Edo forest reserves depleted, in lull
The popular Iyayi Farms and several others in Benin City, were household names in the trade, at the time the state had about 2, 000 sawmills, which serviced local consumption and also processing some for export.
However, several years of harvesting these forests resources, coupled with sundry human activities, but without deliberate plans for regeneration, and reforestation have depleted the reserves, bringing about the consequent lull in timber business.
Beside the lull in timber business in the state, communities have been left to bear the brunt of the exploitation, even as the state appears not to have any policy direction for now, on how to protect its forest reserves.
With Governor Godwin Obaseki, yet to appoint commissioners, the Forestry Department of the Ministry of Environment appears quiet, as mid- level officers declined comment on the issue.
Be that as it may, the administration of Adams Oshiomhole, embarked on massive tree planting programmes, and such exercises aimed at reforesting the state.
There are indications that the current administration would continue from where the former left off, and also regulate the current spate of felling of immature trees.
Investigation by The Guardian revealed that illegal logging thrives in the state, and this explains why many loggers transport stolen logs at night.
An environmentalist, Tony Erha, after a cursory assessment of the state of timber logging in the state said the government has to do more to return the state to its glorious days, where it earned foreign exchange from forest exploitation.
The forest campaigner, who advocates the retention of old trees because such trees have the capacity to withdraw contaminated air, replenish and bring back oxygen said: “Edo State cannot be said to be very rich in possession of forest resources anymore, as compared to what it had. This is because the rich forest resources of yesterday have been mainly lost to the combined agents of deforestation.
“The timber-resource base of our forest reserves and free areas have been lost to excessive and uncoordinated logging; disappearance to single crop plantations mainly by multinational agro-allied firms; local community blocks farming on designated forest reserves, bush burning and hunting among others,” said Erha, a forest certifier with the International Tropical Timber Organisation.
“Edo State had the highest, and very rich forest of semi-grassland and rare lowland forest of very high presence of rich biodiversity, with the collection of diverse species of plants and animals that exist in their rich, natural state and landforms. The rare lowland rainforest is the appendage of the mangrove or wetland region of the Niger Delta, which is the second largest in the world, and regarded as one of the richest in biodiversity contents.”
Erha, who has been an active campaigner for the sustainable use of rain forest resources in the country continued: “Amongst the 36 states, Edo State was said to lead others in reforest timber-resource possession, in accordance with its designate geographical size, and areas carved out as protection areas and forest reserves. Edo has the highest number of forest reserves, and Okomu Forest Reserve, originally spread across 113, 766 hectares was the second largest forest in Nigeria.
“These forest reserves, if they were relatively undisturbed and regularly replenished, would have been able to continue to feed the over 2,000 sawmills that the state had, which was the highest number, anywhere in the country, but which are now mostly idling away owing to lack of timber,” he stated.
On the level of illegal exploitation and export of timber from the state, he said: “In the last 30 years, the forest resource of timber (hard and soft textures) belonging to the state have not been effectively evaluated, especially after the heavy exploitation that left it in a plundered state. Now, it is even getting worse without any hope of remediation or replenishment.
“Practically, it is much deserved for all to know about what is now left, and how effectively it has to be managed in order to guarantee present and future uses. Like the saying goes, ‘forest resource is like a bank account, which turns red if not constantly replaced, after frequent withdrawals.’ Put differently, governments in the 30 years have not been up and doing in meeting the huge demands of remediating our depleted forest and timber resources.
This is taking into cognisance that the rich timber forest resources of yesterday were once planted and tendered to by our progenitors and governments, for the use of the current generation of Edo people,” said Erha.
He charged Governor Obaseki to declare “a state of emergency on forest evaluation if the state’s former prominence in timber possession, logging must return, because it is from the forestland that timber is derived. With this in place, the forest reserves of the state, including the free areas like community forest lands should be clearly delineated to bring back proper regeneration and management.
“To bring back flourishing forest reserves in the state, Erha says the Obaseki-led government has to do the following: “Carrying out of forest reserve evaluation and regeneration of what is left of them and the degraded areas, engaging of local communities in planting of timber/trees in their farmlands and free areas; increasing the ownership of local forest communities in the monitoring and control of designated forest reserves, which ordinarily belongs to the local communities contiguous with the reserves, whom the state government is trustee to, by managing the forest for them.
“Government also has to the ensure training of staff of the forestry department to bring about efficiency and professionalism in the management of the forest and timber business, as neglect of wholesome conservation practices are majorly responsible for the problem of uncontrolled degradation and reduction in timber exploitation.”
He alleged that some big companies still operating in the state were culpable in “the fast disappearance of the state’s vast and rich forestlands. It is quite disheartening that past governments gave them large land areas in our forest reserves, without taking into consideration, sustainable management of the forests, the increasing population of the state, even as future development of the state depends on the judicious application of existing land amongst the growing population.”
He continued, “I witnessed the regeneration efforts of the Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s regional government on forestlands, cutting across the present day Edo State. Lots of degraded forest areas were planted with exotic trees, including teak, gmeliana and several others, which aided the natural regeneration of the forest. Some succeeding governments in the state tried to follow the footstep. Today, that is no more. However, the Oshiomhole’s government must be commended for trying such a pilot programme in the Ehor/Owan forest axis of the Irhue Clan of Uhunmwode Local Council, through the efforts of the Tree For Life Foundation of Europe. But it is in the same forest reserve that a company is currently bulldozing thousands of hectares of revoked land, without Obaseki’s government doing anything to checkmate it. Is this a lip service to conservation efforts?
“In Edo State, there are many forest reserves, which are being depleted. They need to be brought back as the vestiges of the old flourishing forest reserves,” he concluded.