CHIKA OKEKE writes that proper utilisation of forest resources would act as support system for funding the nation’s annual budget and boost economic development.
Forest resources had revamped Nigeria’s developmental activities before the discovery of oil on January 15, 1956 at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta area.
While timber accounted for a large proportion of total agricultural share in international trade, about 170, 000 persons were gainfully employed in 1933 through active engagement in various levels of forest activities.
The figure rose to 360, 000 in 1947 and 568, 000 in 1961 but presently, more than 2 million people are engaged in both formal and informal forestry sector employment in Nigeria.
Regrettably, the present level of exploitation of forest resources is endangering the survival of some iconic species and pushing others to the brink of extinction.
Nigeria is presently experiencing four per cent forest loss annually which is considered as the highest globally.
It is further estimated that 1.5 million trees were felled down daily through illegal logging, thereby leading to 3.5 percent deforestation annually.
Surprisingly, the forest cover has been depleted to less than 10 per cent as against the mandate of the Food and Agricultural Organizations’ (FAO) that each state is expected to keep its forest cover to a minimum of 25 per cent of its land area.
Findings by LEADERSHIP indicated that worldwide, that forest loss through deforestation, forest degradation and unsustainable land management contributed to about 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions especially carbon that is linked to global warming and climate change.
Climate change is caused mainly by human activities such as burning of fossil fuel and fuel woods, industrialisation, urbanisation, agriculture, deforestation and forest degradation.
These activities contributed to the emission of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere, that traps heat radiation thereby increasing the atmospheric temperature.
According to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Nigeria 2016 Annual report, different human activities are responsible for the changing global climate especially the rise of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere mainly due to reduced sinks (forests).
Further investigation revealed 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.
Irrespective of the challenges, forests plays a vital role by providing shelter to both human and animals; balance oxygen and carbon dioxide likewise in protecting waterways that supplied fresh water to rivers.
To further boost developmental activities, the federal ministry of environment would be collaborating with the national bureau of statistics to ensure that forestry’s contribution is appropriately captured in the national accounting system.
Worried by the negative development, stakeholders in the environment sector have suggested that investment in forest resources would strengthen the economy.
The founder of Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE), Dr Newton Jibunoh, pointed out that forests would play a critical role in helping countries meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) so as to sustain the fight against climate change.
He maintained that rising temperatures made forests drier, more susceptible to fires, and vulnerable to pests and diseases.
Jibunoh disclosed that climate scientists are 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 quoted the WWF Living Forest report as saying that 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.
Lending his voice, the director of forestry, Ministry of Environment, Mr Andrew David Adejoh, said the department was partnering with stakeholders both at state and federal levels to return the forest back to its prinstein state.
He said that funds is important in managing forest resources, which was why federal government established the National Forestry Trust Fund (NFTF) to revive afforestation project.
Adejoh stated that great green wall programme was primarily set up to address deforestation and afforestation issues in the 11 frontline states.
He maintained that there were other programmes initiated by federal government to support forestry communities meant to stop illegal logging of trees daily.
The director hinted that National Park Service (NPS) initiated support zone programme , expected to provide alternative source of income for people living around the national parks to avoid illegal encroachment and over-exploitation of forest resources.
He decried the rampant extraction of fuel-woods for cooking in the north, adding that government has started the distribution of improved fuel-wood stoves, which he believed would reduce the volume of wood and charcoal needed to cook meals.
The Great Green Wall (GGW) programme which is an African Union initiative was launched in 2013.
It was not only targeted at creating green wall of trees or barrier from Senegal in West Africa to Djibouti in East Africa but for a set of integrated actions in addressing the multi-sectoral problems affecting the livelihoods of the people in African Sahel-Saharan region.
The director -general of National Agency for the Great Green Wall (NAGGW), ), Dr Bukar Hassan, noted that plans were underway to reinforce forest guards in the 11 frontline states, that would protect the animals and plants cultivated in those areas.
The 11 states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Bauch, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi also known as frontline states cut across the north-east and north- west region of Nigeria.
The states with a projected population of about 54 million and 394, 006 landmass are worst hit by desertification.
He emphasised that the agency would prioritise advocacy visit to state governments affected by desertification for better understanding of Great Green Wall (GGW) programmes and effective partnership with the agency and relevant stakeholders.
Hassan noted that the visit would also provide another opportunity for the state chief executives to ensure the success of the programme.
The DG maintained that the agency adopted monitoring and evaluation as a vital tool for appraising the success of its programmes.
Federal government has revealed that the 2016-2020 environment sector strategic plan was targeted at supporting the government and Nigerians in delivering economic, social and environmental change by realigning the sector with key priorities of government and desires of the people.
The minister of environment,Suleiman Hassan Zarma, disclosed that the overall objective of forest programmes in the environment sector master plan was to generate business and economic opportunities while providing societal benefits as well as ensuring environmental sustainability.
He regretted that Nigeria was loosing huge taxable income and foreign exchange due to unregulated forest exploitation, which he said were usually carried out below the radar and not captured in economic development indices. Zarma however linked the 3.5 per cent annual rate of deforestation and its accompanying loss of between 350, 000 and 400, 000 hectares yearly as the major cause of flooding, erosion, desertification, biodiversity loss and food insecurity.
The minister revealed that the need to value the forests cannot be overemphasized due to over- exploitation for immediate economic gains and development planning.
He emphasised that government has entered into Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreement with the Association of Charcoal Exporters of Nigeria (ACEN), Processed Wood Producers and Marketers Association of Nigeria (PROWMPMAN) and the Tropical wood Association of Nigeria (TWEAN) for establishing plantations across the country.
Zarma stated that the ministry has initiated strong administrative measures that would reduce the high rate of exploitation and exportation of wood and its products.
He listed the measures as the suspension of charcoal export, abiding by the suspension of trade in Rosewood placed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as well as developing new guidelines for wood export and allied products from Nigeria.
The minister pointed out that Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN) was also involved in developing plantations across the various ecological zones in the country likewise in producing improved tree seedlings to encourage tree planting and strengthen existing and new schools of forestry.
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