Nigerian forests fast depleting, FG warns



The present public forests in Nigeria were acquired between 1900 and 1970 and embraces 100,000km2 or 11 per cent of the total land area.

This is according to a document obtained from the Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC).

The forests consist of eight vegetation types, some of which are closely related.

These, according to the document, include the mangrove forest, freshwater swamp forest, lowland rain forest, derived savanna, Guinea savanna, Sudan savanna, Sahel savanna and Montane forest types.

Most of these forests are home to the largest number of economic trees of high local and international standard. Some of the well known species are the mahoganies such as Khaya spp., Entandrophragma spp. and LovoatrichiliodesHarms.

However, in spite of its importance, the forests have diminished very rapidly, and in most areas, have been transformed into unproductive land.

The document, which quoted the forest resources survey of 1996 to 1998, revealed that the forest estate has decreased considerably to less than 6 per cent of the country’s land area.

Currently, there is concern that about 26,000ha of forestlands are destroyed annually in the rain forest zone, as well as conversion of natural forests to other forms of land use.

To increase the volume of forest resources supply in the country, plantation establishment was mostly financed by international organisations, most especially, the African Development Bank, the European Economic Community, United Nations Development Programme, World Bank and the Food and Agricultural Organisation. Most of the projects are executed in collaboration with government agencies such as the FRIN and state departments of forestry.

The director-general of the RMRDC, Professor Hussaini Doko Ibrahim, regretted that for some time now, aggressive and decisive reforestation was virtually abandoned in the early 1970s, and that by mid 1970s it had become apparent that national production of timber could hardly sustain the domestic demand and export trade. This, according to him, led to the ban placed on round wood exportation in 1976. This was, however, followed by a waiver of the ban in 1991, after which the exportation of round logs of Tectonagrandis and GmelinaarboreaRoxb were allowed.

“This opportunity was grossly abused, and in 1994, the most mature of these species had nearly been creamed out of the forests,’’ he recalled.

According to him, a study of land use change in Nigeria between 1978 and 1995 showed that for most states, forests were disappearing at an alarming rate of more than 3.5 per cent per annum. He said the trend had continued to increase in all the states, making the Food and Agricultural Organisation to stipulate that Nigeria had the highest annual loss in forest area in West Africa.

“The unmitigated exploitation of forest resources has also led to significant loss of biodiversity.  For instance, a study by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency in 1992 indicated that Nigeria possessed more than 5,000 species of plants and 22,000 animal species. However, about a quarter of these have been lost already, making it important for us to maintain and sustain a culture of reforestation that will not only increase the gene pool but also ensure that the species identified in the nation’s forests are not lost,’’ he noted.

According to him, this is more imperative as about 200 of these species are endemic to Nigeria and their disappearance from our forest will mean their disappearance from the earth.


FG’s moves to restore the forests

Professor H.D Ibrahim said the Federal Government, through the RMRDC, initiated a plantation establishment project in 1992, with the aim of encouraging private sector participation in plantation establishment in the country.  Among the objectives of the programme are to encourage private sector participation in planting indigenous economic species and mostly to incorporate the programme into the overall afforestation project of the government.

According to him, to promote increased utilisation of non-timber plant species components such as medicinal plants, the Council constituted a processing task force with the primary assignment of highlighting available facilities for processing indigenous plants in the country. The task force, he said, assessed available facilities for medicinal plant processing in national universities and research institutes. The result of the findings eventually led to the establishment of medicinal plant extraction facilities at the NIPRD and some of the nation’s tertiary institutions.

He said between 2000 and 2019, the Council collaborated with many research institutions to produce improved varieties of various raw materials, including Mangiferaindica and various citrus species for fruit juice production, Gossipyum species for the textile industry, kenaf for the paper industry, improved low gestation shea tree for shea butter for production in the food and cosmetics industry.

In view of the increasing demand for oil palm in the country, he said the Council also in 2018, collaborated with the NIFOR to produce about 20,000 of improved tenera oil palm seedlings that were distributed to various private sector organisations.

In 2019, the Council expanded the concept of this project to incorporate the addition of exotic species of well known industrial potentials. Thus, in 2019, the Council, having fulfilled all procedures, imported improved seedlings of safflower and stevia plants from India for multi-locational trials in the country, in view of their increasing utilisation in the oil and sweeteners industry respectively across the globe.

“Through our coordinating offices nationwide, the Council has created awareness of the importance of developing indigenous plant species through plantation establishment,’’ he added.

He said individuals in the organised private sector, communities, corporate organisations and government at the primary level were continuously encouraged to participate in the project.

“Let me also say that the Council is following strict procedures in the distribution of the seedlings for the plantation establishment phase of the project. This is to eliminate seedlings wastage and ensure adequate maintenance of the plantations established through the project. Participants have to show evidence of ownership of at least 5 hectares of land as the stockings are to be reinforced in subsequent years,’’ he said.

Ibrahim said collaboration on development of long gestation wood producing timber species was done in collaboration with corporate organizations, such as local government areas, communities and well organised companies.

He said plantation establishment, most especially of long gestation plant species, such as those used in the furniture industry, had become imperative in Nigeria.

According to him, “The current development whereby our industries, most especially our furniture industry are increasingly depending on imported wood species, is no tenable.

“I wish to use this opportunity to invite private sector investors that have about 5ha of land or more and are interested in participating in this programme to visit the Council for discussions,’’ he said.

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