Agricultural Activities in the Lake Chad Region: Comparison
Please note this is a comparison between Version 1 by Oluwatuyi S. Olowoyeye and Version 2 by Dean Liu.

Lake Chad is a strategic water resource shared by more than 40 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the 1960s, it served as a primary source of water for irrigation and fishing in the region, but the capacity of Lake Chad to supply water for irrigation plummeted by 90% at the beginning of the twenty-first century. With some initiatives taken by the neighboring countries, Lake Chad has recovered about 5% of its water volume in recent years.

  • Lake Chad region
  • food and water security
  • social crisis
  • biodiversity loss

1. Introduction

Lakes play a vital role in meeting the food security needs of the world’s growing population because agriculture consumes about 70% of the available water worldwide [1]. Lakes also play an essential role beyond food and water sustainability as they are part of the global water cycle, towards both flood attenuation and recreation efforts worldwide [2]. However, climate variations and land use changes pose significant challenges to the sustainability of many lakes globally [2][3][4][5][2,3,4,5]. The challenges faced in distinct lake regions differ due to their roles as sources of water for both crop and animal production. Furthermore, these regions serve as the thriving ecosystems for aquatic life [6]. Despite many challenges, the benefits of well-maintained lakes far outweigh the challenges that these lakes face from human interference.
In Africa, lakes hold immense importance locally, regionally, and globally. However, managing these regional and global water bodies is a major challenge. The situation becomes even more complex when reswearchers consider that numerous African lakes and their vital water resources are shared between multiple countries [7][8][7,8], making effective management challenging and sometimes a stuttering and even stagnating progress. Countries sharing major lakes in Africa, such as Victoria, Tanganyika, and Chad, struggle with insufficient water availability for domestic and agricultural use [9]. Notably, Lake Chad stands out in Africa because it has experienced a significant decline in water storage due to poor water management by its riparian countries since the 1980s, and it has not fully recovered from its continuous decline since the 1980s [7].
The Lake Chad Basin (LCB) is a vast but shallow endorheic lake in Africa, situated west of Chad near the Sahara Desert. This lake is a vital freshwater resource shared by five Lake Chad riparian countries (Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, and the Central African Republic) [10]. CIn recent years, climate change has impacted the inflow to Lake Chad [11], one of the oldest water bodies in Africa. Around 5000 BC, it was the largest of four Saharan paleolakes [12], with a surface area of 361,000 km2 [13]. By the 1960s, Lake Chad’s surface area had shrunk to little more than 26,000 km2, but it remained Africa’s fourth-largest lake after Victoria, Tanganyika, and Nyassa. Today, however, Lake Chad’s surface area has shrunk to less than 1600 km2. Multiple subbasins drain into the lake, with 95% of its inflow water coming from the Chari and Logone river systems [14][15][14,15].
The Lake Chad basin covers an area of 2,434,000 km2 between latitudes 60° and 24° N and longitudes 80° and 24° E. The percentage of international territory covered in the Lake Chad basin is as follows: 43.9% by Chad, 29% by Niger, 7.6% by Nigeria, and 2.1% by Cameroon, and other countries share the remaining 17.4%. The average water depth of the lake is between 1.5 and 4m, and the altitude is between 275 to 284 m above sea level. The lake water supports several regional economic activities, such as agriculture, mining, fishing, and crafting. The activities that consume the most significant amount of lake water are fishing, agriculture, livestock, and domestic water use [16][17][16,17].
Each of the lake riparian countries depend on lake water for different uses. Nigeria uses the water mainly for irrigation, and other countries also use it for irrigation. Chad uses lake water for farming, fishing, drinking, and domestic purposes. Meanwhile, Cameroon relies on alternative water sources, such as the Niger and Congo-Ubangi basins, whereas Niger holds a relatively minor hydrological stake in Lake Chad.
However, LCB has transformed over the years, radically shifting from its previous status as a remarkable resource in the heart of the Sahel region capable of supplying food and water to a population of 40 million people [18]. LCB now suffers from mass poverty and hunger, a growing population, and a lack of other natural resources. Consequently, there has been a decrease in biodiversity and reduced fishing activities, with many inhabitants now struggling for livelihood and resources [19]. Moreover, Boko Haram (BH), an insurgency that originated in northern Nigeria, has affected the living environment around the lake and its resources, and has displaced millions of people from their homes [20].
In response to the various challenges encountered within the LCB, the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) was established in 1964, and the member countries fund the commission’s $1 million yearly budget in proportion to water use from the lake: Nigeria contributes 52%, while Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and the Central African Republic contribute 26%, 11%, 7%, and 4%, respectively [7]. The LCB commission’s goals are to solve some of the challenges faced in the region due to the drying up of Lake Chad, coordinate the funding of projects, and help to collaborate with other countries in order to protect the lake. Due to the laxity of development and the lack of innovative policies, the desired improvements in lake water are still a distant dream. If the LCBC had achieved its aims, lake restoration would have occurred by this time, and the lake water level would have improved significantly beyond its current state [19][21][19,21].
The LCBC’s primary goal should be the lake’s restoration to its original level by ensuring a consistent recharge of the lake as well as well-planned and innovative policies on its water use by surrounding countries.
Other measures should include dredging the lake to remove siltation that has accumulated at the bottom of the lake over the years [22], which would help to increase lake water storage, and implementing innovative water harvesting measures in the watersheds [23]. In addition, landscape conservation planning is needed in all the watersheds that are draining into Lake Chad in order to reduce soil erosion [24] and increase inflow rates to the lake from regional contributing rivers [23].
Collaborations between countries must be increased to manage the watersheds efficiently and help in reducing the terrorist activities of BH significantly [25] with education and good governance. When there is peace, it becomes possible to implement watershed conservation plans smoothly and without fear, which helps in fostering a balance in the ecosystem. Any proposed solution must be future-focused, with posterity as the core beneficiary.

