In spite of their immeasurable benefits to life sustenance, the sustainable management of forest and forest resources in Nigeria is fraught with innumerable challenges such as the conflicting roles of the various stakeholders involved in forest management. Forests have since ancient times played an important role in the lives of people and the environment in general. That is, forests provided and continue to provide numerous benefits to humanity. This has repercussions for the environmental and environments on the people especially the poor and the people who depend on the forest. It is in this vein that this study was undertaken to assess the effects of deforestation on the environments of the forest fringe communities (farmers) in the Ukwa L.G.A.. The study adopted the case study research design in undertaking this systematic enquiry. This was adopted to help acquire knowledge on the current situation with regards to the phenomenon under consideration. Both primary and secondary data were collected and used for the study. The study employed both qualitative and quantitative data gathering techniques to collect the necessary data and was analyzed in great depth to determine their implications for changing forest cover and environments in the study area. The respondents for the study comprised Farmers, Municipal Meteorological Department, Forestry Commission and Municipal Agricultural Development Units. The study showed that, the farmers in the study area are largely engaged in the cultivation of food crops which are mainly subsistence in nature. It was realized that the farmers practice mixed cropping with slash and burn as the predominant land preparation method. The study showed that deforestation has affected crop production in the areas of delayed commencement of planting seasons, pest and diseases infestation, level and quality of crop yields and reduction in the income levels of farmers. The study recommended among other things, the continuous education and sensitization of farmers, strengthening of the public institution stakeholders and promotion of active research that will ensure a decline in deforestation.
1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Forests cover almost a third of the earth’s land surface providing many environmental benefits including a major role in the hydrologic cycle, soil conservation, prevention of climate change and preservation of biodiversity. Forest resources can provide long-term national economic benefits. For example, at least 145 countries of the world are currently involved in wood production (Anon, 2020). Sufficient evidence is available that the whole world is facing an environmental crisis on account of heavy deforestation. For years remorseless destruction of forests has been going on and we have not been able to comprehend the dimension until recently. Nobody knows exactly how much of the world’s rainforests have already been destroyed and continue to be razed each year.
Deforestation is the conversion of forest to an alternative permanent non-forested land use such as agriculture, grazing or urban development. Deforestation is primarily a concern for the developing countries of the tropics as it is shrinking areas of the tropical forests causing loss of biodiversity and enhancing the greenhouse effect (Angelsen et al., 2011). FAO considers a plantation of trees established primarily for timber production to be forest and therefore does not classify natural forest conversion to plantation as deforestation (but still records it as a loss of natural forests). However, FAO does not consider tree plantations that provide non-timber products to be forest although they do classify rubber plantations as forest. Forest degradation occurs when the ecosystem functions of the forest are degraded but where the area remains forested rather cleared (Anon., 2020).
Over the years, sustainable management of forest resources has been of primary concern due to its potential impact on biological diversity and importance in maintaining global ecological functions. In spite of its importance, the natural tropical high forest has continued to diminish rapidly in the African continent, thus dwindling sustainable forest management. Nigeria could face the possibility of timber and fuel wood scarcity towards the end of the century. It has been predicted that within the next fifty years, unless adequate measures are taken, most humid tropical forestland area in Africa could be transformed into unproductive land and the deterioration of the savannah into desert will be accelerated (Hunter et al, 2020).
The level of community nutrition is sometimes linked to fuel wood availability and cost, majority of the people residing in Ukwa local government area of Imo state use fuel wood as their main source of energy for cooking. In many areas, due to increasing population the existing wood resources are over exploited. With extensive deforestation, villagers in Ukwa local government area of Imo state are compelled to walk long distance to fetch fuel wood. This tends to have serious consequences for local agricultural production and productivity because; the rural communities also rely on this substituted resource for improving soil fertility. Apart from the deterioration in the quality of life associated with forest degradation, there are other more insidious effects that endanger the future of humans on this planet.
In Nigeria, environmental problems that are termed degradation collectively, such as desert encroachment, erosion, flooding and drought etc all have a strong link with deforestation. In some parts of South-Eastern states for instance, escalated soil erosion, flooding, increase in aridity, all of which have strong relationship with deforestation, have affected a significant proportion of the state.
According to (; Chowdhury 2020) academia, scholars and researchers are of the opinion that deforestation risk reduction is a systematic approach of identifying, addressing, and reducing the risks of disaster to a community. Generally, deforestation is caused by a variety of factors. However, (Ajibade, 2012) viewed deforestation as clearing of any area of its natural vegetation cover which is normally lead to decrease in plants population resulting in loss of plant biodiversity Nonetheless, excessive deforestation over a long period has been the cause of many drought like features. Deforestation presents multiple environmental problems in our society today.
In view of the background this study intends evaluate the impact of deforestation on the environment using Ukwa L.G.A of Imo state as a case study.
1.2 Problem Statement
Forest fragmentation and deforestation remain as central problems in Nigeria, especially the high forest zone of Nigeria due, primarily, to both legal and illegal timber exploitation and arable crop farming (Amisah et al., 2009). The consequence has been a dramatic change in climate and evolution of strategies to sustain rural livelihoods. In most African countries the spate of deforestation has increased over the past four decades, with significant effects on rainfall, temperature, water resources, wildfire frequency, agriculture and livelihoods (Amisah et al., 2009).
