11 September 2011

Nigeria: Deforestation - Looming Self-Inflicted Disaster


Deforestation, like most ecologic problems has, over the years, been a major setback to farmers, as well as a concern, writes GRACE AZUBUIKE

During geography, biology and agricultural science lessons in secondary schools, defforestation takes centre stage. But its encroachment is as intensive as its education and awareness. Increased cases of deforestation, erosion and other environmental degradation are fast threatening many states, especially in the north, turning them into arid zones.

In Gombe State for instance, recent findings revealed that 65 per cent of the state's forest reserves had been lost to acute, human-induced defforestation in 29 different locations in the forest.

According to environmentalist,Danjuma Sidi, this "unwarranted felling of trees has resulted to 40 to 45 range of deforestation recorded annually along with gully erosion and ozone layer depletion in the state". Most worrisome is the near total inability of the state and local governments to embark on any tree-planting and related campaigns, thereby forcing stakeholders to engage in tree planting.

Only a few years ago, the village of Yammama in Malumfashi, Katsina State , was home to a rich forest. Then, Fulani herdsmen and their cattle thrived in the shade provided by the forest and the farmlands benefited from cattle manure as they grazed. Today, the once vibrant forest is now a shadow of its former self .

A commercial farmer, Audu Bello, in Suleja, has not been too happy lately, because, "People cut down trees for firewood and this has caused erosion to affect our farms." He is certainly not alone.

His opinion is not isolated. "The problem is more than you can imagine. We now fight land infertility every year. Look at that place, it was part of my land but now, because the trees over there were cut down, my land is affected," lamented a farmer, Jummai, in Orozo, a suburb of the FCT.

Deforestation is a process where vegetation is cut down without any simultaneous replanting for economic or social reasons. It has negative implications on the environment in terms of wildlife and increased desertification among many other reasons.

According to data taken over a five-year period from 2000 to 2005, Nigeria had the largest desertification rates in the world with loss of 55.7 per cent of its primary forest. The annual rate of deforestation in Nigeria is approximately 3.5 per cent, which is between 350,000 and 400,000 hectares per year.

"Nigeria and Sudan were the two largest losers of natural forest during that period (2000 to 2005), largely due to subsistence activities. At 11.1 per cent, Nigeria's annual deforestation rate of natural forest is the highest in the world, and puts it on pace to lose virtually all of its primary forests within a few years," the data stated.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 2007 forest report stated that, "In Africa, almost 90 per cent of all wood removals are used for energy. Deforestation and forest degradation will continue in most developing regions - a reversal of the situation would depend on structural shifts in economies to reduce direct and indirect dependence on land. In most developing tropical countries, agricultural land used for both subsistence and commercial cultivation have continued to expand. Consequently, loss of forests will continue.

"While heating and cooking will remain the principal uses for fuel wood and charcoal in developing countries, the use of solid biofuels for the production of electricity is expected to triple by 2030.

"For many developing countries, wood will remain the most important source of energy. The rising price of oil and increasing concern for climate change will result in increased use of wood as fuel in both developed and developing countries."

These are very telling statements. A lot of damage has been done to the country's land through the process of deforestation, notably contributing to the overwhelming trend of desertification.

Desertification is the encroachment of the desert on once fertile land.

A study conducted between 1991 and 2005 noted that there was a temperature increase of 1.10c in Nigeria, while the global mean temperature increase was only 0.740c.

From 1990 to 2010 Nigeria nearly halved her amount of forest cover, moving from 17,234 to 9,041 hectares. The combination of extremely high deforestation rates, increased temperature and decreasing rainfall are all contributing to desertification in the country.

Reacting to this development, a specialist in forest ecology and the president, Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), David Ukali, in a recent interview in Ibadan, emphasised the need for strict punitive measures and implementation of the environmental law to be taken against this common practice of bush burning, deforestation and desertification.

Ukali, who is also the chairman of the Nigerian Environmental Study/Action Team (NESAT), noted that, "Our activities are inimical to the environment; our daily work and behaviour domestically, industrially and agriculturally are threatening the stability of the environment, as well as the balance of the ecosystem.

"We often burn bushes to farm and practice agriculture without due regard to the environment. We cut/fell trees without knowing that we are altering the eco- system. All these human activities are threatening the nature and at the end, we face the consequences," he said.

Through the years, Nigeria's wide bio-diversity of higher plants and animals have been strongly affected by the negative impacts of deforestation as the rare Cross River gorilla decimated to about 300, because of poaching activities of the locals.

Deforestation also accounts for 87 per cent of the total carbon emission in the country. Forests help to reduce the amount of pollutants in the air. Their depletion increased the chances of the carbon monoxide reaching the atmosphere and result in depletion of the Ozone layer which in turn would result to global warming.

A recent study also revealed that the water table is most affected by deforestation. The survey discovered that the water table would go lower if it was not constantly replenished, considering that the water table needed replenishing.

Experts have said that during the rains, the forest holds much of the rainfall to the soil through their roots. Thus, water sinks in deeper to the ground and eventually replenishes the supply of water in the water table.

It would be interesting to imagine what will happen when the world's forests become depleted. Run-offs from rainfall would simply flow through the soil surface, and unable to be retained by the soil, would be evaporated straight away. The water tables will fail to rise and well ill go dry.

Wild life advocates have constantly warned that the world's several threatened wild animal species could still be saved if deforested forests would only be reforested and the practice of slashing and burning forests be abandoned.

The assault on forests subsists, because the country's department of forestry has failed to implement any forest management policy to curb deforestation since the 1970s, and without any conservation efforts or education, the society would not be informed on how to properly treat finite natural resources.

Following concerns about the effect of climate change on global economy, few steps have been made by the federal government to stem the tide of deforestation and illegal logging. However, any solution to the problems of deforestation in Nigeria must be an approach that would incorporate and aggressively target all aspects that are related to the problem; resorting to alternate energy sources (hydro-power, solar and wind energy), improved technology, forest management, economic production, agriculture and security of the locals who are dependent on the land.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) listed the requirements for sustainable forest management as: extent of forest resources, biological diversity, forest health and vitality, productive functions of forest resources, protective function of forest resources, socio-economic functions, legal policy and institutional framework.

Any concrete step to address this problem, must be tailored along the lines of neccessity and standard pre-requisites.

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