2. The Overall Crop Production in the Area

Agriculture is natural to most countries in Africa because of relatively good soils that permit the planting of various crops, and the presence of diverse environmental conditions provides opportunities for cultivating a wide range of crop varieties [26][73]. These varying conditions allow for the growth and cultivation of different crops that are adapted to specific environmental requirements and can thrive in their respective climates. Agriculture generates 25% of Lake Chad’s income, with 41% of the total population’s active participation in agriculture, followed by other employment activities such as fishing, pastoralism, and modest commercial businesses [27][55]. However, the Sudano-Sahelian zone of Africa often experiences variability in crop production output due to their environmental conditions [28][74]. Other factors that affect crop production and variability in this region are conflicts, population dynamics, fertilizers procurement, political programs, land availability, and development projects [27][29][55,75]. Maize is a popular staple food in this basin, it is an essential crop because it can be used directly as food and processed into other food products such as cornflakes. It also serves as a significant source of biomass for animal feeding. In some cases, maize stover is used as fuelwood, and it could also be harnessed as an industrial raw material to obtain products such as oil, jam, alcohol, and paper [19][27][19,55]. Too much water is not suitable for growing maize, and drought could terminate its life cycle [30][76]. There is a requirement for enough water to meet crop water demand, which is not accessible to most farmers due to declining water supplies, which means more planning is needed to provide water for other water-dependent activities in the community. Millet also grows in this community, and it is more rainfall dependent, with maize making up more than 80% of the agricultural production in this region. Maize is also grown during the dry season, but is strategically planted at receding lake beds [27][55]. Due to intensive agricultural operations in the region, different irrigation techniques are employed [31][77], but flooding irrigation is the standard method of irrigation that contributes to a significant amount of water losses, to evapotranspiration, and to runoff. Extensive irrigation schemes have also been implemented, such as the South Chad Irrigation Project (SCIP), which the Nigerian government started. Feeding the irrigation project is one of the significant reasons why the lake has shrunk to the point where rainy-season rice cultivation is impossible and where dry-season wheat production is limited [32][33][39,54]. Nigeria established SCIP intending to irrigate 67,000 ha at 130% cropping intensity from 1975 until 1984 [34][78], which appeared to be a great idea since this period experienced a severe drought; however, the recession of the lake started and became evident in less than 10 years. This brought the three-phase project to an end, with only the first two phases of the irrigation project accomplished. Other dams have since emerged in Nigeria, drawing their water from rivers draining into Lake Chad, such as the Tiga dam and the Challawa Gorge dam. The Challawa dam has been underutilized, but the Tiga dam contributes significantly to the Watatari irrigation scheme, where Nigeria generally irrigates 311,150 ha of farmland [35][32]. Nigeria irrigates 50% more than the capacity of all of the other countries combined. There is also the Maga dam in Cameroon, irrigating over 5000 hectares of land [36][69]. Cameroon irrigates over 25,650 ha of its land, and Niger has an irrigation project to serve 12% of its cultivated land cumulating into 99,890 ha of irrigated land. Chad, on the other hand, only irrigated 18,000 ha between 1988 and 1992, but it is now irrigating 30,274 ha of its land.

