Nigeria’s bid to gradually reverse the impact of climate change by planting millions of trees has suffered a major setback after a government-funded afforestation programme worth over N30 million failed less than three years after the project was completed, PREMIUM TIMES has found.
The government said it spent N30.4 million from its historic green bond initiative to plant six thousand trees in Oyo State, but PREMIUM TIMES found just about a hundred trees during a recent visit.
Officials said the trees died as a result of drought and other factors and that remedial efforts were underway. But the finding has alarmed environmental activists and ecological experts who questioned the planning and execution of the project.
“The field visit shows very clearly a project executed in the usual fashion of lack of transparency and accountability that has tailed most national projects,” said Enoabasi Anwana, a senior ecologist at the University of Uyo, who conducted a qualitative analysis of the project.
In 2017 and 2019, Nigeria issued two “green bonds” worth N10.69 billion and N15 billion respectively, becoming the first African country and the fourth in the world to raise a debt instrument entirely for the purpose of financing sustainable environmental projects.
The objective of the bond was to fast track Nigeria’s low carbon development pledges as enshrined in the Nationally Determined Contribution document submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
It offered the country an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in its green financing agenda, while giving exposure to new investors and solidifying the country’s commitment to the Paris Climate Change Agreement which was endorsed in 2015.
One of the several projects funded from the proceeds of the bonds was the restoration of degraded areas in old national park in Oyo State.
According to the Department of Climate Change (DCC) at the Federal Ministry of Environment, N30.4 million was earmarked for the restoration of the degraded areas in Old Oyo National Park.
The project was implemented under the national afforestation programme of the Federal Ministry of Environment, with the supervision of the Old Oyo National Park Services in November 2019.
According to the ministry’s department of climate change, eligible projects captured under the green bond projects were identified and selected from the federal government appropriations of the corresponding years.
The objective of the National Afforestation Programme is to increase Nigeria’s existing forest cover through the plantation of environmental and economic tree species.
During a recent visit to the project sites, PREMIUM TIMES and two environmental experts observed that the project was carried out in three communities (Igbeti, Alaguntan and Tede) bordering the national park territories in the state.
The deputy comptroller of the park, R.I Muraina, said six thousand economic trees were planted on 15 hectares of land across the three communities.
The environment ministry, however, reported on its website that trees were planted on eight hectares.
Mr Muraina said the reason for spreading the project site across the three communities was to reduce and divert pressures from poachers on the main park itself.
The signpost stationed at the project sites when our reporter visited showed that four major tree crops were planted on five hectares of land at both sites (Igbeti and Alaguntan) of the communities. They are rosewood, cashew, mango and orange.
Observations and limitations of the project
Of the six thousand trees reported, this newspaper counted just about a hundred trees standing. Most of the trees did not survive, officials said.
Interestingly too, the project areas at Igbeti and Alaguntan now grow crops such as cassava, soybeans and maize plants as well as yam.
Ajibi Peter, an official of the National Park, said the unrelated crops were planted by the community members as a strategy for weed control and soil conditioning pending when the seedlings of the four project’s tree crops are fully established to a reasonable height.
Mr Peter said majority of the tree crops planted for the project could not survive due to drought and heavy infestation of termites and grasshoppers.
“We have tried to replace many of the plants that did not survive over time, but termites kept eating most of the seedlings and during the dry season, it is not easy to irrigate the whole of these areas,” he said.
At the projects sites, termite tunnels could be seen at numerous spots.
Meanwhile, a qualitative analysis of the project by Mrs Anwana of the University of Uyo and Razaq Fatai, a policy manager with the group, One Campaign, revealed that there was a lack of consideration for soil gradients, microclimate and ecological variations needed for the project.
Mrs Anwana said the absence of the records of the total number of seedlings still existing in the project sites made it difficult to project an estimate of the expected reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
It was also clear at the site that no provision was made for a sustainable irrigation system to water the trees.
“For a project of this magnitude, it is expected that water should be provided. This contributed immensely to the failure of most seedlings’ establishment, as noted by the chairman of the village committee in Igbeti,” Mrs Anwana added.
Asked if a soil test was conducted before introducing the seedlings to the project sites, a top government official said nothing of such was done, and that the planting of the seedlings was done mainly by locals employed from the communities without pre-scientific checks.
PREMIUM TIMES also found that the contractor was appointed from the headquarters of the environment ministry in Abuja without proper engagement and consultations with the project communities to fully establish the kind of economic trees they would like to be planted.
Mrs Anwana said a prior soil test would have shown that the site had termites which may pose serious problems for young, unestablished seedlings.
The communities also said they were not carried along in the execution of the projects.
Alawode Jimoh, Igbeti community chairman, who championed the process of acquiring the project land, said they were at first skeptical when delegations from the park came to seek land for the project.
“We finally agreed to spare this part of our land for the project after we were told that the trees to be planted are going to be of economic benefits to our community and that after these seedlings have grown to maturity, we can continue farming our agricultural crops on the land,” he said.
However, Mr Jimoh said at the implementation stage of the project, they were not consulted on the types of economic trees they would have cherished to be planted and that the trees planted suffered major losses because they were planted during the dry season.
“When they brought the first tranche of seedlings, the dry season had already set in. This area is Oyo north (arid zone). So irrigation of the seedlings was not easy, and a lot of the seedlings planted did not survive,” he said.
For instance, he said, orange trees do not usually do well in the area while they already have mangoes in abundance. He said if the officials had asked them before bringing the tree seedlings they would have been better advised.
“We already have mangoes in abundance here, we don’t really need mangoes. If they had planted these seedlings during the rainy season a lot of them would have survived. But still, we are happy and grateful for the thoughts of establishing the project in our community,” he added.
Reacting to the aforementioned observation at the Old Oyo afforestation project, Ibrahim Goni, the conservator-general of the National Park Services (NPS), said it is true that N30.4 million was disbursed for the project, but that the fund was released quite late.
He said the project is to be implemented within a period of five years, under which it is their responsibility to continue to monitor and nurture the trees planted so far until they are fully stabilized.
“In agroforestry, when one plants any hectarage you cannot be expecting 100 % success, if you are expecting such then you are deceiving yourself. Because they could be disease outbreaks, changes in temperature, changes in soil salinity” he said.
The NPS boss explained that within the five years of implementation of the projects, it is either they leave part of the money disbursed to the contractor for maintenance or he gives us.
But in this case, he said the contractor left some of the money for us for maintenance of the project, that is why year-in-year-out we buy new seedlings to replant and ensure that there is a steady water supply, as well as ensuring that they are people stationed at project sites so that livestock animals do not invade the place.
Mr Goni said soil testing was not carried out on the project sites because such was not included in the green bond bill of quantity and that tree crops planted were mainly those stated under the green bond project guidelines.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with the correct number of trees the government said it planted in Oyo State. Officials reported six thousand trees – not six million as previously stated.
The report was supported by the Heinrich Böll Foundation.
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