Preserving Nigeria’s surviving tropical forests and planting new trees to replace those lost to deforestation “offers great benefits,” according to researchers, both to the climate and to agriculture.
Scientists from the Nigeria-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) help that reforestation and forest conservation “could help reduce the severity of climate change by absorbing more carbon from the air, and ease the local impact of climate change by regulating local weather conditions.” They also cite the forests’ roles as watersheds, defences against soil erosion and conservation pools for biodiversity.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), indigenous forests in Africa are being cut down at an “alarming” rate of about 3.4 million hectares per year, making the continent the region with the second highest net annual loss of forests in 2000-2010. “But reforestation and education on the benefits of conservation are critical to stemming and reclaiming Africa’s lost forest and biodiversity,” says Dr John Peacock, a senior scientist at IITA.
At IITA headquarters in Ibadan, Nigeria, scientists for a long time have been engaged in tree-planting, both for research and for environmental reasons. The renewed effort in planting of trees comes at a time when deforestation rate in Nigeria – Africa’s most populous nation – has reached an alarming rate of 3.5 percent per year, translating to a loss of 350,000-400,000 hectares of forest per year.
In 1976, Nigeria had 23 million hectares of forest. Today, only 9.6 million hectares remain – less than 10 percent of Nigeria’s total land area. Mr Peacock says the planting of trees is part of a new initiative to restore rainforests in Nigeria. IITA is also contributing to the important UN-REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) initiative in Nigeria.
Through the project, the team has raised over 15,000 seedlings of 33 different species since February 2010 in preparation for planting next year, with at least as many again hoped for during the coming dry season when most tree species produce seeds.
“We would like every family, represented by staff members in IITA, to plant an indigenous tree next year as part of IITA’s activities to increase the forest area,” Mr Peacock adds.
Earlier this year, IITA and partners made efforts to raise awareness of the need to preserve biodiversity, especially in forests that are increasingly becoming lost or threatened. For example, statistics indicate that Nigeria’s Milicia excelsa (iroko) has become endangered, with about US$ 100 million worth of iroko timber illegally poached from remaining forests last year. “The unfortunate thing is that these very valuable trees are not being replaced,” Mr Peacock notes.
At IITA’s venues in Ibadan, a large area has been forested by a canopy of seldom and fine tropical tree species. In 1979, an arboretum was established comprising 152 different tree species, 81 of which are indigenous. Mr Peacock says the IITA project plans to increase the forest area and the IITA arboretum with the planting of more indigenous trees.
Seeds from these trees again will be used for reforestation projects all over Nigeria. Mr Peacock and his team say they are hopeful that through reforestation and education, the rate of deforestation in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general “will be significantly reduced.”