Soneye: Depletion of forest resources hurting flora, fauna

Senior lecturer in the Department of Geography, University of Lagos, Prof. Alabi Soneye

A senior lecturer in the Department of Geography, University of Lagos, Prof. Alabi Soneye, in this interview with GERALDINE AKUTU, said that watching the depletion of forest resources without commensurate response have grave consequences on human lives and the environment.

How important are forest reserves to national economy?

When you say somewhere is a reserve, it means a place where a decision has been taken to be left untouched; you have to conserve something so as to reserve it.

In this case, reservation could be by the government, culture, communities, NGOs, CBOs or even landlord associations.

A reserve also implies that there are certain things there that are probably being endangered and not properly utilised for the purpose for which they are meant or created.

So, everybody is talking about sustainability.

In this wise, there is always this idea, policy or regulation that such places should not be entered, or at least entry is restricted.

Whoever wants to make use of the facility must take permission or get approval from the appropriate authorities.

Having said that, let me add that we all know the significance of forests reserves to life in the ecosystem.

There are some plants and animal species that are very useful for either medicinal, recreational or just for conservative purposes.

In recent times in Nigeria, people have been talking about bush meat, so there are some animals that have gone into extinction and there are some plants that are of high medicinal value that are being endangered.

So, when government reserves a place, it is for a purpose. People go to such places for recreation and are warned not to harvest there.

Forests in many states are giving way at a faster rate than they are replenished. In what specific ways does the depletion of forests affects the society vis-à-vis our daily lives?

Forest depletion does affect our lives in many ways.

For instance, everyone is now talking about global warming.

The heat wave that we are experiencing nowadays is relatively more than what we used to experience before, and this is directly linked to deforestation.

We need oxygen to survive, while we give out carbon dioxide, which plants take in, after which they release oxygen for us.

When we deplete vegetation, it means we are reducing the amount of oxygen that we should have in circulation.

There is a minimum level of oxygen that we are supposed to have for us to live very healthy, which is about 20.8 per cent.

Anything less than that could lead to series of disasters, deaths or casualties.

So, when forests are depleted, the chances of getting oxygen are equally reduced.

So, before everyone is put on life support and pumped with oxygen, we must all think of natural ways of accessing these things primarily through plants.

In the southern part of Nigeria, where we have more rainfalls, more soil potentials and some other human activities, forests are very crucial.

But, when you get to the North, desertification is looming at great speed.

In the middle belt, you can talk of bush fires and there are communities noted for bush burning to catch rats and so on.

So, the rate of depletion varies from one place to the other, but by and large, there is a strong link between available forest reserves, healthy living and even the rate of development.

What in your opinion constitutes the greatest threat to the nation’s forest reserves?

Of course, the greatest threat to our forests is human beings, who in their bid to ensure their existence, encroach into the forest for different reasons.

There is this theory that tells us that when you have a living environment, the centre of that settlement is usually for administration, like the kings or traditional rulers. Then, the next we have the markets which is known as CBDs.

Also, where people live beyond the periphery, we have people’s farmland, forests and the virgin land.

You can see that, the living environment (residential areas) are moving into the farmlands and farmlands going into the residential areas.

What happens is that with more mouths to feed and more movements to make from one location to the other, people will always go from one place to the other.

So, forests are always at the receiving end because we clear them to farm and erect buildings.

On this score, human beings are the greatest direct threats to forests.

Indirectly, as we are removing the forest, we are increasing carbon dioxide in the air because the forest also needs replenishment, which is water.

Soil getting dry, oil exploration and dredging activities also constitute threats to our forest reserves.

There are people that have thought it wise to come up with programmes such as community management servicing.

Where they conduct researches and try to establish the benefits of forest products like tree stems, leaves, seeds, among others.

Some woods that are native to this environment are gradually getting extinct, or are on their way to extinction because export companies cut them with little or no regulation by authorities. Are there dire consequences for this sort of action without replenishment?

If you are travelling to Benin, Edo State from Lagos State, between Ogun and Ondo states, you will notice hundreds of Gmelina trees by the road.

You would be tempted to believe that this is a thick forest of Gmelina, but by the time you get into the reserve, you will be shocked to see that the place is almost bare.

It is when you view via the satellite that you will observe places where there are no forests at all.

Gmelina for instance, can be cut down after five to six years, but the challenge we have, is that people are not planting when they cut down these trees.

Iroko, Mahogany are purely tropical trees, but unfortunately, if you go to the sawmills you will see the thick ones there being prepared for shipment abroad. That tells us the level of depletion we are having.

During General Oladipo Diya’s administration in Ogun State, people were asked to plant trees, and for every tree the fell, they were to ensure that another was planted.

People were even encouraged to have trees in their compounds. Now, that culture has died off.

Some state governments like that of Lagos are planting trees in different location, but a good number of them don’t make it.

In addition to illegal logging by businessmen, some state governments are voraciously harvesting timber products without commensurate replanting. For how long can we continue like this?

In recent times, we have lost our culture of doing things the right way due to corruption.

It is not also strange to see the government colluding with these illegal loggers to do things the way it ought not to be done even though they recognise the need for tree planting as seen from the yearly tree planting ritual.

So, long as we have trees being replanted, legal logging should not be an issue, but what should concern us is when we are not replanting.

We need to change are ways of doing things.

Lack of political will by governors to stick to the principles of sustainable forest management is also seen as a challenge affecting afforestation in states. Isn’t it?

I think we should start from homes and not wait for government even though the government has a big role to play.

We can start with economic trees in our respective gardens.

Having that fruit trees like mango, orange, pawpaw and so on in our homes would go a long way in helping the environment.

Government on its part should do what is right.

I am also of the view that we should not blame the political class alone but also ourselves because there is so much ignorance out there.

The Department of Forestry normally is a civil service department, and I don’t think there is any government agency that is properly funded, so, I am of the view that some of these things should be private- sector driven.

The government I think should provide an enabling environment to make sure that things run properly and allow people to invest.

If the working environment is conducive, most of these policies that the government is finding difficult to implement can be implemented with the private sector being in the driver’s seat.

If things are working well, chances are that we will not see people stealing our money to Switzerland or other foreign countries; rather they will want to invest it here.

As a country, we have a lot of advantages from watershed protection, land rehabilitation and raw materials, so government should rather regulate and allow investors to come in because of their expertise in and ability to drive change, ensure the implementation of sound policies.

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