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Folu Oyefeso

Nigeria's Deforestation Crisis: Understanding the Urgent Need for Change

Deforestation is the removal of trees by humans for timber or land-use like housing and agriculture. Nigeria has a massive deforestation problem, and we really should discuss it. Our ever expanding population, coupled with the increasing demand for timber and food, has resulted in an unsustainable deforestation culture with adverse immediate and long term effects. According to The United Nations, Nigeria has one of (if not) the highest deforestation rates in the world, with 3.7% of the country's trees being cut down every year. It has been estimated that 36% of the nations forests have been cut down since 1990, and at this rate we can expect a future with uncomfortably high temperatures, little to no biodiversity and desert plains prone to massive flooding.

The Lisabi Garden - An ancient patch of greenery located atop the Olumo Rock, Abeokuta
The Lisabi Garden - An ancient patch of greenery located atop the Olumo Rock, Abeokuta

For our health and the health of the environment, it is important to look at the situation so that we can be aware of the roles we play. Maybe we can mitigate aspects of the culture and our behavior that are responsible, so lets begin from the top - our history.

Agodi gardens with a view of premier hotel Ibadan in the background
A young man blazes past on his bicycle at Ibadan’s Agodi garden, a popular destination for city dwellers and travelers to relax in nature. Sadly the grounds dedicated to the expansion of the gardens is under threat from corrupt or less informed public officials and property developers.

The early Nigerian people were a nature loving race, majority of the traditional religions and culture are based on belief systems that are embedded in nature. We used to recognize our forests as the source of all life and this influenced the lifestyle such that there was harmony between humans and our forests. This was evident in the way we built homes, planted farms and most especially how we reverenced with our spirituality.

Nigeria has a very large population, and it is ever-growing and with it, our housing needs. For whatever reason,we have a brutalist approach to things and our housing industry is no different. Often times, the entire plot is cleared of its greenery even before there is a building plan, destroying decades of ecosystem. Without the shade from the trees, the heat becomes immediately apparent to the tenants and the purpose of comfortable housing is defeated. Our country lies very close to the equator and yet we see concretized floors and parking spaces where soil and garden should be, skylines without shields and sun rays blaring down, and we essentially create a furnace to bake ourselves from above and below. Now we spend more money by investing in air conditioning units to cool these poorly designed scapes, which worsens our health and the health of the environment.

Below is a gated living complex in Ahmedabad, India that is a good example of how architecture and nature can be fused to create aesthetically pleasing and functional living spaces. We notice the shadows the trees cast over the windows, drastically dropping ambient temperatures and improving air quality. Plants purify the air by drawing in carbon dioxide for their metabolic processes, necessary for a healthy and long lives. You can learn more about this project here. This effect can further be amplified by introducing clay to the concept designs - a material particularly good at regulating temperatures and great aesthetic value, from flowerpots to actual building material. The result is a healthier housing project with better aesthetic and financial value.

Our agricultural practices have also changed over the decades as the feeding needs of the population has grown. We now opt for a more industrial approach to farming, leaving the traditional methods behind. This is having a detrimental effect on our ecosystem and forest life, as more and more trees are cut down to make space for farming.

Traditional farming is rooted in centuries old practices and indigenous knowledge. We used simple tools and manual labor, and this was less detrimental to the environment while modern farming uses advanced techniques and employs heavy mechanization as there's a focus on large-scale production. As the goal is higher productivity, there's a tendency to ignore other aspects that are affected by the practice and it has become increasingly clear which method is sustainable and which isn't.

Illustration showing the various layers of a farm forest, family food garden
Illustration showing the various layers of a farm forest. Photo credit - Family food garden

One possible remedy to this is the cultivation of "forest farms", a method that blends both aspects of traditional and modern farming. These forest farms are a method of food production that mimics natural forest habitat and this is done by cultivating crops across different forest layers which maintains soil quality and biodiversity. With some clever planning, forest farms can be a viable solution to agro-deforestation while producing bountiful harvests and even being viable locations for agro-tourism.

Finally, in terms of spirituality, most, if not all traditional African cultures and religious practices have elements that are rooted in nature. We once celebrated the glory of our forests through festivals because we recognized that they are the source of all life. We treated trees and animals with respect, and lived in harmony with the natural world, creating a balance that protected the environment while making our living situation comfortable. With the dawn Christianity and Islam in Nigeria, one could argue that the bonds between people and the natural world have been strained, and in some cases, destroyed. The interconnection of nature and culture is considered to be one of the main tenets of African tradition, and with the new religious imports, we have slowly lost sight of the things that are important - like oxygen. We should be aware that expansion without vital elements from the past means we are entering into the future blindly. 

The botanical gardens university of Ibadan
Nature Spirits at a Meeting - The serenity of the botanical gardens of the University of Ibadan, where the wind gently rustles the canopy, leaving gentle whispers and a feeling of calm

In conclusion, we need to be more aware of the destructive behaviors we have cultivated as we've evolved, paying special attention to the devastating effects deforestation has on our environment. We have already lost too much greenery, and this has started having effects that we experience daily, like the recent heat waves. We need to adjust the way we build housing by prioritizing green spaces and temperature regulating materials such as clay. We need to look towards more sustainable means of farming, that don't involve irreversibly destroying our ecosystems, turning the landscape into deserts. We need regulatory bodies to step up their efforts and create (and enforce) rules that protect our green spaces, while also educating the public on the importance of a change in attitude and protecting our natural resources. We must also look towards reforestation efforts, planting trees to replace the ones that have been felled, so in 50 years, those coming after us will not be denied the blessings of a healthy environment. Lastly, we need to look to our past and emulate aspects of the culture and spirituality that brought harmony and balance to our civilizations. A cultural adjustment is the ultimate remedy and therefore a paradigm shift is long overdue.

I would like to spotlight initiatives like the Emerald Forest Reserve that have taken time and resources to promote conservation. They run a forest reserve an hour and a half's drive from Ibadan, and is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon in nature. As with any other cause, awareness is always the first step, so if you've read this far into the article, kindly share with three friends who could learn a thing or two. Well done as you take the necessary steps in aggressively protecting your environment.



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