The state of Nigeria’s forests

David Ladipo,

The IITA forest. Photo by K. Lopez, IITA.
The IITA forest. Photo by K. Lopez, IITA.

Nigeria is blessed with a large expanse of land and variable vegetation, but this important resource is not sustainably used or managed. Many rural dwellers in the past have treated our forest resources as inexhaustible.

Today the story is different. The average rural dweller now realizes that the forest is “finished,” but poverty continues to force people to exploit even the relics of remaining forests.

The Federal Government has, over the years, attempted to generate baseline data on the state of our forests including their use. These studies have provided data for a better understanding of the state of forest resources, the rate of environmental degradation, and the rate of forest depletion.

They also emphasize that present-day forest cover is under pressure as a result of human activities such as agricultural development where vast lands are cleared without conservation considerations, large-scale peri-urban housing project development, fuelwood generation, uncontrolled forest harvesting including poaching for logs and poles, and urbanization.

Pterocarpus soyauxii (local name: Silk-cotton) in IITA. Photo by J. Peacock, IITA.
Pterocarpus soyauxii (local name: Silk-cotton) in IITA. Photo by J. Peacock, IITA.

In Nigeria, deforestation or loss of vegetation or the selective exploitation of forests for economic or social reasons is very common. In most areas major losses have been recorded in vegetation, forest complexity (diversity), or in germplasm (quality).

The deforestation rate in the country is about 3.5% per year, translating to a loss of 350,000–400,000 ha of forest land per year. Recent studies show that forests now occupy about 923,767 km2 or about 10 million ha. This is about 10% of Nigeria’s forest land area and well below FAO’s recommended national minimum of 25%. Between 1990 and 2005 alone, the world lost 3.3% of its forests while Nigeria lost 21%.

In addition, some state governments are removing the protected status from forest estates without regard for the environment. The State Forest Departments have been unable to curtail the spate of requests to establish large-scale oil palm plantations in forest estates. The unfortunate impression that has thus been created is that the forest estate exists as a land bank for other sectors as demands continue nationwide.

As the forests are exploited, so too is the biodiversity. Plant and animal genetic resources are also lost with this important genetic resource, vital for breeding in future. Conserving the wild relatives of cultivated crops is also needed.

What factors continue to threaten biodiversity and contribute to poverty? These include deforestation, desertification, habitat alteration, invasive alien species (plants and animals) importation, poor land management (fire and agricultural systems + grazing), climate change, unilateral development decisions, poor political accountability, and poor budget allocation, release, and implementation.

Young Milicia excelsa (Iroko). Photo by J. Peacock.
Young Milicia excelsa (Iroko). Photo by J. Peacock.

We cannot afford not to conserve our forests and thus lose the vital ingredients of rural development. The situation is getting worse every day and the need for forest conservation and restoration is becoming critical.

With the new National Forestry Policy and the National Document on Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan, a new approach is needed now on forestry resources conservation in Nigeria. Enforcement and a community approach will produce positive results.

All stakeholders need to understand that biodiversity is critical to the maintenance of a healthy environment. Its role is enormous in meeting human needs while maintaining the ecological processes upon which our survival depends. Biodiversity not only provides direct benefits such as food, medicine, and energy; it also affords us a “life support system.”

Biodiversity is required for the recycling of essential elements. It is also responsible for mitigating pollution, protecting watersheds, and combating soil erosion. Controlling deforestation will ensure that biodiversity exists and can help reduce the impacts of climate change and thus act as a buffer against excessive variations in weather and climate. It can then protect us from catastrophic events.

Increasing our knowledge about biodiversity can transform our values and beliefs. Knowledge about biodiversity is valuable in stimulating technological innovation and providing the framework for sustainable development. Let us protect our forests as a start.

14 thoughts on “The state of Nigeria’s forests

  1. This is an interesting paper, though I never thought forest conservation is a matter of concern to IITA that deals with agronomic crops.

    All the same, it is very important for us to conserve the forests for the sake of environmental sustainability. Nigeria was adjudged to have the highest rate of deforestation of natural forests as at 2005 FRA report by FAO. Who knows what the result will be in 2010 when new report is expected to be out.

    The Government is to be blamed. Many of the politicians give logging concessions to their friends, associates and cronies who go into the forests and cut down trees. Worse still, illegal fellers come at night to ravage the rest, wading off any resistance from forest guards with sophisticated weapons against the ‘dane guns’ carried by the forest guards or even having nothing to fight against illegal fellers. Tell me, what happens to the hundreds of woods in the saw mills, has anybody challenged them whether the logs are registered?

