Deforestation has many negative sides. Loss of trees result in the reduction of earth’s capacity to absorb carbon-dioxide and this is said to be a causing global warming.Warming of the earth’s atmosphere is a major environmental issue of this century and is been aggravated by deforestation and the burning of coal, oil and natural gas which increases the concentration of carbon-dioxide, methane, nitrous-oxide, and chloro-floro-carborns these gases trap heat from the sun and prevent it from radiating back to the atmosphere.
WHAT IS DEFORESTATION?
Deforestation is the ecological debasement of forest environment for independent use, to satisfy the “narrow human purpose”.Before the dawn of agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago, forests, and open woodland cover about 15.3 billion acres (6.2 billion sq km.) of the globe. Over the centuries however, about a third of these natural forests have been destroyed. According to a 1982 study by FAO, about 27.9 million acres (11.3 million sq km.) of tropical forests are cut each year –an area about the size of the state of Ohio in the USA. Between 1985 and 1990 an estimated 210 million acres were cut or cleared. In many tropical rainforest countries, the best commercial forests are gone. Meanwhile experts are warning that if deforestation is not checked in the next few decades, the world may soon lose most of its precious tropical rainforests.
REASONS FOR TROPICAL DEFORESTATION
Though several factors are responsible for deforestation in the tropical countries, clearing and cutting for agriculture and fuel wood and harvesting of timber products are the main proximate for the destruction of the tropical forests in Nigeria. The old age long practice of shifting cultivation or slash and burn agriculture has been used for centuries. In this primitive system, local people cut some part of the forest to make way for subsistent crops. After two or three years, the fertility of the soil decline, they leave the land fallow and move on, usually to cut another part of the forests and begin another garden. In the abandoned garden plot, the degraded soil at first can only support weeds and shrubby trees later soil fertility and trees return, but that may take some decades meanwhile, as the population pressure increases, the fallow period between the cycle of return to the land is shortened. Therefore agricultural production yield decreases and our forest regions are further degraded to small trees, brush or eroded savannah. Every year, more of the forests are destroyed and distance from home to the forests increases. Not only do people suffer by having to go a long distance in search for farmland and fuel wood but so is the land being damaged, and this is even greater in dry tropical forests (savannahs) and other grasslands. Much land has been degraded beyond recovery and many are heading toward that.
Another threat to the tropical rain forest in Nigeria is the conversion to sedentary agriculture. Vast area that once supported tropical rainforests before are now permanently converted to commercial farms that produces cocoa and oil palm, while this same acres of lands can as well supports other tropical species of cash crops at the same time. This has reduces the available areas for food crops
WHY TROPICAL FORESTS DISAPEARS
The temperate forests, which cover 20 percent of the earth surface, have not been reduced significantly in the last 50 years. What make the tropical rainforest so vulnerable, the answer lies in the unique nature of the forests. According to the book tropical rainforests, the rainforests can be described as “trees grown in the desert”. The top soil in the temperate forests could be as deep as 2metres, while in the tropical rainforests the topsoil rarely exceeds 5cm. One may wonder why such luxuriant vegetation on earth grows on poor soil; the mystery is that, these complex ecosystems literally feed on themselves. Most of the nutrients of the plants depend upon are supplied by the branches and the dead leaves litter that cover the forest floors, with constant heat and humidity, it is rapidly decomposed by termites, fungi, and other organisms, everything is recycled and through transpiration and evaporation, the tropical rainforests recycle more than 75% of the rainfall it receives and the clouds formed by this process rains and waters the forest again. Therefore rainforest is an intricate web of life and it is the greatest bio-active natural phenomenon in our planet. Once a part is destroyed, it can lead to serious damage or large extinction to others.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC IMPACT OF TROPICAL DEFORESTATION
More than half of the world’s species of living plants, animals, and insects are found in the tropical forest, from Monkey to Tiger and to Elephants, to uncommon plants and trees, from frogs, snakes to rare butterflies and parrots. Many of the world’s animal species are found in the rainforest together with immerse variety plants and insects. Meanwhile, there are various forms of tropical rainforests, they are; slow growing mountain forest, dark jungle rainforest with dense canopies, mangrove or swamp rainforests, and tropical dry rainforests (savannah) and is also called open woodlands.
