STAKEHOLDERS in the forest sector, have urged governments at all levels to invest heavily in the sector because of its huge potential in addressing the nation’s emerging environmental, social and economic challenges. They made the appeal last week at the 14th Annual Chief Shafi Lawal Edu Memorial Lecture, organised by the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, NCF in collaboration with Chevron Nigeria Limited, in Lagos.
The stakeholders expressed dismay that Nigeria is blessed with a large expanse of land and different vegetation types that are not sustainably used or managed, with the attendant impact of climate change.
Impact of climate change
Those who spoke at the lecture which had Valuing Nigeria’s Forests: Issues and Context as its theme were the Chairman, National Executive Committee, NCF, Chief Ede Dafinone; Director-General, NCF, Adeniyi Karunwi and the President, Board of Trustees, NCF, Izoma Asiodu, among others.
The guest lecturer and President, Forestry Association of Nigeria, FAN, Prof. Labode Popoola said Nigeria with a total land area of 923, 678km square has a forest area that has been on a continuous decline owing to its increasing population among other factors.
According to Prof Popoola, heavy demand for construction, wood and other purposes by the wood-based industry encouraged logging which led to large scale deforestation of Nigeria’s forest. He noted that non-forest policies, particularly, energy policies, continue to pose grievous threats to the forest sector.
The don however noted that in Nigeria, forest statistics are appallingly unreliable, even when available.
He said: “The last major forest resources assessment in Nigeria took place between 1996 and 1998 through a $4m grant provided by the African Development Bank. The database established from that assessment was expected to be updated frequently through a Forest Information System, FIS in each of the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory, 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 is nothing on ground in this regard. Also, there has not been any updating since then. Forest cover remains under pressure as a result of human activities such as agricultural development where vast lands are cleared without conservation considerations, large-scale per-urban housing project development, fuel-wood generation, uncontrolled forest harvesting, including poaching for logs and poles and urbanization.”
Prof. Popoola who highlighted the environmental, socio-economic, socio-cultural services forests provide, however, lamented that the deforestation rate in Nigeria is about 3.5 annually, adding that this translates to a loss of about 350,000-400,000 hectares of forest land annually.
Citing paucity or lack of data/information, obsolete forest laws, poor funding, governance issues, education and research, corruption, among others as factors militating against valuation of Nigeria’s forest, Popoola said: “Moving forward, Nigeria will need to invest heavily in the forest sector because of its continuing topicality in the global discourse for sustainable development and the inherent huge potentials the sector has in addressing emerging environmental, social and economic challenges.
“Forests remain Nigeria’s most under-valued resource, and as long as planners and policy makers continue to disregard the economic importance of the forest sector, as well as those of sectors and activities that depend or impact it, so will forests continue to be degraded and lost, and their potentially vast economic opportunities will be lost. We can no longer afford the business as usual approach in the forest sector.” Earlier, the Director-General, NCF, Adeniyi Karunwi said the NCF has been successful in implementing projects such as restoration and conservation of dry lands and wetlands habitat in the Sahelian region to wetland and coastal restoration for improved livelihood in the coastal region of the country, noting that this has made NCF the foremost leader in conservation efforts in Nigeria.
He however, added that the Memorial Lecture also serves as the platform for the presentation of awards to grantees of the Chief S.L. Edu Memorial Research Grant for PhD studies, pointing that the grant has been sponsored by Chevron Nigeria Limited for over a decade and has tremendously strengthened research in biodiversity conservation in Nigeria by building the capacity of young conservation professionals. On his part, Asiodu said valuing Nigeria’s forest, as well as investing heavily in the sector has become imperative in the country’s economic history.
He said: “With the downward fall of crude oil prices, Nigeria’s leadership is at last beginning to show a determination to diversify Nigeria’s economy. There are great opportunities in agriculture and solid minerals both which depend on environmental sustainability. It is our responsibility therefore to guide decision makers on the economic valuation of forests so as to justify the necessary investments for the protection and restoration of these fragile forests and their ecosystem services.” Dafinone who spoke at the event said “as part of NCF’s efforts aimed at domesticating climate change actions, we intend to respond to the clarion call for the vigorous pursuit of the implementation of the reforestation programmes in order for Nigeria to meet the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) recommended 25 percent forest cover of total land area.
“Our decision to bring out our collective consciousness the need for proper economic valuation of Nigeria’s forest is not only timely but very appropriate as part of the efforts after the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21), to strategically position the country for the real climate change action.”