Civil society organizations that are championing the fight against environmental degradation, have vehemently kicked against the anti deforestation committee recently set up by the new governor of Cross River, Senator Prince Bassey Otu, arguing that members of the committee are loggers, and as such, lack the capacity and political will to arrest the problem of illegal logging in the state.
This submission was part of resolutions reached at the 2nd Multi-Stakeholder Conference on Deforestation in Cross River State held Wednesday in Calabar.
Recall that illegal logging, a key factor in deforestation, has been on steady increase since 2014, and has continued to defy every effort expended over the years to rein it, basically because major state actors are allegedly involved in the illicit enterprise.
Available data shows that before now, Cross River had a total forest cover of 7,920 square kilometer in 1991, accounting for about 34.3 per cent of the state’s total surface area. By 2008, the forest cover had declined significantly, falling to around 6,102 square kilometer and accounting for 28.68 per cent of the state’s surface. The state lost 1,514 square kilometer of forest between 1991 and 2001, which constitutes 12 per cent of its forest cover.
Another 1,307 square kilometer of forest was lost between 2000 and 2008, representing a 17. 64 per cent reduction in the state’s forest. Other sources put the loss between 2000 and 2007 at around 390 square kilometer.
However, between 2007 and 2014, the rate astronomically rose to 1,070 square kilometer in 7 years, and therefore raising doubt about the categorization of Cross River as the home of Africa’s largest pristine rainforest.
Mr Ken Henshaw, the Executive Director of We The People, organizers of the conference, said the organization and its partners have been advocating in the last 5 years about forest protection and new forest management strategies.
According to him, “In the past, we’ve held various meetings, but in the last 6 months we’ve had 3 very critical and important meetings. In December 2022 we had the 1st multi-stakeholder conference on deforestation, and in that meeting we took far-reaching decisions on what we needed to do as government, as civil society organizations and as communities in order to protect our forest.
This year we held a strategic meeting where we brought some of the influential stakeholders on the subject matter of deforestation into one room and we resolved that the change of government in Cross River presented an opportunity for us to change the narrative around the forest in the State.
In his remarks, Dr Martins Egot from Development Concern, an NGO that partnered with We The People to organize the conference, said civil society organizations have a great role to play in forest governance.
The keynote speaker, Dr Odigha Odigha, in his presentation, noted that everyone has a stake in the forest, which therefore behoves on the people to rise up and take collective actions against deforestation.
Speaking in the same vein, former chairman of the state anti deforestation taskforce, Peter Jenkins, affirmed that without the government’s full backing, not much would be achieved in the fight against environmental degradation.
He said for any meaningful stride to be made, the government on its part must demonstrate the political will to tackle deforestation regardless of who is involve in illegal logging activities.
The conference which was well attended by people from the academia, civil society organizations, traditional institutions, youth groups, the media and government agencies such as the National Park, identified lack of government interest and political will to tackle deforestation, logging operations and ineffective government regulations, inadequate innovative forest management, subsistence farming practices and commercial agriculture, as some of the bane of forest and biodiversity conservation in Cross River State.
After extensive deliberation on these, participants came up with the resolutions, to among other things, pursue aggressive reforestation and afforestation programmes.
“While the meeting agreed with the assertion that the government has the responsibility of checking illegal logging, it is agreed that the solution lies in changing the forest management framework in the state, since the Forest Commission is only a shadow of itself for the purpose of reintroducing government sanctioned logging activities.
The state Forestry Commission has over time proven inefficient and incompetent in the management of the forest.
“During the period when the Commission was responsible for the forests, there was profound and incessant illegal logging activities. Indeed, it was for reason of the failure of the Forestry Commission that a moratorium and a task force was necessary in the first place.
“Flowing from the above, the meeting recommends thus:
“Empowerment of Indigenous Communities: Establish a framework that recognizes and respects the rights of indigenous communities to manage and protect the forests in their territories.
“Provide legal recognition and support for community-based forest management initiatives, granting them authority over decision-making processes and resource allocation.
“Foster partnerships between indigenous communities, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations to facilitate capacity building, knowledge sharing, and technical assistance in sustainable forest management practices.
“Strengthen Forest Legislation and Law Enforcement: Review and strengthen existing forest legislation to effectively safeguard and preserve forest reserves, ensuring they align with international best practices.
“Enhance the capacity of regulatory agencies responsible for enforcing forest laws, including equipping them with the necessary resources, training, and surveillance technologies.
“Implement stricter penalties and sanctions for illegal logging activities, targeting both individuals and entities involved in the illicit timber trade.
“Develop and Implement Comprehensive Forest Management Plans: Engage stakeholders from diverse sectors, including communities, academia, civil society organizations, and private entities, to collaboratively develop comprehensive forest management plans.
“Integrate sustainable land use practices, reforestation programs, and biodiversity conservation initiatives into these plans.
“Ensure that forest management plans address both the ecological and socio-economic aspects of forest protection, promoting sustainable livelihood opportunities for local communities.
“Promote Alternative Livelihoods and Economic Incentives: Facilitate the transition from unsustainable practices like logging and slash-and-burn agriculture to alternative livelihood options that are environmentally friendly and economically viable.
“Invest in agroforestry, eco-tourism, and sustainable agriculture programs to provide income generating opportunities for communities while preserving forest ecosystems.
“Establish mechanisms for market-based incentives, such as certification schemes and carbon offset programs, to reward communities and businesses engaged in sustainable forest management practices.
“Enhance International Cooperation and Aid: Seek international support and collaboration through partnerships with global organizations, donor agencies, and foreign governments to tackle deforestation challenges.
“Access funding and technical assistance for capacity building, research, and the implementation of sustainable forest management initiatives.
“Participate actively in international forums and agreements related to climate change, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable development, advocating for increased attention and resources for forest protection efforts in Cross River.”