Saving the rainforest of Nigeria

A typical Nigerian rainforest
A typical Nigerian rainforest

By Bamidele Oni

Nigeria, the biggest economy in Africa may as well be on her way to becoming the biggest contributor to the release of greenhouse gases in Africa as the rate of deforestation and  log harvesting  way outweighs the sustainable  level of  the of regeneration and restocking  to enable significant sequestration of carbon.

Nigeria however, once prided in her well managed and diversified tropical forest ecosystem, an obvious achievement largely attributed to the well-structured management blue print of the old British colonial system which was well maintained even after independence.

This in a way attracted significant international focus on the country with the establishment of some world class biosphere reserves and conservation projects. But now, a lot has changed in the basic scenario of management of the Nigerian Forest as the current status significantly speaks ill of the future.

While there has been the significant problem of inadequate data and studies to depicting the status of the forest cover of the country, some previous studies and statistics have however shown great decline in size and stock of the nation’s Forest resources.

Between 1990 and 2000, Nigeria lost an average of 409,700 hectares of forest per year, the amounts to an average annual deforestation rate of 2.38%. Between 2000 and 2005, the rate of forest change increased by 31.2% to 3.12% per annum.

In total, between 1990 and 2005, Nigeria lost 35.7% of its forest cover, or around 6,145,000 hectares. Nigeria lost 1,230,000 hectares of its primary forest cover during that time. Measuring the total rate of habitat conversion (defined as change in forest area plus change in woodland area minus net plantation expansion) for the 1990-2005 intervals, Nigeria lost 39.2% of its forest and woodland habitat.

Quite a number of problems could be attributed to the decried state of the Nigerian Forest but of significance are the following, poor management policy, inadequate allocation of funds and manpower, and of course the poverty status of most rural dwellers in the country who are most times in living in close proximity to forests and are often heavily dependent on forest for their relative livelihood support.

Nigeria is quite still on the developing side, perhaps this has influenced the level of management of her natural resources most essentially the renewable components. While the forestry sector still largely depends and run on the old structure of the colonial era, it’s the other way round globally as there has been a lot of innovative ideas that have been integrated in to contemporary forest management and which have all focus on ensuring sustainability .

One of such is community forest management which could be likened to a sort of public- private partnership and in a more detailed way, a means to including the indigenous people who often source out livelihood support from the forests in the management of the forests.

This practice would however entail actual restructuring of the policy framework of the forestry sector in the country to including private – public management practices. However this sustainable option has not been fully embraced in the country as governmental interventions in the forest sector have largely excluded the poor forest dwellers whose livelihood are well embedded in the exploitation of the forests and such as caused continuous deforestation and degradation in most forest reserves of the country.

The forest is still largely under the control of the government with ill formulated policies that would often exclude the public interest. However, the problem wouldn’t be well balanced out if the corruption status of the supposedly forest managers are not in its entirety well-exposed. The forestry sector of the country reeks of corrupt practices which has well eaten deep into every department of  operation , and that is by a fact no wonder the measures to stop deforestation in the country has overtime  amounted to insignificance.

Currently, most forest reserves in the country are almost stripped bare of typical indigenous tree species and would have been entirely bare, else for the monoculture plantations of introduced exotic species of Gmelina aborea and Tectona grandis (Teak), these are the species with significant percentage in most of forest reserves in the country else for some states in the federation that have overtime sustainably managed their forest resource (e.g. Cross rivers state).

Now, I keep wondering what the future would look like if all we would have would be the exotic species which we have seem to adopt, that of course is another problem to give a thought of a possible future of stripped diversity.

While the world is faced with the impact of climate change and with a rising contribution of greenhouse gas generation from deforestation, Nigeria has failed to put a check to the rate of illegal felling activities in her remaining tract of reserves which would have helped in a lot of ways to help sequestrate the already above normal limit Greenhouse gases present in our atmosphere.

Thanks to the last generation of leaders who were focused on the future outlook of our great nation, most of the now readily harvestable trees were mostly planted by their foresighted initiatives and now we bask in the supposedly abundance in our reserve lots and like their usual saying “ the trees will always be there and there is no end to the continuous supply” often I tend to wonder what planet this set of people really migrated from, in the view of not planting enough to replace the so many felled legally or illegally.

Now, the world is indeed seeking a path in  reducing the potential generation of greenhouse gases from the forest and quite a number of innovative ideas have been springing up, one of such is the REDD project which works in a way of placing monetary value in the regards of protecting and conserving the values of forest globally.

This is gradually gaining ground in Nigeria as the country has already begun benefiting from the REDD readiness funding to help prepare the nation for the project. This really gives a glimmer of hope for the already disappearing forest of the nation as the issues of community participatory forestry management would eventually have a place in the forest policy formulations while stringent rules would be enforced to ensure maximum compliance such that the level of taking out of the forest is well checked to minimal while refreshed outlook of reforestation and afforestation would be initiated massively.

However, a lot is still at stake here even as we perhaps remain optimistic the changes in the global climate would help facilitate sustainable projects as means to reviving our ailing rainforest. The country is in dire need of restructuring of the whole forestry sector while work on the uprooting of the rots of corrupt practices embedded in the sector.

Then, there is the need for designated research facilities in the country to increase their respective works on revitalizing expansive raising of indigenous tree species because in their abundance indeed is the beauty and the life of our ecosystem.

A point of emphasis should however remain on increasing the tree stock in our nation’s biosphere reserves in view of providing a conducive and liveable environment for the coming generation.

Oni, Executive Director, Green Impact International, writes from Abeokuta, Nigeria