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Folu Oyefeso

Nature trekking at the Emerald Forest Reserve, Osun State

Sometimes you just need a few hours in the forest to clear the cobwebs from your head. An hour and a half's drive from Ibadan, there is a protected forest reserve set aside to promote conservation practices as well as plant and animal research. The forest is called The Emerald Forest Reserve and it is located along the Osun and Oyo state boarder. If you look on google maps, you can see how the Osun river cuts through the reserve, and for me, this looked like the icing on the cake!

Word reached me about this place through a network of plant lovers and nature enthusiasts and I was surprised to have only just heard about it, since it was officially bought in 2003. I quickly organized a small road trip, excited for day and the learning that was to come. Our indigenous plants have various uses, and the knowledge our ancient people gathered through them span agriculture, medicine and spiritual purposes - in other words, limitless.

emerald forest reserve
Emerald Forest Reserve; green and vibrant, the dense forest is a safe haven for thousands of animal species.

The forest was known as AFE (Abayomi Farm Estate) and a trio of Abayomi siblings officially started it. They grew up with an eco-friendly approach to life and have kept to it till today. When they were young adults, they learnt of the rapid deforestation practices in Nigeria and sought to protect more of the area, while teaching willing listeners how live with the rhythm of nature.

Today, it's a 300-acre forest that educates the surrounding community and guests how to achieve economic growth through sustainable methods and ideas. It is also a sanctuary for tourists and nature lovers as well as a research base because it is a protected area for birds and other animals.

The journey was brief and we were soon standing with the emerald forest crew, ready for what they call a "silent walk". The idea was to tour the grounds of the reserve without disturbing the forest life but we had so many questions, the walk got progressively less silent as we moved along. Our guides, Mr Alamutu and Mr Okrika were encyclopedias of plant knowledge and animal life and they led our small excursion. It was very interesting to learn the medicinal, spiritual and economic uses of the flora around us. Nature trekking is quite a workout, so make sure you are dressed appropriately - comfortable walking shoes, drinking water, and a cap to protect you from the sun.

A small birds nest; the trees and their branches serve as prime real estate to build nests and lay eggs. They also provide food directly and indirectly, vital to raising healthy chicks.
A small birds nest; the trees and their branches serve as prime real estate to build nests and lay eggs. They also provide food directly and indirectly, vital to raising healthy chicks.

As you would expect, we came across a number of trees and our guides took their time to point out the most significant ones along the trek. The mighty Iroko was of particular interest to me because it’s towering canopy dwarfs everything around it. Being able to grow for 500 years, it stretches far into the heavens and this is the major reason we African people see them as a channel between the earthly and the heavenly. These trees are sacred across the continent, associated with strength and longevity and many believe they house powerful spirits in their magnificent trunks.

The Kapok tree (known as Araba in Yoruba, Akpu-Ogwu in Igbo, Rimi in Hausa), also stood out to me. Its bark had an insteresting texture, covered in large spines and it grows seed pods that have a fluffy white fibre inside. This fiber can be used for all sorts, from clothing to beds, upholstery, toys, etc, and this is in addition to providing food and medicine.

The Neem tree was also highlighted and is regarded as a natural pharmacy. The leaves, flowers, seeds, fruit, roots and bark can all be used, and the benefits to the human body are now being confirmed by scientific study (the ancients already knew). Its good for the hair, skin, dental and oral hygiene, wound healing and much more. We have barely scratched the surface and pharmaceutical research is needed to develop a more sustainable pharmaceutical system in Nigeria. Because of its medicinal uses, it is believed to have protective and purifying properties, and is associated with healing and protection from malicious spirits.

The ornamental features of the forest didn’t disappoint, we spotted a Flamboyant tree with its vibrant red and yellow flowers, they almost look like flames in the blue sky and add a brilliant aesthetic to the environment. They also have dense packed leaves, making them perfect umbrellas from the blazing sun and used to be very common in houses and offices across the country. They also don’t grow very tall and are therefore not difficult to maintain.

The Hibiscus plant and its elegant red flowers, known as a key ingredient for a well known beverage called zobo. It has a tart and fresh flavor and is a very healthy beverage,particularly when combined with ginger, cloves and other spices. I’ve always wondered if this flavor could be a jam, or a dipping sauce.

I saw some sunflowers as well, one of my favorites sightings because of how brilliantly they capture the sun. In addition to being a treat for the eyes, the oil from the sunflower seeds are very useful in cooking - some even consider it very close to olive oil. It can as well be ground up and used to feed livestock and poultry.

All these plants support lives across the ecosystem, from the decomposers to we even us human beings, and many go a step further by acting as a conduit between us and our ancestors and their knowledge. To say I was having a marvelous time would be an understatement.

Their nursery is also quite impressive. They have a dedicated space for nurturing a diverse range of tree species with the aim of restoring and improving the biodiversity across various ecosystems and combatting climate change. This is very important because there needs to be a reliable source for healthy indigenous tree species, especially as Nigerians continue to unsustainably wipe out her forests. The trees are meticulously cared for, and the nursery is an information hub for community members and visitors, who want to learn the importance of environmental balance.

Iroko tree saplings
A sapling Iroko tree; The Emerald Forest Nursery is a great source for indigenous tree seedlings, ready for replanting and available for delivery

By now we had made it to the bank of the Osun river, and because it was dry seasons, the water level had reseeded. This left small rock pools and the clear water beckoned to us to come in, and so we did! It felt cool and fresh tingling my skin and washing off all that the trek brought with it. The Emerald team soon let us know that lunch would be served shortly, and having worked up a serious appetite, we dried up in the sun and settled on some rocks to eat. On the menu that day, fresh and farmed on site, roast catfish, sweet potato fries and spicy pepper sauce. Probably my favorite meal of the year, the scenery elevated the flavors and vice versa. We enjoyed the last of what was a fabulous day, made our way back to base camp and begun the journey home.

Lunch; organically farmed sweet potatoes and roast catfish with a flavorful pepper-sauce
Lunch; organically farmed sweet potatoes and roast catfish with a flavorful pepper-sauce

Osun River during the dry season
Lunchtime view of the Osun River; low water levels during the dry season reveal rock pools, perfect for relaxing.

Emerald has accommodation for people who would like to stay overnight however. Its spacious and clean but I think more can be done to improve it still. The experience, including lunch cost the equivalent of $20 each, which acts like a donation to the upkeep of the forest, and it was the perfect start to my 2024 year. I would definitely be back to visit again, and I encourage people to take the trip and spend time in nature and learn about the natural world.

For more information, please reach out to Mr Debola Alamutu, the forest manager on +2348063811858 and check out their website and instagram. Don't forget to share this page with 3 people who would appreciate an afternoon in nature.


1 comentario

Beautiful discovery, this! Thanks for sharing. What sorts of birds did you spot nesting in the forest? Ominous warning there 😅

Any shots of the resort lodgings?

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