21 August 2013

Nigeria: Can Bamboo Address Deforestation and Erosion in Nigeria?

Every year, according to statistics from the Centre for International Forestry Research, Africa loses forest cover equal to the size of Switzerland and Nigeria alone is estimated to lose about 350,000 - 4000,000 ha of its forest reserve annually and this is regarded as one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world.

As the trees across the country vanish, the land dries; the soil erodes and becomes barren leading to low agricultural yield, alarming desert encroachment, desertification and uncontrollable erosion.

Experts at a recent meeting on the state of the nation's forest identified firewood and charcoal as the leading drivers of deforestation but the country lacked alternatives to firewood and charcoal which have become the energy sources for middle class and low income Nigerians especially those in the rural areas.

A lot of propositions have been advanced as options government should consider in addressing the drivers of deforestation and this include the need to articulate policy framework that address the out-dated forest laws in operations in the country, better mechanism for the implementation/enforcement of best forest management practices, reduce firewood and charcoal consumption and forest tenure system for local communities.

However, Mr Badru Ola Muyideen of the forest department of the Federal Ministry of Environment is of the view that the introduction and massive cultivation of bamboo remained Nigeria's best option to reduce deforestation, address desertification as well as cushion the impact of climate change on Nigeria.

According to him, bamboo can serve as firewood and can be burnt as charcoal. "This way we don't have to cut down trees which take forever to grow but we can harvest bamboo yearly and use it as we want."

Bamboo is a common plant which the country is currently not exploiting in the quest to address the mirage of environmental challenges confronting the country.

Bamboo is a tribe of flowering perennial evergreen plant in the grass family Poaceae. Giant bamboos are the largest members of the grass family. In bamboos, the internodal regions of the stem are hollow and the vascular bundles in the cross section are scattered throughout the stem instead of in a cylindrical arrangement. The dicotyledonous woody xylem is also absent. The absence of secondary growth wood causes the stems of monocots, even of palms and large bamboos, to be columnar rather than tapering.

Bamboos are some of the fastest-growing plants in the world, due to a unique rhizome-dependent system. Bamboos are of notable economic and cultural significance in South Asia, Southeast Asia and Sun-Saharan Africa, being used for building materials, as a food source, and as a versatile raw product.

Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth, with reported growth rates of 100 cm (39 in) in 24 hours. However, the growth rate is dependent on local soil and climatic conditions, as well as species, and a more typical growth rate for many commonly cultivated bamboos in temperate climates is in the range of 3-10 centimetres per day during the growing period.

Some of the largest timber bamboo can grow over 30 m (98 ft) tall, and be as large as 15-20 cm in diameter. However, the size range for mature bamboo is species dependent, with the smallest bamboos reaching only several inches high at maturity. A typical height range that would cover many of the common bamboos grown in the United States is 15-40 feet, depending on species.

Bamboo is a kind of grass which explains the speed of growth. This means that there's lots of it, and when it's harvested it grows itself back again quickly enough not to leave a dent in the eco-system. Unlike all trees, individual bamboo stems, or culms, emerge from the ground at their full diameter and grow to their full height in a single growing season of three to four months. During these several months, each new shoot grows vertically into a culm with no branching out until the majority of the mature height is reached.

Here in Nigeria conscious effort have not been paid to the importance or relevance of bamboo in addressing erosion, desertification nor deforestation.

Nigerians still rely heavily on hardwood as source of energy and this according to medical experts is dangerous. It is a women and children's job to collect firewood and as the demand increases so they have to walk farther distances to find. Most of the firewood cooking is done indoors resulting in air pollution which kills over a million Nigerian women and children annually according to the Bureau of Statistics.

Dr Samuel Ike, conservationist said that Nigeria can solve most of the environmental challenges it is facing with the introduction of bamboo into the affroestation programme.

"You cut down a hard tree and it takes decades to grow back but cut down a bamboo and before you know it has grown back. Unlike hardwood, bamboo is renewable and regrows after harvesting just as grass regrows after cutting," he said.

According to him, the bamboo roots have the potentials to grab onto the soil and hold it fast, "plant bamboo on a steep slope or riverbank and it prevents mudslides and erosion."

"This is the plant needed for the afforestation programme and even the Great Green Wall project where millions of trees are expected to be planted.

A meeting of stakeholders on sustainable development of bamboo and rattan in Nigeria recently urged the federal government to implement a Food and Agriculture Organisation's recommendation that each country set aside 25 per cent of its total land mass for forest conservation through the establishment of bamboo plantations.

According to the stakeholders, such development would ensure that all relevant research institutes in the country work on how the country would benefit maximally from the plant.

As the nation move to address flood, erosion and other environmental challenges, the inclusion of bamboo in the aforestation programme would go a long way in saving the soil and provide jobs and incomes for rural dwellers.

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