working hand in glove with the government to rehabilitate the land.
“I think we have realised our goal,” he said. “We made the place lively and better and we made the desert green. We have also made ourselves a better life,” he admits. “To millions of desert fighters like me, it is a great satisfaction joining in combating desertification,” he said.