Opposition to REDD+ is borne out of mischief, ignorance or lack of understanding – Odigha Odigha

Odigha Odigha
Odigha Odigha

Editorial team of ClimateReporters’ recently met with Odigha Odigha, the Head of the Forestry Commission in Cross River State, south-south Nigeria and he shared his views on a wide range of issues bordering on the management of Nigeria’s forest reserves, natural resource governance and the controversial UN REDD programme.

Excerpts:

CLIMATE REPORTERS: May we meet you?

ODIGHA: My name is Odigha Odigha, the Chairman of Cross River State Forestry Commission. I’m a member of the Technical Working Committee of the REDD Programme and also a member of the UN-REDD Policy Board.

CLIMATE REPORTERS: What is the Cross River Forestry Commission about?

ODIGHA:We have a mandate to manage the forest estate of Cross River State and this estate forms more than 50% of what is left as Nigeria’s tropical forest and other forest resources. it’s our mandate to manage that and sustain it very well. if you recall very well, the role of forests particularly in the light of efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change makes it a necessity that we manage the forest and attract all possible benefits from such resource.

Cross River State forest is very important to the entire country as more than fifty percent of what is left as tropical high forest is found in this state. Besides, this forest is of significant importance as its one of the twenty-five biodiversity hotspots in Nigeria and in the world. We feel that if Nigeria must remain in the comity of nations that have forests, of necessity, we must do all it takes to protect it.

That is the burden, the responsibility Cross River State people and government have given themselves. Lets see how we can mange the forests. Beyond protecting what is the standing forest, we also have responsibility to increase the forest cover of the state because mandatorily from the UN convention, there are stipulations that it should be a sizeable number of certain percentage of forest that needs to be put under strict protection, that is to say, created in the form of forest reserve or national parks because of the numerous roles the forest plays.

The country is supposed to do that but that is not being fulfilled. Cross River State has taken it as its responsibility not only to manage the existing protected forests found in the park and in the reserves but to also extend the forest cover by planting indigenous species. So we have been doing that and we saw the REDD+ programme which is essentially a financial mechanism to stimulate forest protection across the globe as a good window for us to tap into and see how we can continue to protect and conserve Nigeria’s resources which is the forest.

CLIMATE REPORTERS:how successful has the REDD+ programme being especially in the area of preventing logging and other deforestation activities?

ODIGHA:The REDD programme is in phases and we are in the REDD-readiness phase which is essentially to put mechanism in place, have strategy in place, have structures in place and understand all the protocol that are necessary, which is where we are now. We have also succeeded in organising and sensitising the stakeholder groups, get them together, let them understand that this thing is not a mirage and it’s not rocket science, that we can do it.

So we’ve succeeded in doing that, at least we have a platform now called the stakeholders forum where communities, civil society, ministries, departments and agencies responsible for forest and land cover issues, academia and the private sector are talking and justifying the need to identify with the REDD programme.

That has been achieved but we are also looking at governance issues, how participatory are the processes that we use in natural resource governance in the state and how can we upscale dat and put the proper things in place to ensure that there is participatory behaviour and approaches as we run the REDD programme.

We are now doing the PGA studies which will soon come to conclusion and besides that we understudying, we need to find out, what are the drivers of deforestation, why is our forest going? we should not just claim is agriculture, how? What kind of agriculture and how does it happen that we have lost the whole forest in the entire country from the North to the South, west to east? We have almost completely lost our forests!

We want to pinpoint the reasons why because when the cause of a thing is known, the therapy becomes an easy thing to apply so that is the reason why we are doing the drivers of deforestation studies. The preliminary report has come out and we want to consolidate that and move beyond that, so we can then begin to say what remedies do we have.

If its agriculture, what type of agriculture are we practicing in Nigeria that is driving our forests and mowing it down? What type can we embrace so we can have a win-win? We would have our forest still standing, giving out all the other benefits, protecting us while at the same time, we are increasing our agricultural productivity and other things.

So these are the things that we are doing. Now that we are going into the next phase, we identify those drivers then we find out how we can intervene and they will come by way of investment. if its agriculture, can we get people who can invest in agricultural practices that are sustainable? If its energy related like domestic fuel consumption and charcoal firewood, can we introduce fuel-efficient wood? These are the things we will do when we get into the investment phase alongside putting the various protocols so that at the rightful time, we would be able to get to the performance-based operations to enable us win the carbon credit.

CLIMATE REPORTERS: so there is still logging in Cross River State?

ODIGHA:Definitely there is logging but its illegal. Normally before now, as a government, we were given a task to generate a certain amount of money as forestry commission. When they say generate lets say N1billion from forestry sector, what are you saying? Go to the forest and cut the tree down and bring money. So the moment government stops looking at forestry as a revenue sector, that eases pressure considerably.

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Now we have other means that we can get wood for instance if we have to farm in certain places like the community forest, when you cut your tree down, you can burn it but we now say don’t burn it, you can salvage it and that can bring wood into the system.

We encourage you not to burn it but saw it and we pay for it. Besides those areas, we still have issues because in any system, when you make a law, there are those who automatically by the nature will obey the law while they are those waiting to disobey the law. That is why we have to prosecute and deal with such cases. We still have logging and we treating those cases with heavy hands.

CLIMATE REPORTERS: opposition to REDD+ appears to be mounting, why is this so?