In less developed countries, particularly those in Africa, livelihood insecurity remains a major problem (Shepherd et al., 1999 in Tropenbos International, 2005). Forest dependent communities in these countries, rely heavily on their farmlands. Many forest dependent people employ a diversity of means to help meet basic needs: food and cash crop production, forest and tree product gathering and income-earning enterprises both on and off the farm. Often, the poorer the household, the more diverse the sources of their livelihood, as the needs for the year must be made up from various off-farm as well as on-farm natural resources, and often from migrant labouring as well (Shepherd et al., 1999 in Tropenbos International, 2005).
At the beginning of the 21st Century, a third of Nigeria’s land area of 238,533 km2 was covered by high forest whilst the remaining was savannah woodland. Currently, only about 10 percent of this area remains as forested land. Logging, bush fires, agricultural practices, excessive exploitation of Non Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) have been implicated (Amisah et al., 2009). Deforestation rates remain high and will probably increase in the coming years as the population grows and demand for new settlements, wood for construction, fuelwood, charcoal and food increases as a consequence (Amisah et al., 2009).
This frightening spate of forest degradation potentially poses enormous adverse effects on forest reserves. These forest communities exert excessive pressure on forest reserves as many of those living in such communities have their livelihoods predicated on the availability, access and utilization of forest products (Appiah, 2009). The concomitant repercussions associated with this forest degradation include exposing such degraded forest communities as well as their farmlands to high risk of erosions and floods. Additionally, forest degradation risks the quality of life in forest communities and beyond, militates against the stability of climate and local weather, threaten the existence of other species and undermine the valuable services provided by biological diversity. Ultimately, these effects affect the livelihoods in such forest fringe communities.
An important location in Nigeria where forest communities have suffered considerable setbacks in their livelihoods due to changing forest cover (deforestation) is the Goaso forest catchment area. The forest loss has occurred as a result of excessive timber exploitation, bad farming practices and other land use activities. Forest communities in the area are characterized by high poverty levels and rely on rain-fed agriculture with little or no access to modern agricultural technology (Blay et al., 2008).
The Imo state is one of the important agricultural regions of Nigeria, especially the Goaso area, and is often regarded as the breadbasket of the country (www.ournigeria.com; accessed 2007). With about six forest districts, the region has a lot of fertile lands and actually serves as the production site for most of the food crops and cash crops in Nigeria. As forest reserves make significant contributions to the development of Nigeria, there is the need to strongly create awareness and understanding of the extent and nature of the endowed forest resource as well as the method of exploitation. The implication of this is the importance and necessity for adequate care of the forest through appropriate planning and management as to the utilization of the forest resources. The reasons being that, these forest resources are in a web within a system and any disturbance of one element will dislodge the equilibrium.
Besides the imbalances created in the forests’ ecosystem, the depletion of the forest cover poses significant repercussions on the livelihood of people, particularly those in such forest fringe communities who depend heavily on the forest and its resources. It is in this vein that this study is being conducted to assess the effect of deforestation on environments on forest communities in the Imo state.
1.3 Research Questions
Based on the afore-stated problem, the study provided answers to the following questions:
- What is the extent of deforestation in Ukwa L.G.A. over the last ten years?
- What are the causes of deforestation in the Ukwa L.G.A.?
- How has the deforestation in the area affected the environments in the study area?
1.4 OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
The objectives of the study are as follows;
- To find out whether there are deforestation activities in Ukwa L.G.A of Imo state
- To examine the sources of deforestation in Ukwa L.G.A of Imo state
- To evaluate the impact of deforestation on the environment in Ukwa L.G.A of Imo state
- To recommend ways for controlling deforestation activities in Ukwa L.G.A of Imo state
1.5 JUSTIFICATION OF THE STUDY
Extensive tropical deforestation is a relatively modern event that gained momentum in the 20th century and particularly in the last half of the 20th century. The struggle to save the world’s rainforests and other forests continues and there is a growing worldwide concern about the issue. In order to save forests, we need to know why they are being destroyed. Distinguishing between the agents of deforestation and its causes is very important in order to understand the major determinants of deforestation.
The impact of deforestation on the environment is devastating. Hence, strategies to prevent and control the menace are being discussed in this study.
1.6 Scope of the Research
The scope of the research shows the coverage of study in terms of the context which also defines or influence the theoretical framework of the study and the second aspect is the geographic scope.
1.6.1 Contextual Scope
The contextual scope revolved around the effects of deforestation on the environments of forest fringe communities, the extent to which deforestation has affected environments and the means of adaptation in forest fringe communities.
1.7 Organization of Chapters
The report was organized into five chapters. The first chapter which is the background of the study comprises of the general introduction, the problem statement, the research questions, research objectives and purpose, scope of the research, justification and organization of the research report.
Chapter two is basically a literature review on key terminologies and concepts related to deforestation on the environments of forest communities in the study area. Findings from the various chapters informed the data needs and requirements for empirical data collection from the field.
The third chapter looks at the methodology and profile of the study region. The methodology considered the data needs, sources of data, types of data, data analysis, sampling technique and sample size among others. The profile of the case region on the other hand showed the physical, social and economic characteristics of the study region which influence or explained some of the findings that were obtained from the analysis.
The fourth chapter dealt with the analysis of primary data collected from the field. Tools such as matrices and charts were used to analyze the data and also, provided quick visual impressions of the findings. The key findings, conclusion and recommendations from the analysis were covered in the fifth chapter of the report.
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