Nigeria forests cover on a continuous decline
An expert has attributed the continued decline of the country’s forest cover from 12 per cent in 1967 to 37 per cent in 1996 to the absence of budgetary allocation and polices to guide against the abuse of the forest reserves.
Prof. Labode Popoola, President of the Forestry Association of Nigeria, said at a recent meeting with the Minister of Environment Mrs Lawrencia Mallam that “progressively, the forest cover of the country has dwindled, in spite of some modest efforts at plantation establishments by both private and public concerns.”
The total land area of Nigeria is 923,678km2. In 1900, the area under forest was 971kms and by 1970 there was a remarkable increase as the forest cover increased to 9,342kms but as at 1999, the forest coverage has dropped to 46,542kms.
Reasons for decline
According to Popoola, several reasons can be adduced for the decline prominent among which are the rapid creation of states from 12 in 1967 to 36 in 1996, heavy demand for wood for construction and other purposes, and non-forest friendly policies which have continued to pose threats.
Other reasons, according to him, include a sharp drop in budgetary allocation to forestry to less than 2 per cent of total annual allocation of public funds, while states still embark on aggressive revenue generation through unplanned and uncontrolled logging.
The Forestry Association of Nigeria noted in one of its publications that no meaningful forest management activities had taken place in the country over the years and this had resulted in trans-boundary forest serving as hide-outs for criminals. It also noted that forest guards, who hitherto were firmly rooted in the forest providing adequate security for communities and forest estates, are no longer available.
The Federal Executive Council approved the National Forest Policy in 2006 but there are no national laws in place to back the policy.
Deforestation has been on the increase over the years and has remained unchecked as the high cost of household energy has forced families to rely on firewood and charcoal.
The activities of timber dealers and charcoal producers, according to Dr Chris Okorie, founder of Planet Guide, an NGO campaigning for the protection of forests, have almost turned the dry high land and moist forest in the south to savannah while the savannah woodlands are fast becoming Sahel.
Mohammed Sani, a forestry staffer with Zamfara State, noted recently that forest guards no longer exist because of the paltry sum they get as salaries. The job, according to him, is hazardous yet there is no incentive or remuneration commensurate to the hazards associated with the job.
Minister of Environment Mrs Mallam acknowledged the fact that the nation’s forest cover had really declined in recent times but assured that government, through various initiatives, was determined to increase the forest cover.
Initiatives aimed at increasing the cover, according to her, include the Presidential Initiative on Afforestation which distributed over 40 million seedlings free of charge to states for onward distribution to schools and interested individuals or organisations and the Great Green Wall project which is expected to raise over 20 million seedlings for planting in the 11 northern states facing threats of desertification.
She also pledged to seek ways of increasing funding for the forestry department of the ministry to enable them embark on research and other activities aimed at stimulating discussion on how best to increase the nation’s forest cover.
FAN had in their submission to the minister articulated some quick-fix measures which if implemented would increase the country’s forest cover as fast as possible.
Among such solutions was the need for government to give the Presidential Initiative on Afforestation the desired impetus as the programme has the potentials of raising seedlings for the country as witnessed in the phase one of its implementation.
They also appealed to the minister to extend the Great Green Wall project to all states of the federation, noting that ecological challenges which the project was designed to address transcend geopolitical boundaries.
They also called for the inclusion of forestry professionals in the implementation of forest related initiatives across the country, which according to them, would ensure that the aims and objectives of such project are efficiently realised.
The association said: “There is the need to urgently undertake forest and biodiversity resources assessment of the country to establish the status of the resources. One cannot adequately manage what he does not know or have control over. There is also need for the convocation of a National Forest and Biodiversity Dialogue to evolve inter-sectoral and inter-governmental strategies for more holistic approach to sustainable forest management.”
As we continue to experience the decline in forest cover, it is important for government to, as a matter of urgency, address or implement its decision of setting aside 60 per cent of the Ecological Fund for afforestation and forestry related issues as recent security challenges have shown that if the forests are well treated, insurgents and other criminals using the forest to perpetuate crime against the state and people would have no hiding places.