Sunday, 28 February 2016

Our Disappearing Green: Curbing the Menace (Nigeria As A Case Study)

“Wasting-away is inevitable, unless appreciation is embraced and conservation practiced”

Green is more than just a colour. Green is a divine natural beauty. With greenness come peace, calmness and serenity. Green/greenness as employed in the context of this discussion doesn’t define colour, rather it depicts the plants of this world – the members of the Kingdom Plantae.

Green plants, one of the pioneer creations of God, cut across the universe as they are supported by a wide range of habitats and environmental conditions. The usefulness of plants can not be over emphasized. The natural processes of green plants protect our planet and supply the air we breathe and the water we drink. This is an attestation to the slogan of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BOTANY STUDENTS (NABOS) that says “Plant is life”. Apart from this germane importance, the early man discovered eminent uses of the species of the Kingdom Plantae. They include being a source of job (farming), a major food source, and source of raw materials for shelter, clothing and construction. Others are; for beautification of the environment, medicine for ailments and other extensive uses. These uses were employed in easing and enhancing life, a trend that still continues till date.

Nigeria of the early days was a land bestowed with vast collection of plants thereby making greenness really prominent. This is evident in our national flag and Coat of Arms initiated at independence. The green on the flag depicts the nation’s natural wealth. Likewise, on the Coat of Arms, the grassy field with yellow flowers - Costus spectabilis at the base shows the beauty conferred on the nation by plants. Also, the land races of many important plant crops now grown worldwide were thought to have originated from Nigeria. Such plants include: Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), West Africa rice (Oryza sativa), Yams (Dioscorea spp.) and others. Nigeria has a wide diversity of habitats (both on land and in water), hence diverse plant species. Two prominent types of vegetation are found in Nigeria: the Forests (which spread over the South) and Savannah/Grasslands (which spread over the North).

Nigeria has continued to develop over time, undergoing numerous processes of change. Some of these changes have adversely affected the natural composition of living things, especially plants and animals. This situation, which has been continuously neglected, has aggravated and is fast turning Nigeria into a nation with eroding natural endowment. Our green is drastically disappearing, a serious problem that needs urgent attention. This predicament, if care is not taken, is capable of tampering with the citizens’ wellbeing.

The problem of disappearing green in Nigeria can be attributed to various causes ranging from emergence of petroleum as the major source of national income, continued over-extraction of forest products, high levels of domestic wood consumption, desertification, and anemic reforestation efforts. Others are: rapid rural-urban migration, vegetation burning, massive urbanization and industrialization, ignorance/misinformation of the populace, and poor conservation culture.

According to a 1992 Federal Environmental Protection Agency Country study, Nigeria inhabits more than 848 algae species in marine and fresh water, about 5,103 higher plant species and more than 200 lower plants. Food and Agricultural Organization - FAO in their Country Report of Nigeria published in 1996 (four years later) identified over 4,600 plant species throughout Nigeria and listed 205 as endemic (i.e. found in a particular locality only). Out of these, over 496 species representing about 11% are threatened (i.e. susceptible to extinction in a short time, except they are conserved). The high difference in plants population in the two reports within such short period, coupled with the high population of threatened species, underlines the earlier assertion that greenness is truly vanishing in the country.

A report of the Forest Resource Situation Assessment of Nigeria, sponsored by European Union and FAO (2002), showed Nigeria has a total land mass of 923, Out of this land mass, the percentages occupied by various plant species have significantly reduced over a period of 1976/78 to 1993/95. These reductions were attributed to:

- Increased natural land mass used for extensive and intensive agriculture (55.8% in 1976/78 and 60.6% in 1993/95).
- Decreased land mass covered by grasses ( 12.5% in 1976/78 and 9% in 1993/95)
- Decreased land mass covered by trees/woodland/shrubs ( 16.6% in 1976/78 and 9% in 1993/95)
- Decreased land mass covered by Undisturbed forests (2.9% in 1976/78 and 1.3% in 1993/95)
- Decreased land mass covered by Disturbed forests (1.6% in 1876/78 and 2.1% in 1993/95)
- Annual deforestation rate recorded at 2.6% during 1990 to 2000.

Moving away from facts and figures, even our everyday life and immediate environment bares this huge problem. Our environment is getting devoid of greenness day by day. Our today’s world sees more reasons not to keep plants and fewer reasons to keep them. We no longer have flowers planted along our major high ways, and even when planted, they look unkempt as ever. The days of having a beautiful landscape display of different edges plants in strategic places of the town are long gone. House owners plant neither trees nor flowers in their compounds anymore, despite having large acres of space confined to motor-parking and fun-seeking purposes. No more in-house gardens where we can get our vegetables in their freshest form.

These problems can not be solved overnight. However, certain measures and strategies can be applied to rescue the deteriorating situation. One of these measures is proper conservation. Plants are precious gift from God to mankind, a natural resource requiring effective and suitable management hence the need to conserve them. Plants’ conservation can be done in their natural setting (In-Situ Conservation) or artificially outside their natural habitats (Ex-Situ Conservation). These two methods are the most popular, but it is a widely accepted view that the later is more cost-effective. The government needs to renew efforts towards conservation of plants, especially in their natural form (as seen in our various National Forest Reserves). Undiscovered natural forests need to be discovered with the aim of guarding them against over-exploitation. The discovered ones also need proper maintenance and conservation.

Another way out is the proper orientation of the rural populace. More than 70% of the Nigerian people are rural dwellers who depend on agriculture and forest resources for survival. Proper orientation of these people on the usefulness of keeping plants alive will go a long way in preserving greenness. Government should also follow this up by improving their lives by providing social amenities and alternative means of livelihood. This will greatly reduce the rate at which the forests are being over-exploited. The urban populace is not exempted too. There is need to educate them about the importance of having greenness around them, starting from our school curriculums. Proper sensitization of the populace on beneficial programs like tree planting, environmental beautification through landscaping, garden keeping and other related acts should be put in place. Seeds/Seedlings of trees and flowers should be made available for free or at a very subsidized rate as a form of encouragement.

Forest regeneration and proper management can also help in placating the situation. Unless there is regeneration and sustained yield to balance harvests, the depletion of forests is bound to continue. The government of today is revenue-oriented, even at the expense of sustained yield. Planted forests should be extended in a bid to cover up for the lost grounds and incentives provided to encourage people to embark on regeneration.

The relationship between man and plants has always changed with socio-economic development and will certainly continue to change unless quick actions are taken. Such actions include development of better urbanization frameworks by government and individuals. These frameworks must be a well organized one that will make compulsory trees and flowers planting in and around buildings. The scheme must also entail proper management of industrial and urban wastes as these also add to overall degradation of the land, making it unsuitable for plant habitation. Policies that will frown at indiscriminate plants and plant products exploitation should also be formed, while ensuring the enforcement of the same.

The above discussed solutions, if applied, are sure to restore normalcy to the situation and make green plants prominent like before. Plants are a must for mankind to survive, a more reason we should do all we can to keep them alive and around.

Written by:
OYETUNJI Ridwan Abiola,
Department of Botany,
O. A.U, Ile-Ife.
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