By Chika Okeke
Chika Okeke writes that the increased deforestation across the country is a contributory factor to loss of habitat for countless number of species.
While it is estimated that Nigeria loses 1.5 million trees daily due to illegal logging, the rate of deforestation pegged at 3.5 per cent annually is considered as the highest globally.
Researchers have also revealed that 80 per cent of earth’s land animals and plants live in forests even as many battle for survival due to deforestation that destroyed their homes.
Findings by LEADERSHIP highlighted that the removal of trees without sufficient reforestation has resulted in loss of habitat and biodiversity to countless number of species.
It’s also an indication that the diminishing number of trees as seen across the states have exposed the population to dangers associated with climate change such as extreme weather conditions, rise in sea level, flooding, drought and acidic rainfall that is currently threatening human and animal health.
With the country’s dense forests cited in states of Bayelsa, Cross River, Ekiti, Osun, Ondo, Rivers, Taraba and Edo, these states account for over 50 per cent of tree cover.
According to WWF Living Forest report, failure to address climate change issues now could lead to the destruction of 170 million hectares of forest as well as loss of biodiversity and livelihood by 2030.
However, a similar report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) pointed out that the yearly rate of deforestation in Nigeria rose astronomically irrespective of federal governments freeze on timber production.
It emphasised that different human activities accounted for the changing global climate especially increased carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere due to reduced forests.
Further findings hinted that globally that forest loss alone contributed to about 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions especially carbon that had contributed to global warming and climate change.
It also highlighted that over 50 per cent of Nigeria’s remaining tropical high forests were located in Cross River State alone.
Added to this is a recent study by environmentalists, revealing that Nigeria’s forest cover reduced from 16 per cent in 2000 to 11 per cent in 2014, while areas covered by farmland increased from 25 per cent to 30 per cent in the same period.
Despite the ministry of environment programme aimed at ending illegal felling of trees, the war against deforestation surges.
To this end, environmentalists described lack of awareness on the importance of forest as one of the leading factors behind deforestation.
The founder of Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE), Dr Newton Jibunoh, disclosed that an increase in climate change would lead to massive land degradation and deforestation.
The environmentalist noted that forests would play a critical role in helping countries meet their NDCs so as to sustain the fight against climate change.
He pointed out that the importance of trees in stabilising the climate should not be substituted if the federal government was keen on actualising the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees centigrade.
This is even as he emphasised that deforestation, land degradation and land use change accounted for over 12 per cent of the entire greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions on the planet.
Jibunoh stated that climate scientists were optimistic that investment in forests and trees has the potential to reduce poverty, drive sustainable development and provide vital local and global environmental services for the planet.
He listed the institutions that should actively engage in climate change talks as non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, the private sector, individuals and government.
Jibunoh recalled that the organisation was the arrowhead behind the campaign against the construction of 220km Cross River Superhighways on Ekuri community forest in the state.
Mangrove forest also grows along the coast and delta areas of Nigeria and are found in all coastal states such as Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, and Rivers.
The conservation of this category of forest has been identified as a bolster to afforestation programme in the country.
The conservator-general of National Park Service (NPS), Alhaji Ibrahim Goni, called for prompt intervention and effective conservation of mangrove forests in order to reverse the alarming rate of deforestation in the country.
Goni pleaded with the public to minimise activities that could lead to land degradation, soil fertility loss, deforestation, depletion of biodiversity, and coastal areas as well as river bank erosion.
He noted that plans were underway for the establishment of mangrove forests in Bayelsa to curb the depletion and loss of animal and plant species in Nigeria.
Goni asserted that incessant forest exploitation had resulted in the continued shrinking of Nigerian forests for several years.
He lamented that forest exploitation for agriculture development, fuel wood collection, sand excavation, mining, mineral exploitation, urbanisation and uncontrolled harvesting have worsened the dicey issue.
Goni explained that mangrove forests are extremely productive ecosystem that provided numerous goods and services to the marine environment and people.
While stating that mangrove forests was home to large varieties of plants, fish, crab, shrimp and mollusk species, he highlighted that it also served as nurseries for animal species.
The CG stated that the woods sourced from mangrove forests are resistant to rot and insects, which are extremely valuable.
According to him, “The dense root system of mangrove forests trap sediments flowing down rivers and off land and also helps stabilise the coastline and prevents erosion from waves and storm.”
He added other benefits of mangrove forests as water filtration, prevention of coastal erosion, coastal protection from storms, carbon storage, food, timber, livelihood provision and biodiversity protection.
Goni noted that mangrove was recognised as the first line of defence on the coast which is why it has enormous precious value.
Shortly before her assumption of office as the United Nations deputy secretary- general, Mrs Amina Mohammed, inaugurated a 23-member national emergency committee on afforestation to end illegal felling of trees and improve Nigeria’s forest cover.
Members of the committee were selected across ministries of environment, trade and investment, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), finance, water resources, science and technology as well as representatives from Ogun, Taraba, Cross River States government and among others.
Mohammed said that the 3.5 per cent rate of deforestation per annum was unacceptable if Nigeria must achieve sustainable development and environmental sustainability.
She stated that the forests had been degraded at an alarming rate due to intensive logging of timber for domestic and export market, extensive agricultural practices , conversion of forestlands to other use, expansion of infrastructure corridor through forest estates and criminalities within the forest.
This, she said, led to a reduction of forest cover from 10 per cent of the country’s landmass at independence to less than five per cent cover presently, saying that the committee would dig deep to find solution to the crisis in order to protect the environment.
She confirmed that the national assembly has set up an investigative committee to resolve the deforestation crisis.
The UN DSG disclosed that the suspension of issuance of CITES permits for three months was to provide the enabling period for the ministry to come up with a policy direction towards addressing forest degradation and deforestation in the country.
In a bid to curtail deforestation, federal government disclosed that it had engaged the services of wood- based industries and development partners in reforestation/afforestation programme.
The minister of state environment, Mallam Ibrahim Jibril, promised to prioritise actions aimed at climate change mitigation and adaptation, noting that tree planting and sustainable management of forest reserves and trees outside forests landscape were essential for environmental sustainability.
He stated that government has put in place strategies to control wood exports and facilitate forest conservation using the instrument of CITEC, noting that the ministry has actively engaged development partners from the Korean embassy in the area of afforestation.
Jibril listed other strategies as the issuance of first-ever sovereign green bond for the purpose of accessing funds for forest regeneration and afforestation as well as setting up national committee on afforestation to address the issue of deforestation in the country.
The minister enjoined the public to stop deforestation even as he challenged stakeholders on the need to create awareness for sustainable preservation of the forests for future generation.
He noted that the Solar Cooking Archive 2011 estimated Nigeria’s fuel wood consumption at about 87 per cent saying that daily consumption of firewood by the rural communities is estimated at 27.5 million kg/day.
The minister advocated urgent shift to alternative sources of cooking like improved cooking stove, liquefied natural gas even as he called for increased plantation of woodlots in communities and individual farms, avoidance of indiscriminate bush burning and illegal felling of trees as well as increased urban/ rural tree planting by the roadsides.
The minister insisted that federal government has taken steps to intensify environmental education in schools and roll-out new public awareness programmes on forest conservation and community participation in a bid to reduce pressure on the forests due to fuel wood extraction.
Jibril pleaded with all levels of government, corporate and private sector, the civil society groups as well as Nigerians to join forces with the federal government in its quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote adaptation to climate change.
He stated that the federal government through its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent conditionally , and 45 per cent unconditionally with the help of external support by 2030.