The havoc of illicit exploitation of forests

The Permanent Secretary, Environment Ministry, Mrs Ibukun Odusote presenting a clean cook stove to a woman on International Day of Forests in Abuja

…A report of International Day of Forests


As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark the International Day of Forests last Thursday, with the aim of raising awareness on the importance of all types of forests, the concern however remains that forestsare being illegally exploited by humans.

This year’s celebration with theme, ‘Forests and Education’ and the slogan ‘Learn to love our Forests’, focused on promoting the role of education and research as cornerstones for sustainable forest management.

On each International Day of Forests, marked every 21st March, countries and institutions are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organise activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting and public awareness campaigns.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Mrs Ibukun Odusote, said this year’s theme clearly re-enforces the need to “educate ourselves on the importance of forests and learn how to appreciate and use them for our benefits as well as the benefits of the unborn generations.”

“The Federal Government has structured this year’s presentation to focus on reminding us of the likelihood of losing our indigenous and iconic plant species if we continue to treat our forest resources as what we would have in perpetuity, if conscious efforts are not made to use them sustainably,” she said.

“The African Union (AU)in its report said this year’s theme is significant for Africa considering the continuous decline of investment in forestry education in many parts of the continent.

“We need to reverse this trend in order to ensure the sustainable management of our forests and related natural resources for sustainable development,” she said.

Director General of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), Dr. Muhtari Aminu-Kano, said forests are estimated to cover 31 per cent of the world’s land surface.

He said according to a recent Global Forest Resources Assessment, more than 80 per cent of the natural forests with their associated resources had been destroyed at an estimated rate of 20,000 hectares per day.

He explained that Nigeria’s forests are under unprecedented pressures due to large scale deforestation and degradation in order to make land available for competing needs.

“Each year, the country loses between 350,000 to 400,000ha of forest landscapes. This rate of loss is among the highest in the world and therefore needs to be reduced, reversed and ultimately halted,” Aminu-Kano stated.

The Minister of Environment, Hassan Suleiman Zarma, said unregulated exploitation of forestswas causing the country huge losses in taxable income and foreign exchange.

Zarma said such unregulated exploitation was usually done below the radar and not captured in the economic development indices.

The minister, represented by the Director of Forestry, Andrew Adejo, noted that the present 3.5 per cent annual rate of deforestation and its accompanying loss of between 350,000 and 400,000 hectares of land every year was causing serious flooding, erosion, desertification, biodiversity loss and decline in food security.

“The need for us as a country to constantly remind ourselves of the importance and value of forests to our daily lives becomes more important at this point of our development when the forests are being indiscriminately cleared and exploited both for immediate economic gains and development planning.

“Our contending immediate priorities have resulted in jeopardizing our ability to ensure the future of generations yet unborn,” he said.

While noting the numerous products and services derived from forests, Adejo said unfortunately, their ability to sustain mankind and contribute to sustainable development has been severely impacted by a number of human made factors especially unregulated or poorly managed human activities.

Meanwhile, a report from a high-level side event organised by the African Union in partnership with the African Development Bank (AfDB) and others, showed that the negative economic impact of illicit trading in Africa’s natural resources is not only about direct revenue losses but also the indirect loss in opportunities from the entire economy through a multiplier effect.

“This effect is manifested in the form of loss in direct incomes, jobs, unpaid tax revenues, peace and security.

“Illicit trade in the forestry sector is estimated at US$13 billion. This is not only costing Africa millions of dollars in revenue but it is also adding to the root cause of extreme poverty and social vulnerability,” the report said.

Illicit activities in the sector include the harvest, transportation, purchase and sale of timber in violation of national laws.

The report stated that a wider economic impact of illicit trading in natural resources is estimated at US$120 billion per annum, which is 5 per cent of Africa’s GDP; andan estimated 24 million jobs are lost, which is about 6 per cent of overall employment in Africa.

It however noted that by curbing illicit activities in the natural resource sector, Africa could create 25 million more jobs annually. The loss in tax revenue is about US$3.6 billion.

To address the issue, an environmental right activist and Director of Health at the Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey, on a Tweet chat to mark the day, said an exploitative relationship with forests is very short-sighted and inevitably diminishes biodiversity literacy.

“Sadly, recent investments aimed at reducing deforestation actually only see trees as carbon stocks and missing the point,” he said.

He said: “We should emphasize that plantations are not forests irrespective of who wishes to define them as such. In other words, forests are not monocultures.

“We need to see more community managed forests, freed from exploitative commercial interests. Civil society can assist by way of research and through facilitating exchanges between forest dependent communities,” he said.

The Minister of Environment, Hassan Zarma, had said understanding that government alone will not continue to bear the burden of sustaining our forest, the ministry established a National Forestry Trust Fund that is aimed at providing resources complementary to government’s statutory allocation.

The fund, he said, will assist in carrying out reforestation and sustainable management of the country’s forest estates, reserves and production landscape to achieve significant increase in forest cover, supply of forest products and services for socio-economic development.

He also stated that the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN) is engaged in developing plantations across the various ecological zones in the country and producing improved seedlings to encourage tree planting.

Director General of the NCF, Aminu-Kano, said the foundationhas launched a 30-year forest recovery initiative titled Green Recovery Nigeria which is aimed at gradual restoration of the country’s forest cover to at least 25 per cent as proposed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).


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