Cross River set up one of the world’s protected forest reserve, raised a high standard for conservation, but Governor Ben Ayade still draws environmentalists’ ire for his stance on converting part of the area under the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (UN-REDD) scheme for a 260-kilometre Superhighway project.
Ecologically minded critics view Ayade’s many ‘ green’ initiatives as a superficial steps – not the sort of bold actions they say is needed to combat global climate change. They believe the government should support small-scale farmers to assert their communal land rights to farm lands rather than the promotion of transnational corporations in land grabbing.
What concerns people most are the mounting fears among governments that the gains already achieved through the REDD programme may be wiped out through the State Government’s intrusion, unguarded utterances and politics associated with the Super Highway project.
Despite the government’s sweeping ban on forest use in its 18 local government areas, pockets of logging have been taking in some of the communities, mostly for firewood and charcoal.
Only recently, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) trained 520 women in the state on the construction of energy saving wood-cook stove. The five days training programme was funded by United Nations Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD), in collaboration with Small Grants Programme, (SGP), Global Environment Facility, (GEF) with Wanel-aedon Development Association for women in Ukuromotet community in Obubra Local Government Area.
Secretary of the association, Mrs. Joy Ogar said apart from reducing the usage of firewood by 40 per cent, it would also reduce the smoke related diseases that have shortened the life span of most women and girls using fire wood to cook in the rural areas. The community was trained to construct a wood- stove that would absolve the smoke into the air through a pipe.
The bickering among civil society organisations (CSOs) is that the state government should support their activities to improve the livelihoods of community beneficiaries through fish farming, a traditional livelihoods practice threatened by loss of mangroves, a natural breeding ground for fish to sustain the REDD+ project.
About 12 civil society organisations (CSOs) commenced the implementation of community projects in forest dependent communities in Cross River State. The development is coming under the Community Based REDD+ (CBR+) initiative, meant as a catalyst to trigger grassroots capacity and effective engagement in the Nigerian REDD+ process.
As part of the process, local community-level activities recently commenced under the auspices of the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (GEF/SGP), which provided grants to the implementing CSOs, such as Centre for Healthworks, Development and Research (CHEDRES), Green Planet Initiative International, Development Concern (DEVCON), Ekuri Initiative, Waneledon, Conservation Association of Mbe Mountais (CAMM), and African Research Association (managing Development in Nigeria) (ARADIN).
The CHEDRES, for instance, is working at the Esierebum community in Calabar South to increase the area of mangrove forest under sustainable management through raising nurseries and planting of indigenous mangrove seedlings in degraded mangrove sites.
However, Waneledon’s project site is Ohumoruktet, at the Obubra Local Government Area in Ekuri/Iko REDD+ Pilot Site. The CSO aims to increase the area of community forest under sustainable management through land use planning and tree planting, while improving the livelihoods of target community groups, particularly women and youth.
Anthony Atah, the Nigeria REDD+ Stakeholder Engagement Specialist, stated that, following the CSOs and interaction with a few communities, it became pertinent for REDD+ to take steps to create synergies between REDD+ and CBR+ that were otherwise lacking at the early stage and could undermine the investments in these communities.
“These, and the need to appraise and support capacity of CSOs to deliver local REDD+ actions on the ground, while strengthening communities’ participation, required urgent and proactive steps to engage both communities and CSOs in the project locations in reviewing the CBR+ projects and aligning them in the broader REDD+ context.”
But it seems the State Government has seen writing on the wall and admitted its error in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report presented for the Super highway project.
Ayade earlier said: “As a people who have been denied all these, we need to take our destiny by our hands. We pass a law on absolute conservation, so how else can we show commitment to the forest?
“The Cross River National Park has been turned into an evil forest,” he said, noting that elsewhere like in South Africa superhighway pass through their national park but in the state “the old trees cannot even absorb carbon dioxide anymore and they begin to dry gradually. So the forest is not adding value because it is aging away.”
But research under the aegis of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Media fellowship programme revealed that in a meeting with federal authorities, the State’s Deputy Governor, Prof Ivara Esu pledged to comply with EIA rules.
He said, “It is obvious that all is not against the issue of Superhighway, however we also noted that our consultants have to look at issues suggested and how we can remedy that.
“We shall do more consultations with the communities involved to capture all. We have noted the expert advice and various issues raised and how they will be addressed, we are a listening government, we want the UN-REDD and funding to continue. We are very anxious about resumption of activities on the Superhighway. Please, do all you can to assist us positively.”
Executive Director, Rainforest Resource and Development Centre (RRDC), Odey Oyama said, “It is the contention of the RRDC that the Cross River State Government, under any guise whatsoever, cannot alter the boundaries of the park without the authorisation and approval of the National Assembly, and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. By the provisions of the section 94 of the Land Use Act No. 6 of 1978, the Cross River State Government is precluded from altering the territories of the Park as described in the National Park Service Act, which has been passed by the President.”