February 25, 2013

Our Disappearing Forests

THERE are many threats to the Nigerian state. The depletion of her forests and general mismanagement of the environment pose one of the rarely-talked about threats. Nigeria is located in what could be called the epicentre of the tropical rain forest belt, yet nearly 95 per cent of her forest cover has gone through unmitigated mismanagement.

According to the Institute of International Tropical Agriculture, IITA, “The deforestation rate in the country is about 3.5 per cent per year, translating to a loss of 350,000–400,000 hectares of forest land per year. Between 1990 and 2005 alone, the world lost 3.3 per cent of its forests while Nigeria lost 21 per cent.”

It is little wonder that many species of tropical hardwoods in the forests are known now only in name; they have all disappeared with the forests as demand for woods increase.

A formless energy policy which failed to introduce mass use of Nigeria’s abundant gas as domestic fuel has left the forests at risk. Even kerosene, an environmentally unfriendly alternative is unavailable and unaffordable. The masses depend on the forests for domestic fuel and daily, trucks laden with firewood leave the countryside to serve the cities.

In addition, massive expanses of land being used for universities, housing estates, religious grounds have contributed to the depletion of forests. The furniture industry also depends mainly on timber from the forests as the chief raw material. Lumbering is perhaps the chief culprit in the deforestation process; trees that took 50 to 75 years to mature are felled and in many instances, without replacement planting.

The consequences have been loss of biodiversity and traditional ecosystems for several species of wildlife, which are going extinct in this part of the world. In the coastal areas where mangrove forests once flourished, activities of the oil industry and the deleterious effects of oil spills have rendered the ecosystem hostile to man. Various strange illnesses are emerging. Acid rain and loss of fishing spots and farm lands are already common.

What we have done in the past 50 years is to act only for today without requisite action for tomorrow. These behaviours have vast economic and social implications for posterity.

The Federal Government in 1991 set up the Cross River National Park to protect Nigeria’s last large remaining area of rain forest. Commendable as that is, unregulated lumbering, indiscriminate bush burning and the mindless pollutions from oil and gas exploration pose such dangers to the forests that the Cross River National Park alone cannot redeem.

Government should act decisively through enforcement of existing regulations – including replanting of forests – and new ones to protect our forests and the environment generally.