Nigerian communities defy odds to protect forest from rosewood trade racket
Illegal rosewood traders were targeting vulnerable groups, encouraging them to earn a living from logging. To combat this, Nigeria Conservation Foundation helped local people to set up five community forests where they can earn a sustainable income without destroying vital habitats.
The Taraba State Forest is fast disappearing. Much of this loss is down to unsustainable levels of logging. The Forestry Department (under the Taraba State Ministry of Environment and Solid Mineral Resources) is responsible for protecting the forest, but unfortunately its operational effectiveness is weak.
Over the last decade, the forestry sector in Taraba State has witnessed an unprecedented level of deforestation as a result of a rosewood racketeering scheme, driven by illegal traders based in China. It first started with pockets of illegal logging in unprotected forests, and soon morphed into a lucrative source of income for local unemployed youth and other vulnerable groups. The illegal traders were very successful in exploiting weaknesses in the government forestry institution, taking advantage of unemployment and a failed benefits system. This was made easier by a lack of cooperation among different levels of government, and unregulated Policy for Timber Operators/marketers.
Much later in 2015, these illegal practices were adopted into State policy on trade and income generation. Unregulated, free-for-all deforestation was permitted without regard for the existing logging permit system. The State Government accrued $1,200 of tax per truck-load of rosewood under the aegis of Internally Generated Income. A Joint Forest Task Force Committee was formed, reporting directly to the Deputy Governor of the State. This system further cemented illegal practices and weakened the existing Forestry Institution within the State Ministry of Environment, stripping it of its statutory responsibility for managing the State’s forest cover.
Alternative livelihood programmes improved household incomes and reduced dependence on forest resources
Something had to be done. It was clear that the problem could only be solved by balancing forest protection with sustainable livelihoods. And so, from 2000 – 2010, Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF – BirdLife Partner) implemented a Participatory Forest Management (PFM) Project in Taraba State, with the help of the UK Government’s DFID and Darwin Initiative. This intervention resulted in the establishment of five community forests, each with strong forest governance structure. These forests could be found in Afrobe, Akwabe, Buru, Akwaizantar, and Ngel Nyaki, located in the Kurmi and Sardauna Local Government Areas of the State. Forest User Groups, regulated by a Forest Management Committee, were engaged in alternative livelihood programmes. This resulted in improvement of household incomes and reduction in over-dependence on forest resources.
Despite the current “handicapped nature” of the government Forestry Institution, the PFM project went on to help nearby forest communities to resist the overwhelming pressure of deforestation. Some communities went as far as using judiciary means to ensure that their communal forest reserve remained intact. Site Support Groups and Local Forest Scouts were also established to continuously monitor the forest. A Forest Management Committee ensures that responsible communal decisions are made in consideration of present and future generations.
The evident determination in these five forest communities is largely based on the thriving livelihood activities set up through the DFID and Darwin Initiative project. Because community members embrace forest enterprises and vocational skills to improve their livelihoods, they appreciate the value of the forest resources and will take whatever effort necessary to safeguard them.
Illegal rosewood demand from China still persists in Nigeria. NCF responds by continually making efforts to further engage local conservation groups in sustainable livelihood and conservation activities. These efforts are crucial because the five community forests form part of the last remaining forest cover in Taraba State at present. In addition to sustaining livelihoods, Ngel Nyaki in particular is an important center for biodiversity research and must be protected.