Sunday, June 26, 2022

There are more lumberjacks than trees in Nigeria’s vanishing forests

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Deep in a forest in the Nigerian village of Ebute Ipare, Egbontoluwa Marigi scouted a tall mahogany tree, felled it methodically with his ax and machete, and when it fell with a crackling sound, scanned the forest for the nearest tree.

Around him, the tree stumps that dotted the swampy forest were reminiscent of trees that once stood tall but are rapidly disappearing from illegal logging in Ondo State, southwestern Nigeria.

Cutting down trees for logging, to develop farmland or to meet the energy needs of a growing population is putting pressure on Nigeria’s natural forests.

President Muhammadu Buhari said at a May Cop15 meeting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, that Nigeria had set up a national forestry trust fund to help regenerate the country’s forests. That may not be enough as the country is losing forests at a faster rate.

“Protecting the forest means protecting ourselves. If we destroy the forest, we destroy humanity,” said Femi Obadun, director of forest management at the Ondo State Ministry of Agriculture.

Marigi knows this all too well, but his priority is making a living.

“We could cut down over 15 trees in one place but if we manage to see two trees now it will look like a blessing to us,” said the father-of-two.

From 2001 to 2021, Nigeria lost 1.14 million hectares of tree cover, an 11 percent decline in tree cover since 2000 and 587 million tonnes of carbon emissions, according to Global Forest Watch, a platform that provides data and monitors forests.

“We don’t sleep at night while driving. We monitor the logs and ensure that [they don’t] detach from the tug,” Marigi told Reuters.

The boat stops at several locations to pick up more lumberjacks and their rafts. A single boat can carry up to a thousand rafts, each containing up to 30 logs.

After cutting down the trees, Marigi put markers, a message to other loggers that he was the owner. The logs are transported via streams and rivers to Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria.

“During the time of our ancestors, we had big trees, but unfortunately what we have now are just small trees, and we don’t even let them mature before we cut them,” Marigi said.

Months after cutting down the trees, Marigi returns to the forest to pull the logs together and fasten them into rafts. He has a collection of more than 40 logs.

They have pooled money with other loggers to rent a tugboat to pull the rafts from Ondo State to Lagos.

Makeshift shelters on the rafts are made of wood and help protect Marigi and his friends from the weather. Food is shared while belting out local folk songs to lift the spirits.

Marigi’s journey ends at a lagoon in Lagos, where rafts from Ondo State and other parts of the country converge and the logs are processed in sawmills and sold.

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