Reviving Nigeria’s ailing forest sector (1)

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by: LABODE POPOOLA

Nigeria is blessed with a large expanse of land with different vegetation types, but this important resource is not sustainably used or managed. The country’s forest area has been on a continuous decline. In 1900, the area under forest was 971km2 or 0.01 per cent; by 1970, there was a remarkable increase: 9342km2 or 10 per cent. Though the Food and Agriculture Organisation suggests that countries should maintain a minimum of 25 per cent of their land area under forest, the scenario in Nigeria is by far lower, with estimates hovering around five per cent. This portends great danger for sustainable development in the country. It is a major driver of the changing climate scenarios and other environmental disasters in the country. Available statistics in Nigeria for example, indicate that some 400,000 hectares of forest is lost annually through shifting cultivation. Also, the rapid creation of states from 12 in 1967 to 37 in 1996 (including Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory) with several new state capitals accounted for some forest depletion.

Recognition of the importance of forest resources to the Nigerian economy dates back to pre-colonial times. There are records of export of forest produce as early as 1822 and by 1899 forest resources had gained relevance with the sole purpose of exploiting the resources for economic development. In terms of contribution to national export earnings, forestry was definitely a priority sector through the colonial and early post-colonial periods. Nigeria’s export earnings from forestry grew by 4.1, 8.0 and 28.8 per cent over the periods 1950-1960, 1960-1970 and 1970 – 1980, respectively. Contributions of the forest sector to national economy include also: providing raw materials for industries; providing job opportunities for a large percentage of the population; protecting the environment; acting as land bank. Sadly, Nigeria seems to have lost these contributions due to the country’s over-dependence on crude oil export and the neglect of the forest sector.

With the comatose status of the three Paper Mills in Iwopin, Ogun State; Jebba, Kwara State and Oku Iboku, Akwa Ibom State, and a wobbling and fumbling forest industry, Nigeria has moved from a net exporter of forest products and has become a net-importer of forest products, with heavy importation of such products as paper, furniture, non-timber forest products and forest foods. Worse still, forest statistics, like all others, are appallingly unreliable, even when available in Nigeria. The last major forest resources assessment took place between 1996 and 1998 through a $4.0m grant provided by the African Development Bank. The database established from that assessment was expected to be updated frequently through a Forest Information System in each of the 36 states of the federation and the FCT, Abuja, with a terminal at the Federal Department of Forestry. The gains of the Forest Resources Assessment of 1996-1998 have been completely lost. As of today, there has not been any updating.

There have been a few initiatives in the last one decade. President Olusegun Obasanjo hosted the Forestry Association of Nigeria at the State House, Abuja in 2006 where the association reported the appalling state of our forests. This was followed by a Presidential forum on agriculture and forestry in the same year. Both initiatives had no visible follow-up or outcome. There is also, the Presidential Initiative on Afforestation initiated by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and inherited by the outgoing administration of President Goodluck Jonathan; and lately, the Great Green Wall programme. Sadly, all these have not made the desired impact, due to stifling bureaucracy as well as lack of political commitment. Nigeria’s forests and forestry are thus at a crossroads in spite of the huge potential for contribution to the economy as well as social and environmental sustainability. Urgent and decisive interventions are thus required.

Unfortunately, none of the major political parties articulated any agenda to address the worrisome situation of Nigeria’s environment and its threatened forest sector during the campaigns for the just concluded general elections. Now that a President with unassailable reputation for getting things properly done has emerged, the Forestry Association of Nigeria, as part of its corporate social responsibility counts it as a duty to propose the following agenda for urgent actions to the incoming government:

Political instability and insecurity: In areas where conflicts and insurgencies are being experienced, no meaningful forest management activities can take place. For example, forestry activities have been stalled in most of the north-eastern part of Nigeria and much of the South-South zone of the country as a result of insecurity and conflicts. While great prospects abound in most of our protected areas, negligence has been the reason for these areas to be taken over by militia groups as exemplified by the Sambisa Forest. Several other protected areas could be under a similar siege. Resolving these, would require greater roles for communities in the management and protection of forest areas.

Obsolete forest laws: Most states are still operating obsolete forest laws not suitable for contemporary forest management. The Federal Executive Council approved the first National Forest Policy for Nigeria in August, 2006. The document was said to have been presented to the National Assembly in November, 2007 and ever since, there has been little progress on the matter. There are thus no laws in place to even back the policy. As things stand, that policy is gradually becoming obsolete and inadequate for contemporary sustainable forest management. There is therefore an urgent need to revisit this very important matter.

Valuation of forest products and services and forest resources assessment: Unlike other countries, Nigeria has not been able to place appropriate values on its forest products and services. There is inappropriate pricing of our timber in the timber market. No one knows the true value of one kilogramme of Irvingia gabonensis (ogbono) seed or the value of forest cover to a watershed, or prevention of erosion. Valuation of forest products and services is a product of scientific and economic research. Similarly, there is paucity of quality data for good management planning. Management plans are the basis for management and administration in the forest sector. No state forestry department can truthfully lay claim to having a management plan in the last 20 years. To establish a systematic approach to national forest development, there would be a need to undertake comprehensive assessment and valuation of forests and their products services. This will require optimum investments in forestry education, research and development. Nigeria has the technical and financial capability to do these, and they should be done without delay.

http://www.punchng.com/opinion/reviving-nigerias-ailing-forest-sector-1/

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