TIME TO SECURE OUR ENVIRONMENT

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There should be deliberate policies to ensure balance in harvesting and replacement of plants

The report, last week, from the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) that our country has four per cent of forest cover left sums up the fears of conservationists. Nigerian forests, according to conservationists, are being cleared on a massive scale, and this results in the dwindling quality of land which is beginning to present a frightening dimension. With our country losing about 400,000 hectares of land to deforestation annually, the highest rate in the world, we should all be worried.

Without trees, the moist forest soils become dry from sun rays which penetrate easily. This explains why the rate at which Nigerians fall trees disrupts their role of recycling water vapour to the atmosphere. Scientists say removing trees deprives the forest of portions of its canopy, which blocks the sun’s rays during the day, and holds in heat at night. This disruption leads to more extreme temperatures that can be harmful to humans, plants and animals. Beyond these is the loss of habitat for plant and animal species which live in the nation’s forests and which may become extinct on account of the intrusion of man and nature.

The loss of habitat has resulted in mindless desperation by wild animals to forage in the farms and homes of Nigerians in some cities and towns, resulting in avoidable conflicts. For instance, last year, families of the mona monkey (Cercopithecus mona), whose natural habitat had been invaded by housing developers in the Gbagada area of Lagos, went in search of food in this community, causing residents to seek help from government agencies. Lagos is home to the mona monkey that is commonly found in West Africa between Ghana and Cameroon. There are several cases of this confrontation between man and beast in forest communities.

Shortly before this incident, a hunter shot and killed a rare species of forest elephant at Janiyi Camp, Idanre, Ondo State, delivering a devastating blow to the efforts of Nigeria and that of the global conservation community. More disturbing was that the hunter killed the elephant in its natural habitat, ostensibly because of claims that it destroyed their farms. The NCF said the population of the Forest Elephant is only 200 in the wild and that they are in dire need of protection. These elephants are found in five sites in southern Nigeria – the Omo Forests in Ogun State, the Okomu National Park in Edo State, the Cross River National Park in Cross River State, the Osse River Park in Ondo State and the Andoni Island in Rivers State.

Interestingly, deforestation can be slowed and eventually halted through deliberate policies and actions that would ensure balance in harvesting and replacement of plant and animal species. For instance, the federal government is partnering some agencies of the United Nations in forest conservation efforts across the nation. But these initiatives should be sustained through adequate and regular funding, monitoring and evaluation. Besides, the federal government should assess the impact of its Great Green Wall project initiative designed to check the advancing Sahara Desert to enable it address the problem.

There are other government initiatives that are supported by agencies of the United Nations and these include the sustainable fuel wood management project, launched in Kaduna in 2017 with the support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the federal government, represented by the Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN). Other initiatives, capable of regenerating the nation’s forests and need to be sustained are the Niger Delta Biodiversity Conservation Project (NDBP). The communities where the demonstration projects are located obviously understand their benefits and are mainstreaming them into their existence and livelihoods.

The foregoing represents a valuable opportunity for Nigeria in the efforts for forest conservation, while simultaneously contributing to climate change mitigation and enhancing community development.