ODIGHA:Number one is out of mischief or lack of understanding because I’ve been in the process as an advocate for the protection of the forest for a very long time and I’m against those who are responsible by the reason of their action for the climate crisis that we are experiencing. At the same time I’m a lover of REDD with a passion.

Why? Its one scheme that I have seen that has factored in the forest dependent communities into the process. Yes, they are taking on board, their consent and its important because before we can protect one forest or one leaf, we can’t do that without the cooperation of the forest-dependent community. It’s not possible. There is no other scheme that has factored them in other than the REDD programme.

The forests were conserved and put into reserve by colonial masters and most of the harvesting was done to satisfy markets outside of Nigeria. The gains were actually going there. We were not the ones benefitting in the first instance.

They are so many other schemes that have come on, the exportation you say market for mahogany, market for ebony, where is market for those things found? they are not here, they are outside but REDD is saying no if this carbon credit is to come, there is some monetary incentive that will go to the local community. that is the first time that the people are actually going to get benefit from the forest.

So i embraced it because its people-oriented but my colleagues have not been privileged to go deep in to that understanding. they are some people who are benefitting from that and so they sponsor our colleagues to go against REDD.

They say well REDD is land grab and that it’s motivating other people to continue to pollute. Which one is easier? Is it us, you and i from Africa that will go and stop people in US from polluting? We are not the one. If they are so strong, they should go and stop the guys polluting in US. Go there, its not from here.

For us here, if you give us money to stop what we are doing, that to me is plus because if i stop deforestation, the first people to benefit from anti-deforestation processes are our people. it means that our watershed will be protected, that is our streams, our rivers will be protected because the moment they go, the problem of not having water from our water buses is serious. The boreholes we drill, their depths are further deeper and water becomes much more scarce and all those ones are linked to deforestation.

The massive gully erosion that we have is traceable to logging. If we leave our forests, the ecosystem services, our agriculture is guaranteed so we benefit and now if they come up with income, it’s an additional surplus, we are also benefitting. I don’t see why I should go against REDD.

I have every reason to embrace it because it’s a win-win-win all the way. So this is my position contrary to those of my friends who are either opposing it out of mischief (“we have been given grant so lets do what they say”), or they are seriously ignorant about what these processes are.

CLIMATE REPORTERS: how do we deal with attendant delays inherent in the REDD processes and its long phases? Do Cross River forest owners have the luxury of time?

ODIGHA:The thing is this, benefits are not one-off issues. The REDD program is such that the moment you engage therein, you start benefitting from day one. The greatest sickness is that of ignorance. The moment you are aware of the services you derive from the forest which is where REDD comes in with awareness and sensitisation, it tells you regimes of ways to better manage your forest resources.

For instance, we talked about participatory governance assessment. Now different stakeholders are coming together saying ‘lets talk how best we can manage this common property’ and introducing democratic process in the management of natural reserves, those are wins, now besides all those ones as we go along, they are other things like the quick or low-hanging fruits, we are talking of alternative livelihood options.

This is what we are talking at this point in time but you don’t just go in and say ‘hey this is what i have for you.’ We are at a stage where we are interacting with them to determine what is important. From experience, we have done this intervention and some of us have been on it for a long time and i seriously advocate that we should not be in any rush.

Lets sit down with them, let there be ownership of these processes and this programme. ‘what do u really want in your place”? Some of them for instance, do not know that this same forest that they kill and burn, for agriculture, they can produce some things from there.

In Cross River State, we have twenty-five edible mushrooms and that is a typical example and as we come in, we say ‘this your mushroom, can we have a treat of it’? If i take you to a Chinese restaurant, you will eat their imported mushrooms that are already injected with chemicals. Whereas we have the potential not only to satisfy the local market but even to export.

So we are looking at such options. Can it make some sense? Can we get some people to grow some of these things? It doesn’t require any extensive activity. Do you know what they call Afang? let me shock you. Afang that we eat here in Cross River State and Nigeria comes from Cameroon and Gabon, imported but we can cultivate and grow it here. You don’t need to feed it, it just continues and grows into hectares…

CLIMATE REPORTERS: so why cant we grow it?

ODIGHA:That is what we are saying, so we have now seen the necessity and we are going into it. Look at the value chain of all those and produce it. You can even package it and send it to Abuja or any other place. That is why we say it’s an opportunity for us to think sustainable ways, think green.

Let me live on without compromising my environment. This is an opportunity for us to look at that. Change is a process, it’s not an event, its from one phase to the other but you should be doing something. If anybody says that we will just win like that, it’s not possible. Change doesn’t come like that, it’s a gradual process.

Lets first and foremost be conscious about the change we want to see and begin the process of getting to that place. Its important. We need to have a vision, run with that vision and move with a mission and be passionate about where you want to get to. I’m passionate about the forests and I feel that the best thing we can do is to live with the forest, live by the forest and live with our forests.

CLIMATE REPORTERS: what are your thoughts for the future of Nigerian forests?

ODIGHA:my thoughts? I’m highly optimistic that yes we will have forests and we will continue to have forests and that with our passion, commitment, resilience and determination, we can increase the forest cover of Nigeria and that we don’t have have other options or choice than to embrace forest if we intend to key into the emerging green economy and emerging green philosophy in development.

CLIMATE REPORTERS: Thank you for your time

ODIGHA: it’s a pleasure!

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