The Challenge of Deforestation in Nigeria
By Rukayat I. Olanrewaju
Nigeria is highly endowed with a lot of biological resources. The nation is one of the richest biodiversity hotspots in the world.
During the pre-independence era, massive forest reservation took place, about 96,518 square kilometres of land representing 27% of the total forest cover and 10% of the total land area was reserved as protected area. 66 percent of the forest reserves lies in the savanna region of the country, 20% falls within the humid tropical forest zones in southern Nigeria and 4% was fresh water swamps and mangroves of the coastal south of the nation.
When we gained our independence and became a sovereign state, we inherited eight (8) national parks, four hundred and forty five (445) forest reserves, twelve (12) strict nature reserves and twenty eight (28) games reserves from the colonial administrators for the protection and conservation of the forest biodiversity in the country.
Unfortunately, the vast area of forests reserved in the 50s are nowhere to be found. This legacy has been greatly destroyed, the protected areas has been deforested, degraded, encroached and converted to other land uses as a result of increased pressure from the rapidly increasing population.
The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) reported that Nigeria has lost 96% of its natural forest cover and deforestation rate is at an alarming 11.1% per annum. This prevalent problem of deforestation, fragmentation and land conversion for agricultural purpose and other uses has affected adversely the forest biodiversity in the country.
Although nature is resilient and forests have the ability to recover from negative changes, unfortunately the rate and extent of damage and destruction is more than the forest can offset at a particular time. In recent times, the deleterious effect of our attack on the forest can be seen all over the world.
The frequent disasters experienced in some parts of the world can be traced to climate change, which has been aggravated by the increased emission of greenhouse gases and loss of forest cover all over the world.
The global challenge of climate change and biodiversity loss necessitates the need for sustainable forest management.
Sustainable forest management is simply the utilization of our forest resources in a way that it would be available in perpetuity. Sustainable management of our forest resources has been the objective of both the state and Federal Ministry of Environment, ENGOs and other conservation agencies.
The federal government has increased afforestation and reforestation efforts under various projects and programmes to augment natural regeneration processes but the rate of afforestation is not commensurate with the rate of deforestation. This calls for a state of emergency in our forestry sector.
This problem would persist unless the forest stakeholders put all effort to combat this scourge. Sustainable forest management would only be achievable if the institutional framework is put in place.
The forestry policy of 2006 should be reviewed and appropriate laws enacted and the obsolete forest laws reviewed. This will reduce incidence of illegal logging from concession owners, timber contractors and other forest users. Also, there is need for a nationwide comprehensive ecological survey, forest inventory and mapping to provide information on the current status of forest biodiversity in Nigeria to provide a baseline information for forest management planning.
A national forest management plan, with clear objectives for conservation, utilization and sustainable management should be developed and from this, the state forestry department can develop their own site specific forest management plan taking into account the three aspects of sustainable development (social, economic and cultural). More efforts should be put into the sensitization of stakeholders about the importance of trees, tree planting and conservation.
Community forests and private forests establishment should be encouraged to complement government efforts. Private forest plantations will reduce pressure on reserved forest for timber thereby reducing logging in our protected forestlands. Conservation education should be included in school curriculum to teach children about conservation of biodiversity to prevent future reoccurrence of deforestation and forest degradation in our protected forests.
Nigeria’s forestry sector has a great prospect for biodiversity conservation and revenue generation. We have vast land mass and good climatic condition to support diverse vegetation. In spite of the great disservice done to our forest lands, we still have pockets of forest lands that can be reclaimed and developed. With about 20 universities with a forestry department and several colleges of forestry for capacity building we have the needed human resources to reclaim our forestlands, and several community owned sacred grooves with diverse tree species to serve as seed bank, we can put a stop to deforestation and reclaim, develop and conserve our forest resources.
Rukayat I. Olanrewaju
PhD Student on Forestry Management
University of Ibadan