Nigeria Wasting Potentials in Forestry Subsector – Prof. Babatunde Ajayi
Professor Babatunde Ajayi, is a former bureaucrat and now a Professor of Wood Products and Bioresources Technology in the Department of Forestry and Wood Technology, Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), Akure, Ondo-State. In this chat with our Correspondent, he bemoaned that Forestry potentials were not maximally utilized in Nigeria while also mulling modern policies through which waste in the sector could be converted to wealth to buffer the diversification efforts of governments. Excerpts.
As an expert, how do you assess the government’s policies in Forestry subsector?
If you check the books properly, the government has good policy for the management and conservation of Forest Products and Biodiversity vis-a-vis the animals, insects and edaphic organisms in the Forests. But sad enough, there is lack of appropriate implementation for the preservation and conservation of Forest resources. The lack of implementation of some of these policies has been allowing illegal activities thereby affecting the functionalities of these policies. If we have good policies, our Forest and woods will be used optimally while fruits and other products can be appropriately channeled for sustainable growth and economic expansion, ending poverty and hunger, Enhancing human well-being, and building resilience. The best way out of this remains that, our governments should take proactive approaches and must look back to regulate every activities in the Forests by enforcing appropriate tools and Forestry laws. Good policies and implementation will ensure that we have a Forests that can add values to our social, environment and economic growth, food security, prosperity, mitigate climate change, now that the present government is pursuing diversification in Forest sector for great Change, in order to break away from sole reliance on crude oil. I am of that view that our Forests must be well focused so that we can maximize our gains from the vast and enormous Forest potentials we have across our nation.
What are this potentials the Forests can offer?
There are many benefits that are derived by human from the Forests. Forests provides shelter and home for wild animals, birds, insects and soil fauna. It aids the ecological process of regulating predation by providing hiding place so prey can hide from predators or predators can hide and ambush their prey. Forests also provide nests for birds to lay eggs. Forest provide a wide range of economic and social benefits including contributions to national economy through employment, processing and trade of Forest products including non-timber Forest products; provision of energy and investments in the Forest sector. Forest host and protect cultural, spiritual site and provide opportunities for recreation and cultural enrichment. Forests purify the atmosphere, regulate shelter, and filter water supply, mitigate floods and erosion, serve as wind break, sustain biodiversity and genetic resources. Aside from provision of medicinal leaves, roots and herbs for improved human health, staying in the Forest environment boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces mental stress, improves mood, and accelerates recuperation from surgery or illness.
As an academia, what role do you think the Universities can play to ensure that our environment are protected and Forest potentials are well utilized?
As academia, we have sold our lives into lecturing, research and community services. We conduct research for our institutions, Governments and private organizations for the growth of the economy. There are so many research in some of our universities that are lying there untapped and these could have been of tremendous benefits to our economy if they have been applied on the management of our Forest. In FUTA here where I work, there are so many research we have carried out in the Department of Forestry and Wood Technology, but we have no robust relationship with our host State -Ondo, and the nation at large, despite that the state has huge economic potentials in the subsector. I believe that some of our research ought to be put into use. We are supposed to be partners in progress for sustainable development of our nation. We have on our archives research on how best to use the Wood Products and Forest Biodiversity to turn around our economy and better ways of managing our Forests in line with best global practices. Another major role of the Universities is the training of man power in organization and management of Forest resources. Sensitization of the general public through seminar and workshop are also being done. Universities also put in resources to discharge community services such as technical training for indigenous people, consultancy and establishment of pilot project for studies.
Can you tell us about your research and how it can benefit Nigeria if adopted?
My research focuses on the use of conventional biomaterials (Wood) and non-conventional bio-materials from agricultural wastes, common weeds, waste paper and other wastes prevalent in the world environment to produce value-added panel products using Portland cement, recycled plastic, car battery case and/or pozzolan as binder, through the application of developed simple, innovative and adaptable technologies in the manufacturing processes. Output from these research is capable of: converting waste materials (biological and non-biological) to value added panel products; curbing environmental pollution and siltation of water ways; promoting sustainable use of natural resources; increasing prosperity through sales of wastes material; restoring economic mother trees for seed production; protecting edaphic resources against caking of the soil; and conserving bio-diversity.
The menace of poverty, hunger and environmental degradation can be mitigated with the production and utilization of these nature friendly value added construction panels. These panel products can conveniently stand as alternatives for wood products to meet the demand for sustainable construction materials for core and low cost housing in rural and urban areas; and increase farmers’ income, prosperity, as well as alleviate poverty. These products are versatile because they can be suitably made from a wide range of non-conventional raw materials sourced locally (e.g. maize stalk and cob, groundnut shell, palm kernel chaff, rice husk, water hyacinth, Luffa cylindrical etc.) using recycled plastic, car battery case, cement and/or pozzolan as binder. Their utilization in building construction (partitioning, ceiling, furniture, flooring etc) will reduce the pressure on existing Forest resources and increase the income of the community inhabitants.