All forests have both economic and ecological value, but tropical forests are especially important in the global economy. These forests cover less than 6% of the earth’s land area, but they contain the vast majority of the world’s plant and animal genetic resources. So many of the commercial and the domestic plants and animals that we rely on today still have wild ancestors that are still thriving in the forests and these wild strains can be used to breed new strains that are resistant to pests and diseases and give high yield.
WOOD AND OTHER PRODUCTS
Tropical rainforests also provide many valuable products including timber, industrial raw materials, fruits, nuts, oil, and medicinal plants. It also provides income and jobs for millions of people neighboring the forests.
Forests are biological communities and complex association of trees with other plants and animals as well as insects that have evolved together over millions of years. Because of loss of rainforests’ thousands of species of birds and animals are threatened with extinctions. The list is endless.
Nigerian rainforest is part of Africa’s vested rainforests. Experts say Africa rainforests have 40% of the world species. For example, the largest of all primates, the gorilla is one of man’s closest relatives in the animal kingdom, too large and clumsy to move on the forest trees, gorillas live on the forest floors where it forage on variety of plants. The major threat to this animal is the widespread deforestation in Nigeria and other west and central Africa.
Gilford Pinchot, the first American professional forester, advocated the use of forest resources not just for timbers but human benefits. He was a strong and charismatic leader, his ideas helped to shape the course of forestry in the United States. Later Pinchot had a vocal opponent, John Muir a young naturalist from California, who believes that public lands should be preserved rather than used. Eventually Muir and Pinchot became rivals for public approval, but oddly enough, there was no loser in this early conservation battle. Muir’s conservation ethic becomes embodied in the philosophy of the national parks and Pinchot’s concept of wise use became the guiding principle of the United States forests. Some tropical rainforest reserves can be educated for extractive purposes, to the production of useful products such as fruits and nuts gathering, as well as other renewable resources on the sustainable basis; such reserve have been established in Brazil and is adding value to the lively hood of the local communities while still maintaining the ecological integrity of the forests. In recent years, increased emphasis has been put on what some are calling ‘’ecosystems managements’’. In this model the long-term health and stability of the forests, especially the tropical rainforests, are paramount thus, timber production is considered to be a bye product of good forest management rather than the principle product.
We in CECD believe and work for the real solutions to deforestation, to ensure:
(1) More efficient agriculture on a sustainable rainforest’s farmland.
(2) Efficient forestry practices including plantation of exotic diversified tropical species with cash crops.
(3) Forest reserves to protect species, bio resources education and development, primary water sources protections and for outdoor recreations.
Meanwhile, many experts believe that we have only begun to tap the potentials for wise use of our tropical rainforests. Many uses have yet to be fully explored and we are only starting to learn the value of tropical rainforests for; medicine, genetic prospections, food and spices, tourism, and natural resources education. We must all embrace the process of protecting our tropical rainforest for our needs and uses. Finally as the wealth and technology of the world is concentrated in the northern hemisphere so the bio- diversity and poverty concentrated in the tropical environment, and the question of equity is practically hard to answer in a way that can satisfy everyone with a stake in the outcome. Today our people who lives in this bio-diversity ‘’hot spot’’ barely eking out a living. Meanwhile as the search for wild species whose genes can yield new medicines, chemicals and better crops gathers momentum, these rich habitats has started attracting bio prospectors around the world, like nineteenth century California gold rush, ‘’Nigeria must not be left out’’. However, bio-prospects can bolster both our economic and conservation goals while underpinning the medical and agricultural advances needed to combat diseases and sustain our ever-growing population only if we can save our rainforests.
Executive Director, CECD