“The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; It affords protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axe-man who destroys it”- Gautama Buddha
Forests cover 30% of the global land area, but they are not equally distributed around the globe. While more than half of the world’s forests are found in only five countries (Russia, Brazil, Canada, USA and China), two-thirds of forests are found in ten countries.1 According to the UN FAO, 9.9% or about 9,041,000 ha of Nigeria is forested. These forests contain 1085 million metric tons of carbon in living forest biomass. There are also some 1417 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles in these forests according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre2. With increasing poverty and global unemployment triggered by the Covid-19, close to 1.6 billion people (more than 25% of the world’s population) rely on forests resources for their livelihoods with majority using trees to generate food and cash3. Forest also helps in sustaining the planet by offering watershed protection, preventing soil erosion mitigating climate change and serving as the world’s largest storehouse of carbon after oceans4. This paper tries to examine a fictional case study that highlights the important role forest is playing to sustain humanity and the planet.
DEFINITION OF TERMS
Forest is a complex ecosystem consisting mainly of trees that buffer the earth and support a myriad of life forms but FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) defines it as a land with a tree crown cover of more than 10% and area of more than 0.5% hectare.
Livelihood involves the capacity to acquire food, fodder, medicine, shelter, clothing and other necessities in order to satisfy the basic needs of themselves, households and their community.
Sustaining according to the Cambridge English dictionary means to cause or allow something to continue for a period.
Planet is a celestial body moving in an elliptical orbit round a star E.g. earth
BRIEF CASE STUDY
Edumanom Forests is a mangrove forest reserve situated in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. It covers an area of 93 square kilometres and is one of the last habitat areas for chimpanzees. In April 2020 when lockdown was enforced around the world to curtail the spread of Covid-19, Nkechi a native of the region had to shoulder the responsibility of caring for her aged parents and siblings. With no job to pay the bills, she rolled her sleeves and headed for the forest. Coconut, grapes, and edible nuts collected were quickly transported to the community market. Proceeds from the sale of these products were used to address the food need of the starving family. A month into the lockdown, her dad fell ill with malaria and with increasing Covid-19 infection rate, many people living in rural areas dreaded visiting the hospital. Armed with a cutlass, she quickly dashed into the forest to collect some random green leaves (neem and bitter leaf). With this, she was able to prepare a local concoction that annihilated the malaria parasite from her ailing dad. As the rainy season set in, the violent kiss of the wind shattered the only hut sheltering the family. Palm fronts, bamboo, and spear grass sourced from the forest aided the family to build a make shift shelter. Despite the degradation of the region by pollution, the forest continues to act as a storehouse for carbon, prevent soil erosion, mitigate climate change and purify the air for members of the community. Her creative thinking ability helped her to organise lumbermen to fell matured trees and process them into timber. While this went on, felled trees were replaced with new seedlings to avoid deforestation. Soon, when the community noticed that the wild life population was exceeding the carrying capacity of the forest, elders tasked the youths to embark on a controlled hunting expedition. As the country began easing lockdown, proceeds from the community purse was used to cater for the tuition fee of students from the region.
From the case study examined, it is safe to conclude that forests play a vital role in sustaining livelihood of man and the planet. It’s not surprising to see FAOs effort in assisting to develop rural areas where 70% of the world’s poor and hungry people reside- where, in many regions, forests perform a range of ecological, economic, cultural and social function critical for the health of the planet and its inhabitants3.
First, the Covid-19 caused shutdown of towns, markets and other important public spaces. During this period, many people around the world that could not have access to quality food leveraged upon provisions from the forests. Vegetables, fruits, nuts and wild food crops served as food for humanity. Scarcity of animal sourced protein poses a great danger of humanity but through forest, such needs are addressed. A recent survey of almost 8000 rural households in 24 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America found that 39% of households harvested wild meats and almost consumed it all. Thus, wild meat accounts for at least 20% of animal protein in rural diets in at least 62 countries worldwide9.