The adoption and commercialization of these research outputs will empower rural populations (farmers and indigenous people) to improve their incomes in an environmentally sustainable manner through the sales of wastes derived from post-harvest processing for utilization in the manufacturing of affordable panel products. This will create a new orientation in design, technology and industrial development in sourcing, processing, manufacturing and utilization of raw materials and new products. It will conserve Forest biodiversity sustainably and mitigate climate change through the provision of value added panel products.
You are deeply involved with United Nations and other agencies on issue of global warming. How prepared is Nigeria to stem the negative effects of the occurrence?
It is not gainsaying the fact that the effects of deforestation, desertification and bush burning are causing serious climate change globally. Global warming is now a threat in all countries of the World. But while other nations are ready to mitigate the effects on the environment, Nigeria seems not to be ready. I grew up in the Forest and I went to the Forestry School in Ibadan and I studied Forestry up to the university level. I saw Forest when Forest was Forest. In the olden days, if you stay in the Forest and rain was falling, it won’t touch the soil neither will it make your cloth drench. But because of massive destruction to our Forest and ecosystem, we are now witnessing all manners of environmental hazards (erosion, siltation of water ways, flooding, pollution, heat waves, forest fire, excess greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere etc). So, for our government to be ready to deal decisively with global warming, there should be aggressive afforestation policy at the Federal, State and even our Local Governments. Also, individuals and corporate organizations should also join in initiating some of these projects, because government can’t do it alone. When we talk of afforestation policy, we are not talking about the planting of Gmelina and teak everywhere, but you have to plant based on the type of animals and the species that are rampant in that particular zone. Some can engage in Social Forestry, that is planting trees and fruits within the city or planting some guinea Savana grasses, so that we can use the fodder to feed animals, but the end result must be to maintain and sustain our Forests. It is only in Nigeria where natural forest of about 500 species are clear felled to plant a single species for pulp or poles. I kicked against this unwholesome practice when I was in the civil service. How can someone cut down about 500 species of trees to plant Teak? This is a very bad practice. Teak is a very dangerous plant. It doesn’t allow its own seed to germinate or grow under it talk less of seeds of other species. But when seedlings of other trees are germinating in natural enviroment, they are destroyed to plant teak, this is a bad policy. Though, there are still natural Forests in Nigeria like the Akure Forest reserve fondly referred to it as Queen’s Forest. Universities and research institutions conduct research in this forest because trees there are protected naturally. It is a strict nature reserve where trees are allowed to grow and die on their own. But today, all those large expanse of Forests were being encroached and destroyed indiscriminately by activities of illegal loggers and farmers. This has become a serious worriesto Nigerian Forestry Association and other Academic institutions, because we learnt over 100 trees were being cut at a time in that protected Forest Reserve.
What are your involvement with United Nations (SDGs) and other agencies?
I have had many engagement with the United Nations through invitations to attend and/or present at many of their events including: UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durbar, South Africa, 2011 and Doha, Qatar, 2012. I also have the privilege to attend the 2017 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development of the UN at the invitation of the Division for Sustainable Development, United Nation Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) on 2017 Partnership Exchange with a theme “Eradicating Poverty and Promoting Prosperity in a Changing World”. My research products have been displayed at the Exhibit on Innovative Wood Products during the 68th session of the UN Economic Commission Europe/FAO at the UN Office Geneva, Switzerland, held in conjunction with Society of Wood Science and Technology, in October, 2010 and to mark the 2011 International Year of the Forest. In 2010, I was invited by Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) to attend a small gathering of eminent scientists during the XXIII IUFRO World Congress. I have attended other notable world gatherings of eminent scientists and environmental conservationists such as the World Forestry Congress in Quebec, Canada in 2003; and Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2009.
Recently my written input was presented and accepted at the Session 2: Effective paths towards the SDGs: STI for Ending Poverty and Hunger, Enhancing Human Well-being and Building Resilience of 6th Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals held on 4-5 May, 2021. The document titled: Nature Based Construction Panels from Agricultural Residues: A Panacea to Poverty, Hunger, and Environmental Degradation was published on UN website (www.sdg.un.org).
Are there no laws regulating our Forest reserves? Why this encroachment?
There are Forest laws promulgated by governments to safeguard, protect and conserve our Forest resources. If you look at the provisions of these laws, which I knew quite well, if anyone cuts down trees or destroys shrubs or plucks fruits, leaves and roots, he can be fined, made to forfeit property or go to jail. There was Forestry Law Cap 56, it was referred to as Cap 40 before. Section 44, 45 and 47 detailed various penalties for any form of illegal felling activities and other prohibitions. Under this law, if you destroy the Forest, you will go to jail. However, there have been incessant violation of these laws even by state actors. For instance Government have introduced various anomalies into the Forestry sector vis-a-vis certification of consultants to collect Forest revenue; employment of non-Forester into the Forestry sector; using the Forest as a major source of revenue generation; flitching and selling seized illegally felled logs back to the illegal fellers; allocation of plots to farmers in the gazetted Forest reserves; and destabilization of Forest host communities. Other illegal activities include reuse of Log permit, violation of Forest law by politician/civil servant, inadequate monitoring of Taungya Farming System; installation of illegal chiefs in Forest Reserve; and indiscriminate engagement of uncertified individuals in Forest reserves.
