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Govt cannot manage forestry without proper land use planning, says Baffoe

By Chinedum Uwaegbulam
31 October 2022   |   4:03 am
We all know Nigeria has lost much of its forests, but there are several other countries that have similar situation. There are several reasons for this, as you are already aware, the world population has been growing, therefore, we need more land for agriculture and other land uses.

Baffoe

Abraham Baffoe is Africa Director for Proforest, a non-profit group. He spoke to CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM on how Nigeria, other countries in West and Central Africa, which account for more than 75 per cent of Africa’s forests are bringing jobs and wealth to local communities in a way that is environmentally and socially sustainable, as well as protects the rich tropical forests of the region.

Nigeria has one of the highest deforestation rates globally, it loses approximately 350,000 – 400,000 hectares per year, while logging, agriculture and collection of fuel wood are the leading causes of forest loss. How is your organisation helping to fight against deforestation in Nigeria? 
We all know Nigeria has lost much of its forests, but there are several other countries that have similar situation. There are several reasons for this, as you are already aware, the world population has been growing, therefore, we need more land for agriculture and other land uses. At the same time, there is pressure on land, as population grows; we need timber resources to sort of supply materials to the growing population.

But the most unfortunate thing is in the midst of this, is the growing need for forest products and agricultural land. Rather than choosing the part for sustainable agriculture and production that protects the forests, we have decided to go along with destructive path to agriculture development without forest protection. That’s unfortunate. So, that is why agriculture is major driver of deforestation. For us at Proforest, we work to protect forest with people and stakeholders to ensure natural resource management.

What we are doing in Nigeria, more specifically with Edo State government, is working with private sector and other stakeholders to transition from the destructive agriculture development to a sustainable path that would deliver positive change or positive impact on the local population. Also to the nature and environment.

For instance, we are working with Edo State government and currently overhauling regulatory and legal framework in agriculture and forestry sector. Off course, the forestry law was enacted in 1968. How can we use 1968 law to manage the forestry of current times, this is not working, we need to change that.

In addition, the government is setting up functional forestry commission with the responsibility of managing forests. Edo State has not had that, so the forest resources in Edo State had not been properly managed. When we started working with the government in 2008, what we realised was that you cannot manage agriculture and forestry without a proper land use planning because both require land resources.

Then, the state didn’t have a functional Geographical Information System (GIS) to do proper mapping of the land resources and government had agreed to set up what is called EdoGIS, which is currently working with the new forestry commission for establishing a land use plan, that identifies areas for forest conservation, protection and agriculture. In addition to that, the government has adopted tool and approaches for Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which is a certification scheme for all palm companies.

In RSPO, there is no exemption in Edo State; it is a norm for all companies operating to comply with RSPO requirement. This ensures high cultivation value and high carbon stock approaches, which companies must adopt and implement. The tool is critical because the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) allows communities to work with companies and give their consent for their traditional land to be used for agricultural development. We had seen land conflicts in situations without consent from communities.

How do ensure balance between rural economic development and conservation and what are the measures needed for rural livelihoods to coexist with critically endangered ecosystems?
Everybody working in this sector knows that striking a balanced rural economic development and conservation is always a tricky one. But it is not impossible, it requires the development and practical implementation of policies and strategies that take into account rural economic development needs, as well as conservation methods.

In addition to that, its not just about the policy and implementation, it also require laws and regulations that must be in place, as well as land use plans. The development of practical implementation of a land use plan and conservation areas is very important if you want to balance development and conservation. Besides, it also requires that even within the areas identified for agriculture and development, local population and companies will need to support the local community in particular, to implement sustainable agriculture and land use practices, as well as ensure they maximise productivity and economic potential of land areas designated for agricultural development.

Off course, the changing climate that we face now means that we should also support our farmers to change their methods to more of a regenerating form of agricultural practices that enhance ecosystem services, increase resilience to climate change and protect biodiversity. So, we need a paradigm shift in the way we do our agriculture, see natural resources and forestry.

Nigeria has been losing its tropical forests through unsustainable land use practices. What strategies are you adopting towards delivering positive outcomes for people, nature and climate?
We work with authorities in most parts of Nigeria, specifically with Edo State under the Africa Palm Oil Initiative (APOI), to deliver positive impact for people, nature and climate.

