Kolawole: Forest should be goldmine for South West
The first regional government in the South West invested heavily in the forestry sector, the reason why almost all the states in the zone still have many forest reserves. What has happened to all these reserves, and how are they being managed?
I may not want to generalise on the management of forests in the South West, but I would like to talk about what is going on with our forest reserves, using Ekiti State as an example. It was a good idea from our political leaders of those days that thought it reasonable enough to invest in forestry, because some state governments are now falling back on revenue from their forests. Fortunately for us in Ekiti State, we have a government that believes in investing in forests for numerous economic reasons.
In the first term of Governor Ayodele Fayose, there was this wood log he invested in, and the investment was in all 16 local councils of the state. I want to believe that most of the governors in the South West are doing that. Investing in forest takes between 10 and 15 years before it matures, so Fayose’s investment then is just beginning to mature for us to harvest and experience an economic boost, especially in the area of the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). The fact remains that forests should constitute a goldmine for us in the South West if we invest as we should. And investment in forest should not be left for the government alone.
In those days, we had few houses, but with population explosion, the pressure on timber is immense, but the good thing to also note is that the country exports woods now and earns some foreign exchange from it. Wood is supposed to be our oil in this part of the country, alongside cocoa and other cash crops. However, here in Ekiti, we are encouraging individuals to invest in forests and not leave that to the government alone. And the good thing is that many have started seeing how lucrative the business is because we see some private people in the state planting manila, teak and other wood species that are getting extinct.
As a way of encouraging them in the business, government got some species and gave to these investors. So, in the next few years, we shall have enough Iroko trees being harvested in Ekiti. Forestry is not an area that the government can undermine. In the last farming season, the state government distributed over 30, 000 manila and teak strands to the farmers, apart from individual efforts, and this is a yearly event. Don’t forget that whatever you plant this year will be ready for harvest in the next 10 years or so, as it is a long term investment. The advantage of it is that, it regenerates even when you harvest in the next 10 years, it is a continuous harvest for the state and whoever invest in planting of tree.
How much have these investments impacted on the IGR of the state?
I want to tell you that even when I cannot mention the actual figure now, in 2016, we were able to have additional 40 per cent revenue to what we used to have from the forestry department. What that means is that assuming we used to generate N6 before, it has now increased to N10. We are hoping to continue with that trend to shore up the revenue of the state.
What are the measures put in place to achieve this?
The government pays a lot of attention to the Forestry Department and laws were made to discourage illegal tree felling. The governor also constituted a task force to curtail the looting of government reserves. With serious monitoring, we have been able to checkmate the activities of ‘tree thieves’ and that has shored up the state’s revenue.
How effective is the law banning illegal tree felling in the state?
It is effective because nobody wants to go to jail. If you are caught in the illegal act of tree felling, you risk a jail term of up to six months. Of course, we have the Ekiti Forestry Law of 2016, and if you are into lumbering business without appropriate papers from the ministry, you also risk a jail term of about six months, or you could only be fined. Also, we have time that lumbering operations are allowed as we don’t allow evacuation of timbers at night. All operations should be done between 7am and 6pm. But if you are caught operating outside this time frame, you risk a jail term of at least six months.
You said forest should be a goldmine for the South West, but that is not the case. Where did we get it wrong?
We have to admit that the Awolowo government in the Western Region did a lot of investment in this area, but that cannot be said of successive governments, especially during the military era. Besides, with the population explosion and the rising demand for wood, the current reality has consumed that investment because regeneration was at a standstill for a long period. But most governments now are still investing and planting trees every year, even though the demand outweighs the supply.
Again, because of the increased rate of unemployment, you find out that a lot of youths are into illegal tree felling and this has denied the government appropriate returns for its investment because the proceeds from these forests go into private pockets. The major problem we have is the activities of the illegal loggers. We have to set up a task force that works round the clock to tackle the menace. Most of these youths I mentioned can be very daring because they are unemployed. They keep on cheating on government by cutting these trees at the dead of the night. You can imagine how risky it can be for the forest guards to be patrolling thick forests around 2am because youths are perpetrating this illegal act in the dead of the night. But government reserves are being looted by this unscrupulous elements that we call payabayaba here because it is difficult to enter into private farms and engage in illegal tree felling. Besides it is important for the government to continue with the regeneration and monitoring of the forest reserves.
How lucrative is the business for a private person?
I want to encourage everybody to go into the business of planting trees because it does not have much problems like planting cocoa and the rest. All that is needed is to supervise the planting and ensure it is done at the right season. If a graduate decides to go back home and plant about 5,000 manila or teak trees, the money he is investing will yield more interest than one invested in banks or insurance, because in the next 10 years, he will reap the benefits in multiples.