The Middle Belt of Nigeria, which straddles the southern Sudanian and northern Guinean climatic zones, has historically been sparsely populated. In the 1970s, it was seen as the last land frontier and future bread basket of the nation. The area around the Zugurma Sector of the Kainji Lake National Park and the Dagida Forest Reserve exemplifies the significant land use transformation that the Middle Belt has gone through in the past 40 years.
The two Landsat images from 1972 and 2015 show the dramatic transformation in the area surrounding these two protected areas. In 1972, the darker green of the mostly unbroken wooded savanna has only scattered plots of shifting cultivation (lighter green areas). By 2015 the transformation of the area to farmland is almost complete, with a few islands of wooded savanna inside the protected areas.
The rapid expansion of agriculture in this formerly semi-natural area can be understood in the context of a changing Nigerian political economy. The oil boom of the 1970s and enactment of the Land Use Act of 1978 sparked a rush for land acquisition of formerly communal lands by wealthy private owners. The food crisis of the 1980s and restructuring of the economy along the lines of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) renewed the emphasis on food production. In 1984, the government of Nigeria banned the import of agricultural raw materials by the local bottling, flour and confectionary industries, which pushed these industries to acquire land at a large-scale to grow wheat and other grain crops.
The land acquisitions by large owners engendered land use competition and conflicts between (1) a small land-owning class and a large class of landless peasants, (2) peasant farmers and migratory pastoralists who have seen their main source of dry season pasture shrink, and (3) peasant farmers, migratory pastoralists and the wildlife and forestry conservation authorities who are faced with increasing land use pressure around the parks as well as grazing and cropland encroachment into the parks. If left unaddressed, the lack of an integrated policy that regulates access of different user groups to land resources will continue to threaten wildlife and biodiversity conservation within the game reserves in a State which currently records the highest population growth in Nigeria at 3.4 percent per year.