International Day of Forest 2018: The Future of Forests and Sustainable Development

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[Analyses]–As we celebrate the International Day of Forest this year with the theme, “Forests and Sustainable Cities”, it is important that we raise awareness on how importance forests are to our lives and to sustainable development.

Forests are a major ecological unit for different kinds of organisms but typically dominated by trees. They can be either natural or planted. Between 1990 and 2015, the share of planted forests has increased from 4% to 7% and continues to increase. Nigerian forests contain about 7895 plant species and over 22000 vertebrates and invertebrates species to show how diverse forests can be. There are about 20,000 insects, 1000 birds, 1000 fishes, 247 mammals and 123 reptiles living inside only Nigerian forests. These organisms, among other things, help to keep the food chain (predator-prey relationship) in check.

The world loses 3.3 million hectares of its forests annually…

Due to climate change, the availability of some food crops is now limited. However, forest’s diversity can help in building resilience to climate change impacts through the provision of wild varieties of food when the domesticated ones fail. Forests therefore plays an important role in achieving food security and improving livelihoods of the people. The world forests currently supports the lives of about 2.4 billion people through the provision of fuelwood used for cooking, heating and electricity.

Forests can also serve as a source of many ecological services such as the provision of wood, cotton, wool; regulation of microclimate (trees can cool a microclimate by 2-8oC) and flooding; recreation; sequestration of carbon in the atmosphere among others. According to a Food and Agriculture Organisation report, the world forests stored about 296Gt of Carbon in 2015 thereby mitigating climate change. Apart from their biological diversity, forests also serve to conserve soil nutrient. When leaves fall of a tree, they land on the soil and decay as organic matter useful to the soil. Trees and forests also help filter toxic air and block out noise pollution.

Despite all of these huge benefits, there are still a lot of challenges facing forests globally. Between 10 and 30% of global timbre trades come from illegal logging. This means that annually the world loses 3.3 million hectares of its forests. The resulting effect of this include land degradation, soil nutrient depletion, soil erosion, loss of important biodiversity, disease infestation, global warming, desertification, droughts, pest invasion on agricultural lands, reduction in pollination and crop failure among others.

It will save you – now or later…

Plant trees. Deforestation has to be drastically reduced and massive effort has to go to reforestation. This is very, very important and it is like the simplest and easiest one can do. We have lost so much forest cover that we need massive reforestation now. In school, at the community level, even at religious gatherings, lead the drive to plant a tree. It will save you – now or later. It will help with fresh air during those hot nights and serve as wind breaker and flood control during those days of serious winds and rains.

The worship of materialism by some people will have to change, especially in this region of the world. In the Nigerian society, a man is usually not regarded as being successful until he builds a house. This is irrespective of whether the mother and father has bequeathed houses to him. Why must every man make it compulsory to own a land and build a house given that building (and roofing) houses means cutting down trees?

Boycotting companies that do not practice sustainable wood and timber production is also necessary. While the people do this, governments at different levels should ensure mounting pressure on business to comply with global best practises. The world needs more Civil Society Organisations like Rainforest Alliance and Green Peace working towards fighting deforestation and unsustainable forest practises. As indigenous people are also critical to sustainably managing forest resources, they should be involved in planning processes.

Sustainable management of forest can also be achieved through integrated land use. Agroforestry not only helps to provide shade for crops and enrich soil, it also increases deliberate attempts to conserve forests. More integrated use of land is therefore necessary to manage forest resources. Land use regulations and laws also need to be strengthened.

Although woods are a renewable source of energy and better than fossil fuels, their exploration must be maintained on a sustainable level. Since as much as 50% of global wood production goes into energy use for cooking, heating and electricity generation, it is important that technological innovations (such as clean cook stoves employing the economy of scale principle by using less fuelwood for more energy conversion) are developed to ensure effective and efficient use of forest materials and achieve a green economy in the end.

Forests are essential in achieving the SDGs…

Forests are essential in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: they contain important biodiversity that needs to be conserved and food alternatives to adapt to climate change, provide important components for use as medicine, and provide employments in a number of ways. Working on conserving forests is hence a smart decision to make in order to achieve the SDGs.

This piece was written by Toyib Aremu, an Environmental Sustainability Enthusiast. He tweets @aremuoropo




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