Why Forest Conservation Is Core To Cross River
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Odingha Odingha is Chairman, Cross River Forestry Commission. A recipient of many international awards, Odingha spoke to TUNDE AKINGBADE in Calabar recently. Excerpts:
You are the Chairman of Cross River Forestry Commission and you have also participated on the global platform on Governors forum on forestry. What is the current position on UNREDD+ University, what next?
As far as UNREDD+ is concerned, it’s one of climate change programmes and you can see that it’s the easiest and fastest way to carry out mitigation of the problem of climate change. It is cost effective and it’s a lot cheaper. Because of the global economic crunch, not much is being injected into it – but we believe that as the world is going to RIO + 20 in Brazil, we expect that more meaningful result will come up.
We expect very concrete steps and things to happen in June. In Nigeria and specifically Cross River State, we are carrying out a lot of sensitisation among the people because before implementation of a programme, they must first of all understand it. The first step is to get the exposure to knowledge.
Now, we are trying to get the knowledge down to the community level so as to fast ¾ track the process of implementation. Our approach is that we target the communities. We have to make people who live in the communities understand; so in a few months, we will train more people. Remember what Janthomas of UNDP said, that we could bring natural resources at community level in tandem with democratic governance.
There are fears that the global economic crisis might affect ecological funding and Nigeria has been asked to look inwards. What is driving Cross River State?
We believe one of the greatest assets we have in Cross River State is the forest. That is our gold. We also believe with or without UNREDD+, we will continue to manage our forest.
However, we see UNREDD+ as a means of helping us to manage our resources the more efficiently.
Our Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke has said it clearly that one of our assets is our forest. We have budgetary allocation to protect our forest and we believe in it; the Governor believes in it. We are not looking at the global economic crisis in the protection of our forest.
If there are no trees in Calabar, what do you think will happen?
Where there are no trees, people will start to experience heat waves. Experience has shown that it is important that we keep trees. There was a big storm earlier this year, which pulled down trees. Imagine if those trees were not there, the storm would have pulled down other things including houses.
We are not letting go the scheme to plant more trees. We will plant more trees to reach the goal of five million trees. This is to recover our trees that have been lost over the years.
What is happening to the animals in this region?
We have animals moving from Cross River to Cameroon and vice versa. We call the area Cross River Bio-Region. We have parks in Cameroon and a corresponding one from Cameroon down here. As far as animals are concerned, there are no boundaries. The gorillas and the elephants move freely from one area to another.
Another thing is that during one particular season, you may see some animals in a particular region going to another region. It was the creation of the colonial masters for administrative purposes that we have boundaries and we inherited that. We have an initiative on Trans Boundary relationship for Conservation.
CAN you give an insight into Afi River forest and Boshi/Okwango area?
What is going on under the Afi Complex is what we call the Afi Conservation Programme. We have the Afi Wild Life Sanctuary; also have the Pandrillus for conservation and we have rehabilitation of some endangered species – the drill monkeys, the gorillas. These things are going on there. The activities are quite intensive.
The swallow birds are there. The large gorillas are there. What we need to do is now to package the place and get private sector to be involved.
The private sector should be interested in it. What we want to do is to make the place an eco-tourist destination.
Which means you are looking at Eco Tourism to fetch a lot of money in the future for Cross River State?
Yes. We know that is the fastest growing sub-sector. The endangered species such as the elephant and the swallow birds that are thought to be rare are coming up there. Conservation can bring tangible monetary rewards.
What is going on with this Nipa palm and the nuisance they have become to Nigeria?
What happened is this: about 100 years ago, the colonial masters introduced this plant into this environment. The Nipa palm has the tendency to spread quickly.
It’s been spreading and colonising areas that have been previously occupied by the mangroves.
The mangrove is the spawning ground for fishes and other marine organisms. The problem now is; how do we contain the wild Nipa palm so that it will not destroy our fishing industry? How do we carry out a mangrove management?
Can we partner with people who have what it takes to bring out the economic use of the mangrove?
How can we also turn Nipa Palm to a viable economic opportunity? So, these are the challenges we have.
This is a serious issue. It is colossal to invest money to destroy Nipa palm. Some studies have shown that Nipa Palm can be used as animal feed. It can be used to produce chemicals. So we have all these kinds of possibilities and we will like investors to take advantage of these and explore its uses to make money.
However, we believe in the long run, it is better to have the mangrove than the threat of Nipa Palm.
Do you have the threat of ocean surge from the Atlantic Ocean or coastal erosion problem?
Yes, of course we have the threat of the rising sea level because of climate change. You know when the ice melts in the polar region, it will go into the sea and cause the sea level to rise. With that it will bring water from the ocean.
Unfortunately our coastline has not been protected. So the coastal communities are very vulnerable.
So, there is tendency that this pool towards the coast will make the impacts of climate change quite serious.
We hope that with mitigation and adaptation programme, we will be able to protect our coastline if not, our coastal cities will be submerged as a result of melting ice at the Polar region due to global warming.
There is need to do something about these areas all the way from Lagos. Even our oil installations are at risk. We seriously have to address the impact of climate change on the coastal areas.
Author of this article: TUNDE AKINGBADE