Nigeria, with the fourth highest deforestation rate in the world having lost above 3.7 per cent of its forests to deforestation between 2000-2010, may witness the disappearance of this all important natural resource in 30 years.
This was the submission of Jonathan Onyekwelu while delivering the 87thInaugural Lecture of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, FUTA.
Speaking on the topic, ‘Sustainable Forest Management: Pathway Back to the Garden of Eden,’ Mr. Onyekwelu said since the colonial era, Nigerian forests have been under intense pressure to provide timber, initially for the European market, resulting in large scale deforestation; and since then the forests have continued to shrink at an alarming rate till date. He added that if the estimated annual deforestation rate is sustained, Nigeria may become completely forestless within the next three decades.
He advised that given the precarious state of the Nigerian forests, coupled with the threats posed by deforestation, degradation, adverse ecological events, climate change and other environmental pollution and human related activities, measures must be put in place to manage forests to produce goods and services at their maximum potentials through sustainable forest management.
He said evidence indicated that much of the forest loss was associated with population growth and demand of forest land for farming, grazing, conversion to other-land-forms, unsustainable levels of exploitation of forest resources, among others.
The lecturer stated that deforestation is adversely affecting the capacity of Nigerian forest ecosystems to continue providing their important ecosystem services, mitigate climate change and thus continue to support the livelihood of millions of people that depend on them to meet their nutrition, social, economic and cultural needs.
On the way forward, the don proposed the deployment of agroforestry practices which entails the deliberate inclusion of trees in agricultural landscapes. According to him, agroforestry is one of the major strategies of SFM and poverty reduction achieved through market driven, locally-led tree cultivation systems that generates income, builds asset and conserve biodiversity.
Mr. Onyekwelu also called for the promotion of a community based forest management and traditional forest management system (sacred groves) in Nigeria. The don recommended that local and national capacities for effective implementation and enforcement of forest laws and policies should be strengthened while forest personnel should be empowered to arrest and prosecute illegal fellers and forest encroachers. Mr. Onyekwelu said that through SFM, the Nigerian forest ecosystems can be repositioned to supply goods and services in perpetuity if appropriate measures are put in place to ensure that the forests are sustainably managed. Such measures include rehabilitation and restoration of degraded forests, forest plantation establishment and management, urban and peri-urban forestry, domestication of forest fruit tree species, agroforestry practices and an efficient forest management plan.
In his remarks at the occasion the Vice-Chancellor, Adeola Fuwape, described the lecturer as an erudite professor who has contributed immensely to research and academic development in his field of specialization. The Vice-Chancellor said Mr. Onyekwelu has demonstrated his intellectual prowess in his field and has been a consistently productive scholar in addition to providing leadership both for his students and younger academics since he took up appointment in the university.