By Nkechi Isaac, Abuja
The present public forest estate which was acquired between 1900 and 1970 embraces 100,000km2 or 11 percent of the total land area of the country. In spite of their importance, the tropical forest resources have diminished very rapidly and most areas have been transformed into unproductive land. The forest resources survey 1996 – 1998 revealed that the forest estate has decreased significantly. The total forest estate which stood at 10 percent of the country’s land area in 1996 is now less than 6 percent. Currently, there are concerns that about 26,000 ha of forestland are destroyed annually in the rainforest zone during the conversion of natural forests to plantation and other forms of land use. Also, the World Wildlife Fund estimated that over 90 percent of the natural vegetation in Nigeria had been cleared, and that over 350,000 ha of forest and natural vegetation are lost annually.
The major economic wood species available in the forests are Milicia excelsa, Khaya grandifoliola, Khaya ivorensis,Mansonia altissima, Nuclea diderichii and Pterocarpus macrocarpa, etc. Most of these species are now dwindling in availability and are being replaced by non-economic wood species in different applications. Despite the dwindling availability of nation’s forest resources and the accompanying environmental problems, there is currently a massive onslaught on the exploitation of Pterocarpus erinaceus, popularly known as African teak, rosewood, madobiya or madrid in Hausa for export. The manner of exploitation and its impact on forest degradation has been a major cause of concern to industries and the general public in recent times. The export of rosewood is fuelled by its increasing demand in China.
Addressing journalists on this development, the director-general of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Dr. Hussaini Doko Ibrahim, said the onslaught on P. erinaceous species in Nigeria was premised on two major reasons which included the economic recession which has turned a number of Nigerians including the youths, farmers, etc into loggers and hunters of P. erinaceus in all the ecological zones where the plant species is endemic.
He added that the second reason, which is closely related to the first, is that Chinese businessmen are exploiting a lax regulating and enforcement environment, loopholes in existing laws and unwillingness of government to give bite to existing policy on illegal trade in the export of the country’s forest resources. This has culminated in the harvesting and export of 000’m3 of P. erinaceus logs to China since 2013. This trade which gulped more than $1.3 billion in West Africa alone, is decimating forests and heightening tension as governments find it difficult to control.
He said: “Since 2011, the Chinese traders have been moving from one West African country to the other in search of rosewood. They started from the Gambia which became the largest exporter from the sub-region to China. As supplies dwindled in Gambia following an export ban, traders started exploiting Guinea Bissau, Togo, Benin, Ghana and recently, Nigeria. In 2014, more than 30,000 Chinese companies traded in rosewood products, generating domestic retail revenues of over $25 billion. Currently in Nigeria the timber merchants are moving from one state to the other, depleting rosewood trees and leaving blighted and raped landscapes without minding the effects of unrestrained harvesting of the wood on the environment.
“In 2015, Nigeria became the largest single exporter, accounting for 45 percent of total export to China with the hub located in Shagamu in Ogun State and increasing activities mounting up in Ikorodu, Lagos State. The Lagos/Ibadan Expressway and the Lagos/Shagamu/Ore road are littered with deposits where hundreds of thousands of rosewood and other logs are prepared for export.”
According to him, “The effect of the unmitigated exploitation is being in communities, many of whom rely on rosewood for fuel, medicine, fodder and income. Another major problem is presented by the method of gathering the felled trees in dumps. In Taraba State where the tree is mostly found on hilltops, the trees are cut and rolled down hill, causing extensive damage to the vegetation and the environment. Felling of trees is carried out at any location, irrespective of accessibility.
“The selective logging of P. erinaceus has led to depletion of almost all the mature tree stands in the local community where it is found. This has posed serious threat to the physical environment and human population in the areas. One of the other states that has suffered from this ignoble exercise is Kogi State. Gregarious harvesting of rosewood has devastated the Kogi State forests. Evidence of the illicit trade is visible in many communities.
“Along Taketa-Effo Amuro road in Mopa Moro Local Government, hundreds of felled timbers can be seen wasting away. After depleting the Kogi forests, the merchants have moved on to other states one of which is Cross River State. In Cross River State, logging activities is predominant in a number of local governments. These include Ikom, Boki, Etung and Ogoja. Government of the state imposes N260 on any trailer. This under-estimated cost has assisted in gregarious exploitation of the plant species leading to the creation of Cross River State Anti-deforestation Task Force, which was later disbanded as a result of corruption.”
The council, he further said, surmised that the present onslaught on the nations P. erinaceous trees in Nigerian forests is a continual and deliberate effort by investors to further decimate the resources that have been under siege prior to independence.
“To stop export of P. erinaceous wood to China, it may be necessary that government seek the cooperation of the Chinese government for action to be taken on the consumer side. Most actions taken by state governments on the ban on illegal cutting of P. erinaceus are not implementable as a result of the sheer number of the community members involved in the illegal trade. Also a number of state governments have imposed levies on the cut wood species and on lorries transporting them to the final dumps.
“The collaboration of the Chinese government in this initiative may assist in ensuring effectiveness of the ban. Chinese companies processing P. erinaceus wood can be encouraged to establish in Nigeria. This is to promote value addition and job creation locally. Also, state governments should increase the number of protected areas in their domain in order to protect this highly valued species,” he added.