With the lack of implementation of statutory laws, the entire world is collapsing gradually. The atmosphere is becoming warm on daily basis because of low oxygen in the atmosphere. Again, there is serious melting of ice at the Arctic region and various level of the ozone layers had been destroyed. The globe is warm and the climate is changing thereby constituting crisis to all of us.
It has become necessary and important to punish and prosecute apprehended illegal fellers. Commensurate penalties must be applied and this must not be compromised. This is the only way by which encroachment and illegal felling of trees in the Forest Reserve can be curbed. Effective implementation of these laws will prevent further damage to the fragile and cracked legacy; save the Forest from the embarrassment from National and International Organizations that co-owned some of the Forest as the State Laboratory for various form of studies and investigations.
Ondo and Ekiti have huge Forest potentials but they were underutilized. How can these trends be reversed?
I have been in this profession from my young age. I have spent virtually all my productive years in the Forest business. I was also born and grew up in the Forest, attended primary, Secondary in the Forest, I studied Forestry in the University to get involved Forest activities as a professional and academia respectively. The reason why the two states have not been able to tap their Forest potentials maximally was that they are playing politics with Forests by manipulating all the existing structures. Today, in those states sawmill operators, timber contractors and others are going to the free Forest area and Forest reserves to fell trees indiscriminately. Going by Forestry laws, there are areas where you can only cut five trees, there are areas where you have to cut one tree and plant four in replacement. Again, there are game reserves in our Forest reserves, so you can’t kill animals in those areas. The government were receiving all these reports and looked away pretending as if nothing was happening until it now becomes irreversible. Governments should stop playing politics with the Forests and do what is right. Consultants that are given the rights to manage the Forests lack the requisite expertise and technical background. Most of them have business orientation and not the mentality of a Forester, which is conservation. At professional whose major responsibility and goal is to ensure the protection, proper management, and sustainable utilization of Forest resources for economic gains, research, ecotourism, ecological studies and climate resilience should be saddled with management of Forest Reserves.
How do you think government can turn around our economic fortunes through conversion of Waste to Wealth in this subsector?
You are just touching my heart with this question. There are a lot of gains in the Forestry value chain and it can add values to our economy if fully harnessed. In 1982, I produced a particle board using urea formaldehyde as binder and I was given a national recognition. The depletion of wood resources and accompanying saw dust gave me the impetus to conduct research on the possibility of using agricultural wastes to producing particle board for flooring, partitioning, furniture and other industrial and household use. I investigated the use of groundnut shell, rice husk, beans coat, maize stalk and other agricultural wastes using urea formadehyde, recycled plastic, car battery case, cement and pozzolan as binder. Through these exploits, I have earned national and international recognition. Nigeria can become gain enormous economic benefit if my research outputs are up-scaled and commercialized.
What advantage has your membership of some local and international organizations brought to Nigeria?
I am an Editorial Member of so many Forestry organizations. My involvement at the international level enabled me to facilitate a collaboration on Academic Interchange Agreement between FUTA and Federal University of Lavras, and University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, respectively. My membership and activities at international gatherings has earned Nigeria a reputation in the area of technology, innovation and science of forestry, wood and bio-resources management and utilization. I have also presented research outputs emanating from Nigeria in all the continents of the World. Also, I recently produced a technical paper to UN on Sustainable Development Goals towards 2030. All these were geared towards exposing our policy makers on how best they can explore our Forest potentials to empower our people and reduce poverty.
Desertification is now a serious issue in our nation and globally. How do you think this can be resolved?
When I was growing up as a student of Forestry, I toured the Shelter Belt Project from Sokoto to Maiduguri where trees were planted along the road to check desert encroachment. I don’t think those trees are there now. The best way to stop desertification is to plant trees. The reason why we are having so many environmental problems is because of the destruction of emergent and lower strata trees. As a result, when rain falls, it touches the soil and when it becomes saturated, then flooding will occur. The trees and animals also store water, but all these have been destroyed. What we now have is what we called a Cake soil that cannot hold water. The volume of water keep rising giving rise to erosion and flooding. Then, the idea of bush burning and deforestation should be discouraged. Today, we have more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere than oxygen. This accounted for why we have the greenhouse effect and all manners of dangers of disease outbreak (emergence of COVID-19 and delta variants) apart from environmental crisis.
Can we also use the instrumentality of laws to check some of these environmental problems?
Yes, we can. Those who are flouting Forestry and environmental laws should be dealt with. Like I had earlier said, what we are getting now is government playing politics with the Forests. They have abandoned forest laws. If they arrest anyone, the government officials will quickly release him, because of politics. The culprits are no longer being punished. Government was the entity that established the laws and also breaking them, this is the problem. In Ekiti, Ondo, Osun and other states, people are working in protected zones in Forest reserves despite that going there was prohibited. Some of these reserves were even being allocated to farmers to plant arable crops rather than allowing the trees to live in perpetuity. This is where government should tap the knowledge of academia on how best to implement our laws, so that Nigeria can derive the best economic and social gains from our Forest potentials. Law is made for lawless individuals, irrespective of your position, you are bound to submit to the law.