APOI, a signature initiative of the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA), facilitated by Proforest has been working with Edo State government, what are the critical aspects of the programme and how has this platform assisted investors?
Perhaps, the most significant aspect of the programme is the monumental positive impact or monumental positive change we see in the oil palm sector, particularly in Edo State, including ongoing changes in laws and corporate operational practices, which every company operating in the state has adopted like the RSPO. For me, it is important to look at land, as every aspect revolves around it, like producing enough food to feed the growing population. One of the focuses has been how Edo State manages and allocates agriculture land.

So, there has been a process we have gone through with the government over the past five years, where we agreed on the ethic compliance requirement, to the extent that land for agricultural developments and practices will be done in a way that it takes away deforestation from the supply chain of those companies. It was also agreed that only lands that are very degraded that do not have forest would be given to companies and farmers for oil palm development.

As you may be aware, Edo State is one of the states in Nigeria, which is committed to ranching and sustainable oil palm production and it is mandatory for oil palm companies to adopt the RSPO, which is a significant change in the state’s policy. This again ensures that companies adhere and comply with best practices requirement for oil palm production and by so doing, and in compliance with the sustainable requirements, the operations of these companies will deliver positive outcome for the people of the state, include job creation and community development, according to RSPO certification standard. Proforest has also been working with the companies, not just the state government, by providing training and capacity building to the different stakeholders to ensure these requirements are well understood and implemented on the ground.

What role should the Nigerian government play to ensure success of the programme?
What we expect government to do is to ensure the programme is extended to some forest endowed states in the south. By protecting all the forest in Edo State and leaving other states to go on with destructive acts would not augur well for the country. We need a commitment from the Federal Government, other states for the restoration of forestry in Nigeria to increase the forest cover.

Do you think the framework by Edo government, which enables investors to conduct Free Prior and Informed Consent, will reduce commodity-driven deforestation and preserve state’s forest reserves?
Definitely yes. The programme has made and would continue to make significant progress. Last week, we had meeting with all the investors and other stakeholders to look at the ethics compliance requirement, which the state has decided turn into a law. They are working with the Attorney- General of the state to transition the technical document into a legal document that would be passed into a law before the end of this year.

The ethics compliance or the FPIC, which would be inscribed, as a law is very important and its application would benefit both the local community and the companies. For example, it allows the communities to be part of the decision making on how much their traditional land that companies can use for oil palm development.

This is critical because I have seen conflicts in several countries in West and Central Africa, precisely because the communities who were using the land for their livelihoods were not part of the decisions. Before they realised, companies were bulldozing their land for rubber or oil palm developments without their consent. Once you do that you begin to create crisis between the companies and communities. But if there is a law, it makes the communities to agree with the companies on where they would continue to farm, provide food and other things they need. They’re not likely to go and clear forest areas for their livelihoods. That indirectly helps to protect the remaining forests they have.

When the ethics compliance requirements is applied, which is being applied effectively in Edo State, it allows the companies to have some form of social license for the communities, which will enable them have a good relationship with the communities and remove antagonism. We have seen that happening and working so well in the state. We want to see that happening in other states in Nigeria.

APOI will be at UN Climate summit (COP 27) in Egypt next month to kick-start a new groundbreaking initiative. What is it about? What will be the benefit for the participating countries?
As you may be aware, the Marrakesh Declaration for the Sustainable Development of Palm Oil in Africa, which was signed at United Nations Climate Change Summit (COP22) in Morocco by ten countries for the West and Central Africa, has made significant progress in the oil palm sector and since then, the countries have developed their national principles and actions, implementing them. It has been a single commodity initiative focusing on palm oil alone, addressing the environmental and social issues that come with oil palm development.

The experience from its implementation by the various countries is that the progress and impact that are being made, could be enhanced if the declaration is made across commodities, ensures that other commodities such as rubber or cocoa that have similar issue are also covered in a way that we reduce or remove deforestation.

So, there had been some discussion in the past three years, which was concluded in COP 26 in Glasgow, when Proforest organised an event with Tropical Forest Alliance and other partners, invited governments of the ten countries, to brief on the APOI progress. Off course, they gave a very good progress report, present progress, experiences and challenges on the implementation of national action. At that point, the African government, who were there, gave Proforest a mandate together with TFA, to make the process a cross-commodity one. That’s what we had been doing since COP 26. We met physically in June in Abidjan with representative from all these countries to look at the draft text for the cross-commodity declaration. The countries at the COP 27 in Egypt would sign the document.

How critical is the action in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and limiting a global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius in those countries?
Most of the countries, the change has to start from the regulatory reforms, legal changes and ethics compliance. But off course, we all know that significant progress had been made across all the ten countries that are engaged in the APOI process.