Forest also helps in providing fuel for many around the world. Countries in developing world draw on fuel wood to meet as much as 90% of energy requirements3. Some even go further to produce charcoal (an effective cooking fuel) used by many across Africa.
It is important to note that majority of the ingredients used by pharmaceuticals to make drugs are sourced from plants. Medicinal plants have been used by human since pre-historic times. It is estimated that 70-80% of people worldwide rely mainly on traditional herbal medicine to meet their primary healthcare needs. According to WHO, about 80% of the population of some Asian and African countries and over 50% of the population in North America, Europe and other industrialized countries use plants and plant extracts for medicinal needs at least once7. Scientific interest in the genus Ancistrocladus has grown considerably because the National Cancer Institute considers the canopy liana Ancistrocladus korupensis as an effective anti-AIDS agent. Thanks to the contribution of Mr and Mrs Forest.
Through the help of forest, many people around the world have been gainfully employed. Forest guards, lumbers and hunters legitimately earn fortune to cater for their needs. With the high rate of unemployment currently ravaging the world, many people who originally should starve to death have been spared.
Furthermore, Forests helps to create entertainment and tourist attraction for many around the world. Cameras hidden in these habitats help to record and transmit wildlife documentaries to people in the comfort of their homes. A collaborative study between the BBC, makers of Planet Earth II and the University of California Berkeley found that watching nature documentaries significantly boosts our happiness and reduce stress and anxiety. Researchers during the study used cutting-edge facial mapping technology on 7500 participants from a broad range of nationalities to read their emotions in real time as they watched short clips of a range of television programs. The results showed that women experienced a more dramatic emotional change when viewing the nature documentary clips, while people between the ages of 16 to 24 showed the biggest reduction in nervousness, overburden and fatigue6.
Shelter and clothing are important needs that increases survival. Timber gotten from forests are used for building different types of shelter around the world. Pulps from these products is used to produce writing materials that is reducing global illiteracy level.
Forests helps to provide refuge and safety nets to people during the time of emergencies or crisis. Without this provision, many lives will be lost during such occurrences. In Northern Nigeria where the activities of bandits, boko-haram and kidnappers is on an increase, many poor vulnerable villagers dread passing the night in their homes. Trees and forests acts as hiding niches for these helpless villagers trying to evade the claws of these wicked members of the society.
Finally, forest plays a critical role in biodiversity and our ecosystem. Harmful greenhouse gases that produce climate change are continuously absorbed by forests. It also serves as a buffer in natural disasters like flood and rainfalls, and provides habitat to more than half of the world’s land based species while the canopy cover of trees reduces the impact of rainfall on the soil surface thereby, limiting the rate of weathering, leaching and erosion.
NEED FOR SUSTAINABLE FOREST MANAGEMENT
Like every other natural resource available to humanity, forest too could be depleted if it’s not well catered for. They are currently been threatened with varying degrees of human activities such as deforestation, illegal logging and poaching. Hence, the need for these recommendations;
*Local communities living around forests should be encouraged to efficiently control them and ensure there is fair distribution of forest resources.
* Controlled hunting should be practiced periodically when the population of wildlife is on the verge of outgrowing a habitats carrying capacity.
* Bush burning and other man-induced disasters should be discouraged by everyone everywhere.
*Awareness about sustainable use of forest resources should be routinely made available to members of the public. Doing this will help in reforming the mind-set of humanity from been destructive to been protective.
*Authorities at all levels of government should enact laws and policies that can help in the continuity of forest resources. Such laws can make it mandatory for loggers to plant five trees before logging one.
*Due to over dependence of a large fraction of the world’s population on forest resources, the provision of technical assistance in the area of finance, marketing, storage and processing, should be provided to discourage over exploitation of forest resources.
The importance of forest to humanity and the planet is inexhaustible. Caution needs to be taken as we exploit the sweet resources this rich habitat provides because; life will be bleak without forests.