Exploring the benefits of forests

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By Chidinma Ewunonu-Aluko

By most accounts, forest resources contribute
to a society’s food security, as both direct and indirect food materials are derived from the forests.

Dr Saka Jimoh, a Lecturer in the Department of Forest Resources Management, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, says that various aspects of forests contribute to income generation, both at the national and household levels.

“Foods like breadfruit, `Ogbono’, `Iru’, `Uha leaf’ and walnut, among others, and even food additives or flavours like garlic and ginger are obtained from the forest.

“During harsh periods when regular food crops are not yet available in the farm, people in the resort to these forest foods.

“Also, the sales of non-timber forest products like wild vegetables, charcoal, firewood, snails and even bush meat, poles, honey, chewing stick; all generate a lot of income,” he says.

Jimoh says that the furniture industry also generates a lot of income at all levels, as owners of forest trees, sawmills and wood processing plants rely proceeds from forest woods.

“Besides, whenever furniture is exported, government gets taxes and export duties from the products of the furniture makers. Government also gets income from sawmillers’ licences.

“There is money in the sale of gum Arabic, pulp and paper production, marketing and production of charcoal; and all these also generate employment at various levels,” he says.

Jimoh, however, urges the Federal Government to urgently undertake a national forest resource survey, review forest management plans and develop new ones for existing forest reserves, where none exists, so as to harness the nation’s abundant forest resources.

He advises the government to encourage public-private partnerships for the creation of forest plantations and the management of existing forest reserves.

“There should be establishment of forest reserve boundaries, we have over 1,000 forest reserves in Nigeria but they only exist on paper. There is also a need to review the Land Use Act to provide access to lands for farmers.

“There is an urgent need to pass the enabling law that make the National Forest Policy operational; farmers should be given tree seedlings and be assisted to maintain their plantations,” he says.

Sharing similar sentiments, Dr Morenike Ojo, the Provost, Federal College of Forestry, Ibadan, insists that forests provide home for no fewer than 300 million people and contribute to the livelihoods of more than 1.6 billion people worldwide.

She emphasises that apart from supporting the ecosystem, forests also provide livelihoods for man.

Ojo notes that the products and services which forests provide are essential to every aspect of life, as forests remain the sources of resources such as timber, fuel, rubber, paper and medicinal plants.

“In many developing communities, more than 80 per cent of the total energy requirements such as fuel, wood and charcoal, which are consumed by people and industries, are derived from the forests.

“Trade in timber and other forest products are estimated at almost 330 billion U.S. dollars a year,” she says.

According to her, forests also sustain the quality and availability of freshwater supplies, as it regulates water for many of the world’s rivers and help secure water quality.

She says that forests also help to reduce the impacts of landslides, storms and floods, while facilitating efforts to control erosion.

Ojo, however, bemoans the fact that man’s activities are fast depleting the forests, stressing that deforestation and forest degradation account for nearly 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

She underscores the need for people to modify their lifestyles so as to protect the forests as much as they can.

Ojo says that having realised the negative effects of man’s activities like bush-burning, overgrazing and mining, among others, on the environment, her college has, over the years, embarked on remediation .

“The college, under Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), conducted research on different species of seedlings and their suitability in different ecological zones of the country.

“We raise seedlings that are capable of mitigating desertification in the North, erosion in the South East and deforestation in the South West.

“We establish plantations of both indigenous and exotic tree species and carry out tree-planting exercises ever year; we also practice agro-forestry for sustainable land use to maintain soil fertility,” she says.

Dr Funmilayo Aderounmu, the Head of the Forestry Technology Department, Federal College of Forestry, Ibadan, insists that human beings ought to maintain a symbiotic relationship with plants, as the two cannot exist without one another.

She stresses that the importance of trees cannot be overemphasised, as trees provide shelter, favourable environment, income generation and employment, while aiding efforts to assuage the effects of climate change.

“Many people, especially those in the rural areas, depend solely on forests for their livelihood; some people even survive on the collection of non-timber forest products like walnuts, mushrooms and snails.

“Forests improve man’s health, longevity; people who live in the rural areas where there are a lot of trees don’t easily fall sick because the air they breathe in is free from pollution due to the nearby trees.

“That’s why most people in the rural areas live longer than those in the urban centres,” she says.

Aderounmu expatiates that unregulated tree felling, particularly in settlements, has led to a drastic reduction of the oxygen produced by trees, saying that the major reason behind the current climate change is deforestation.

“Clearing forests has led to a decrease of trees while is on the increase. So, the quantity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased and there are scanty trees around to absorb the carbon dioxide produced by humans.

“The clearing of trees has, therefore, affected the ozone layer and the air we breathe is no longer clean; it is polluted,” she says.

Aderounmu urges all stakeholders to encourage the planting of trees, especially multipurpose trees, and desist from tree felling, while ensuring that trees that are cut down are duly replaced with new ones.

“We are where we are today because there is no sustainable replacement of the trees we cut; we need to manage our forests well for the sustainability of our existence.

“The forest is already debased and the Sahara Desert is already encroaching into the south now.

“If the of trees we cut has been replaced, this would have taken care of the gaps created by cutting down the trees; the change in our climate has now led to environmental emergencies such as flooding.

“Ice regions now melt because of the heat caused by excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” she says.

Beyond that, Dr David Ladipo, a horticulturist, says that trees and flowers can be used to create beautiful tourism environment that can attract local and foreign tourists.

Ladipo, the CEO of Cenrad Consulting, Ibadan, emphasises that the value of the country as to its high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) can be determined by the extent of its forests conservation.

“Our GDP is totally dependable on a sustainable environment which is created by trees. Regional and national policies should be put in place to conserve the environment and prevent deforestation.

“If forest conditions are not good, they will affect agricultural products and genetic resources are also lost,” Ladipo says.

All in all, ecologists underscore the need to protect and harness the potential of the Nigeria’s forest resources, as part of efforts to fast-track the country’s socio-economic growth. (NANFeatures)