Despite providing habitation and means of survival for indigenous people in host communities, deforestation in Southern Nigeria is gradually pushing several forest kinds of wood indigenes into extinction.
Micheal Otu (47) farms cassava and plantain in the indigenous community of Okonde Boki Local Government, in Nigeria’s southeastern Cross River state. Over 20 years, he has grown his business profitably, taking care of his wife and three children. But in the past five years, his harvest and sales have lowered, in part due to deforestation in his community.
Illegal logging has affected not only his business but people living in the indigenous community. “In the last five months, we have had a prolonged dry season, drought, hot weather, dryness in the community, and heavy wind flow”, he said.
Like Otu, many indigenous people in Nigeria are already facing severe impacts from climate change. But as deforestation tears down their resources, the climate crisis has affected the Boki native people with even more strength.
Otu, for example, stressed that young children within the community suffer the greatest impact on their health. He claimed that most medications used for treatment are herbs gotten from the forest, however, the impact of deforestation is ‘making it hard to fetch these leaves.’
“Before, we depended on the protection of the forest, but this (the forest?) has reduced as people are living in terrible situations. Lives are lost every day due to one sickness or the other,” he explains.
Rains and winds have also become more intense, he and other indigenous members of the community say. The forests, which used to slow down extreme winds, are now gone and the Boki community was left defenseless.
Deforestation —the removal of trees from the forest— is significant in Nigeria. In 2020, according to the online satellite platform Global Forest Watch, the country lost 97,800 hectares of its natural forest.
Disasters get worse
The loss of tree cover has also made the Boki community more prone to disasters. The surrounding forests used to cut the wind flow and protect them from intense rains. Now, they’ve experienced more disasters such as excessive windflow, wildlife extinction, agricultural degradation, water loss and dryness.
Anthony Aboh, who works alternatively as a commercial farmer in the community, confirmed the climate impacts have worsened. Deforestation, he says, has “dried up rivers and streams, increased hot temperature, reduced the agricultural produce” and torn down houses from the overbearing wind.
Aboh said that ignorance of the climate impact of deforestation has forced illegal loggers, majorly youths in the community, to continue in their operation. According to Aboh, cutting down wood in the forest is a quick means of making money.
“It is easier to make money from selling timber woods than looking for a legitimate job,” Aboh explained.
Logging has affected the ecosystem in the community, the resident says. Exploitation of the forest has intensified since 2015, as increasing demand for timber woods for infrastructural developments, fuel wood for energy and disparities on land ownership.
“Boki is one of the Local Government Areas in Cross River State, Nigeria, that was known for having a tropical rainforest but now the level of deforestation is exposing the land, endangering the lives of locals and wildlife,” he said.
Despite being the giant of Africa, front lining several discussions economically and politically in the continent, Global Forest Watch shows that from 2002 to 2021, the country lost 153kha of humid primary forest, making up 14% of its total tree cover loss in the same time period.
Nigerian forests at risk
Deforestation in Boki Local Government is majorly caused by illegal logging and encroachment into the forest. This is endangering the lives of indigenous people who depend on the forest’s resources for their livelihood.
Over 60 percent of indigenous people are involved in either farming or hunting, according to Dr. Maurice Olory, a volunteer coordinator for Community Forest Watch, said. However, as demand for wood in the local market began to increase, some natives began to resort to wood sales as a major business, Olory told Climate Tracker.
In 2008, the state government imposed a unilateral ban on all activities in the forest as part of an effort to clamp down on deforestation in the state. Further efforts led the state government to adopt the United Nations’ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation program in 2009.
Over a decade after its implementation, the program did not succeed in stopping forest loss. Deforestation thrived in the state because illegal loggers saw selling of forest woods as a quick means to making money.
Residents told Climate Tracker that an average of 7-10 trucks leave the forest weekly to unknown locations, as negotiated by the buyers, while the lands are left vacant.
To address this, the State’s Governor, Ben Ayade, threatened to tackle illegal logging within the arms of the constitution. Climate Tracker contacted the state government ministry during the time of writing this report) for comment but did not receive a response at the time of publishing this report.
However, Clement Ebin, the pioneer General Manager of the Cross River National Park, told the reporter that the state agencies responsible for managing and checking the activities of illegal logging failed because “they are not well trained or are ill-equipped or have decided to compromise their responsibilities for selfish gains.”
Logging for survival
For Raphael Offiong, who is the Director of the Carbon Innovation Center, University of Calabar, logging has transcended beyond expectations in host communities. Natives are logging for survival, fuelwood and business, which has a great impact on agricultural cultivations in local communities.
“It is so saddening and disheartening. The forest we had yesterday, which was our basic means of survival, we are losing it. Cross River state used to be very green, having the largest rainforest in the whole of West Africa,” the scientist said.
Offiong mentioned that encroachment of the rainforest is thriving because of issues like ‘poverty, energy sustainability, land hunger, land grabbing, industrialization, and indiscriminate exploitation, and other issues that concern gathering of forest snacks and vegetables.’
Offiong, with several research works on deforestation in the state, lamented that the state had lost a lot of indignious woods and is adopting ‘plantation agriculture’ as an alternative to regenerate the forest; this which he described as ‘an enemy’ to the communities.
“Our people have been cowed not to understand what the forest brings. If deforestation can be played down, what we stand to benefit from the forest is far more than what we are seeing today,” the director said.
A heavy toll
Offiong, however, emphasized that deforestation in local communities puts their own survival at risk, as it ends up affecting local agriculture and access to medicinal plants.
“Health is a very big challenge to them so they are left to struggle with the impact. For some of them, they are malnourished and this has led to the heavy rural-urban migration and other displacements,” the scientist said.
Martins Egot, a farmer and director of Devcon —a non-governmental organization fighting deforestation in the state—, said that the communities are losing their traditional life support system.
“Apart from tree species that are being destroyed, non-timber forest products and animals are also disappearing because of uncontrolled timber logging”, he said.
Egot stated that the community has to actively ensure the conservation of the forest, as well as increase awareness of the forestry laws. “The solution to ending illegal deforestation in Cross River State is a complete overhauling of the forestry sector, boosted by strong political will from the state government and involvement of local communities in forest management”, he stressed.
However, Otu believes the efforts of the government to end the crisis are not substantial enough. “The government is doing nothing. Our taxes are used to pay debts. We do not have allocations for conservation which makes the people living in these communities helpless”, he lamented.
Published first by Climate Tracker