    Back to the rural areas, majority of them descend on the trees for fuel wood. Infact, Forestry Outlook for Africa, FOSA report of 2001 by FAO stated that Nigeria has the highest rate of fuel wood consumption in Nigeria, over 75% of the populace depend on it for cooking etc. I had the priviledge of reading a magazine by DFID a couple of editions back showcasing how the government of some poor Asian countries worked with DFID and the rural poor were taught how to generate biogas from the wastes and today, most of the rural poor are using biogas for cooking. Consider the respiratory diseases you get from the smoke in kitchen for burning fuelwood or even fossil fuel.

    Poor Nigeria! Nigeria blessed indeed with brilliant chaps all over the place, but our leaders are so unfocused and lacking in discretion, or perhaps it is even a deliberate action to keep Nigerians in abject poverty.

    Sorry, my comments are much. I am actually a research scientist with National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology, NACGRAB, Ibadan, and my primary research interest is on Biodiversity Conservation. If such an article is relevant in your serial publication, I will be glad to send in inputs on this area for publication.

    Thanks for the great job in IITA.

  2. Nice paper from Dr David Ladipo.However the species Pterocarpus soyauxii pictured in the paper by Dr John Peacock is not the Silk Cotton….Kindly correct that please.

    IITA campus is such a ‘live genebank’ of native species that are lesser known and under exploited.I think more efforts should be put into popularizing a lot of these under utilized speciesthat are abundant in the IITA arboreta.

  3. “All stakeholders need to understand that biodiversity is critical to the maintenance of a healthy environment” This is a great step taken in the right direction on biodiversity conservation,all the valuable trees are gone especially well known Iroko.(Millicia excelsa)the percentage is highly reduced we can hardly find the plus tree,Restoration of African forest calls for attention .

  4. I never thought that there are still virgin forest nowadays. The government around the world must protect their natural resources since we get almost all the things that we need from our natural resources.

  5. l am a student of umaru musa yaradua university katsina, conducting reseach on impact of
    deforestation as a source of national calamity–a case study of katsina state, and i found that the major causes of deforestation are poverty and 80% using fuelwood as energy source. if the government can provide an alternative at the expense of deforestation, the percentage of deforestation will be reduced.

  6. I am a student of forestry and environmental management,final year,Michael okpara university of Agriculture umudike,umuahia.carrying out a research on an appraisal of forestry development,am happy for nice work by ITTA,how i wish my work will be uploaded,to create an enligthement to the populace on the need to manage there forest sustainably………bear in mind that nature cannot automatic replace or regenerate the forest for us except by our little contribution.forest serve as an engine of development that propels economic activities especially for a nation like ours endowed with abudant resources.Nature will not forgive us if we exhaust the resources without thinking about the future generation

  7. forest plays a vital role in global food security,fodder,fuel and medicine.Also influence our immediate surrounding and the stability of the larger environmental conditions which sustainable agricultural production depends.However the most direct link between forestry and food availability is the food is produced by the forest……..Is chinedu student of michael okpara university of Agriculture umudike,umuahia…..more grease to your elbow ITTA for this nice work

  8. Iam a student in forestry and wildlife management of cross River university (Crutech).Iam undergoing a research on the challenges of conservation in forestry by the year 2020. I really thank the IITA for having passion on conservation by stating the impacts caused by alteration of its principles done by humans.I wish they should help me publish my work.

  9. this paper has really helped me in my a final year student of geography and environmental management, university of ilorin. Am working on Fuelwood Consumption and Forest Degredation

  10. this is a very good publication and i really think we need people like in this country so as to help the conservation of our forest. i am a stundent of unilorin agriculture, and i will like to be a part of this fight against the misuse of te forest.

  11. am actualy glad for these article as it has broadend my scope on the present state of nigerian forest as it affects the economy…am a practical year student university of calabar, forest and wildlife resourse mgt

  12. I’m really happy for this article bcos it has broadened my knowledge about the current state of Nigeria forestry development. I’m a student of fed uni of tech yola hopefully we will join our hands and fight against the illegal harvest of forest products.

  13. I wish to thank the writer of this paper for bring forest and forest practice to perspective.Indeed,it is very worrisome that Nigeria as nation and people have come to terms with the importance and role of forest in her national development.It is time for her and now is the time to reverse the destructive trend witness in forestry sector.Organisation like yours should raise to government and make laws and policies that protect the forest.Augustine Ogbonna

  14. God has indeed bless Nigeria with the secondary forest ecosystem in IITA. I did my MSc. research dissertation in IITA secondary forest ecosystem and I am currently doing my PhD research thesis in the same secondary forest reserve. I want to encourage students and scientists to come and conduct viable research work in IITA secondary forest ecosystem in order for the management not to cream-off the secondary forest ecosystem for agricultural purposes.
    IITA secondary forest ecosystem can only be sustained by our collective efforts.

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