5 Where are the 50-year-old trees?

This article was written in September 2010 for 234NEXT and was also published in October 2010 by TLAXCALA[1]

Trees are the lungs of the earth; it can be assumed then that Nigeria, which displays severe cases of deforestation, is literally gasping for breath for lack of oxygen. Nigeria’s rainforests have been depleted to less than 10  percent of their size 50 years ago.

What is left of our forests are under threat, and many areas are degraded and converted for other uses. This phenomenon is not restricted to Nigeria. Overall, the United Nations surmises that 13 million hectares of forested land have been converted every year over the past 10 years and most of this is said to be for agricultural purposes.

In areas like the Amazonia, most of the conversion has been for monoculture farms where crops like soy are cultivated for animal feed and other industrial uses. In South East Asia, the threat has been from forest conversion into oil palm plantations for ultimate production of fuels for machines. Indeed, the land uptake and the highly invasive oil palm trees, make this writer wince whenever Latino friends insist on calling the tree ‘palm Africano’ or ‘African palm’. A crop, whose origin is Africa, is being introduced in environments where the locals view its arrival with anxiety and at times anger.

In Nigeria, our forests are threatened by logging for export and conversion into plantations. It is said by some that we export logs and import back into Nigeria as floorboards, furniture, or even toothpicks. As The Economist noted in a recent issue, ‘clearing forests may enrich those who are doing it, but over the long run it impoverishes the planet as a whole.’

There was a notorious forest gobbler who was well known for logging outside its area of concession in the Omo Forest. Whenever confronted, the operators of this company would plead that they simply got lost in the forest. Interestingly, they always ‘innocently’ strayed into areas where the bigger trees were.

The company’s creative way of avoiding responsibility perhaps reached its crescendo in the Cross River forest, after they found the Omo Forest too hot to stay in. When community folks in Cross River began to complain about this company’s activities, they recruited a bunch of community people who supported the company and even staged a demonstration during which they carried signs saying ‘we want factories, not monkeys.’ This company was eventually kicked out of the forest by the Cross River State government.

How about those converting forests into rubber plantations? Chunks of the Okomu Forest as well as the nearby Iguobazuwa forest have been at the mercy of the Nigerian subsidiaries of a French multinational tyre company, as they convert the forests into rubber plantations. Some people push the idea that plantations are the same as forests and that they provide the same services. Truth is that plantations are not anything near to being forests; even if the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says otherwise.[2] At a very fundamental level, a tree cannot make a forest, even if you plant a million stands of that tree. The rise of monoculture plantations has seen huge use of agrochemicals, including pesticides that eat at the very heart of forest ecology.[3]

Plantations do not have the sort of ground cover and undergrowth that forests have, and cannot absorb as much carbon as forests do. Plantations do not provide vegetable, medicinal, and other support to communities. Neither do they provide the essential service of protecting watersheds as forests do. We need not mention that bush meat is not found in plantations.

Time to ask questions

As Nigeria celebrates 50 years of political independence, it is apt to ask if we can easily find many 50 years old trees standing anywhere within our borders. Some would likely be found in community-managed forests; especially those designated as sacred or even evil forests.

The massive loss of our forest cover should give us serious concern as we clink glasses in celebrations that many Nigerians are unable to identify with because of the sad and alienating records we have chalked up in various sectors, including the environmental area.

As we celebrate 50 years of political independence, we may as well look back at the many oil spills that have flooded the Niger Delta over the same period of time. At 50, we should ask why half the population of Jigawa State should be displaced by flooding and why water levels in dams in the northern parts of our country are not properly managed.

At 50 years, we should perhaps place garlands on the necks of multinational oil companies who had flared gas in the oil fields routinely over the same period without care that we are daily choked and killed by the toxic cocktail that they spew into the environment.

As we celebrate 50 years of political independence, we should track how we have fared in all areas of human development. It is a good time to pause and ask if 50 years is not enough for Nigeria and other celebrating African nations to pause and ask when they will have true socio-economic independence.

As we celebrate 50 years of independence, it is a good time to ask what are the ecological agendas of those who wish to contest for the presidency and other offices in Nigeria. The environment is our life, and we cannot afford to have Honourables and Excellencies who do not care about ecology beyond how to guzzle ecological funds and use them for electioneering campaigns.

It should be a good time to look for a 50-year-old tree anywhere it can be found, sit on its roots, and think. If we cannot find such tress, then we may stand before any sapling we find and promise to let it stand for at least 50 years.

  1.  http://www.tlaxcala-int.org/article.asp?reference=1946 (accessed 7 June 2016)
  2. See 'Forest Plantations', for example, at http://www.fao.org/docrep/004/y1997e/y1997e08.htm (accessed 7 June 2016)
  3. See WRM.2009. Exposing the Lies about Monocultural Tree Plantations. http://wrm.org.uy/oldsite/plantations/21_set/Exposing_lies.pdf (accessed 7 June 2016)

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