3. The Culture of Animal Husbandry and Rearing

Fishing is a dominant occupation for people in this region because of the lake, but some inhabitants still practice agriculture and livestock rearing. Some of the notable livestock in this area are poultry, goats, sheep, camels, horses, and asses. The livestock has increased by 75%, 83%, and 92% of cattle, goats, and sheep, respectively, between 2012 and 2020 in Chad [35][37][32,79], as shown in Figure 1. The reduction in the size of Lake Chad led to people finding jobs (i.e., sustenance and solace) in animal production, and nomadic herders also started entering the area and took over more lands to feed and water their herds [38][80].
Figure 1. Headcount of animals in the four major LCB countries [35][37][32,79].
The failure to harness available arable land in different countries for crop production and animal husbandry has resulted in a never-ending battle over arable land between herders and farmers in the Lake Chad region. Several lives are lost yearly to this clash, much agricultural produce is damaged, and depletion in biodiversity has occurred. Although conflicts are in the northern part of Nigeria, they also touch the three other countries within the confines of Lake Chad and other West African countries, too [39][81]. This susceptibility to conflicts in the region has resulted in widespread poverty, child malnutrition, and a lack of means for survival for those who have lost their farms while facing the problems and battles created by the conflicts. Forest encroachment is also considered a norm in this region, with people regularly breaking the forest regulations.

4. Transitioning from Fishing to Aquaculture

The principal activity of many Lake Chadians is fishing, whether in seasonal or permanent ponds, rivers, and tributaries, and some utilize the proceeds from their fishing activities to purchase farm inputs and other assistance for intensified agriculture [38][80]. The surface water receding in its strength and capacity pushed more fishermen and fisherwomen into other occupations, and various regional crises compounded the problem as more people embraced aquaculture as a form of sustenance. Many of them come from Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps [40][41][82,83] and were trained in a program facilitated by both the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) on some of the 21st-century ideas regarding the practice of aquaculture. Aquaculture is also a great way to help fish farmers transition from their former generational fish farming job to a more sustainable path, although it requires more work and a conscious effort to see the fish grow from fingerlings to adults [35][32].

5. Agricultural Sustainability in the Region

Most rural communities are more intentional about practicing agriculture that puts a portion of food on their table or garners them a substantial profit than engaging in sustainable practices for the soil and the ecosystem, and this is the case in the Lake Chad region [27][55]. New strategies are being developed in the Sahel region in order to harvest rain strategically. Plants are grown in those half-moon potholes, which would also help retain some moisture when there is enough vegetation cover; if those farmers in the Sahel learn approaches like the half-moon planting, it will reduce how much water is being withdrawn from the lake [33][54]. Crop production quantities in the Chad area are now less than in the comparative analysis of LCBC [35][32] and FAOSTAT [37][79]. Crop diversification is missing in most of the basin, but the land can potentially grow other crops aside from maize, sorghum, and millet, which dominate, as shown in Figure 2 [27][55]. More farmers need targeted sensitization on how they can sustainably practice agriculture, and many of the lands are not being tilled because most people practice sustenance agriculture, yet this comes with many limitations and much drudgery.
Figure 2. Crop Production Quantity in the four major LCB countries [35][37][32,79].