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Global Connections

Battling to preserve Nigeria's rainforest

By Matthew Knight for CNN
  • One of the world's biodiversity havens under threat from rainforest degradation
  • Logging and land clearing for agriculture major drivers of deforestation
  • Communities living in rainforests being educated towards sustainable practices

London, England (CNN) -- According to the World Resources Institute, Nigeria is home to 4,715 different types of plant species, and over 550 species of breeding birds and mammals, making it one of the most ecologically vibrant places of the planet.

But Africa's most populous country also has an appalling deforestation record -- one of the fastest in the world.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Nigeria cleared an average of nearly 410,000 hectares of forest from 1990 to 2005 which translates into nearly four percent of the country's rainforests disappearing every year.

Today, only a fraction remain.

Odigha Odigha, a forest activist and chairman of Nigeria's Cross River State Forestry Commission told CNN: "The rate of deforestation in Nigeria is quite frightening. What is left is less than ten percent of the whole country and more than 50 percent of that is in Cross River State."

There will be no forest left in six to ten years if this continues, Odigha says.

His role in Cross River State, which sits in Nigeria's South eastern corner, appears straightforward enough; protect what is still standing and extend forest cover with a restoration program.

But with logging and continuous land clearing for farming, the job of preserving one of the world's biodiversity hotspots is a constant battle.

Tunde Morakinyo from Cercopan, a conservation charity working in Cross River State, says Nigeria's booming population is largely to blame.

"It has a massive population -- the second highest population density in Africa after Rwanda. So the rainforests are under massive pressure," Morakinyo told CNN.

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"The other problem is that the main priority for the Nigerian government is oil, so the forest sector hasn't seen very much funding," he said.

Morakinyo -- who is also works for the consultancy firm, Environmental Resources Management -- agrees with Odigha that logging and agriculture are the major threats to biodiversity.

But the problems don't end there.

"On top of all that there is over-hunting, which is also driven by the huge population and huge demand from the cities for bush meat and other forest products," Morakinyo said.

Cercopan are trying to stem the tide, he says, but it's a tough process.

As well as providing sanctuary for primate species like guenons and mangabeys, Cercopan works with communities on the border of Cross River national park, raising awareness of alternative ways to use the rainforests.

Along with providing education about sustainable logging and carbon credits, they also run eco-tourism projects with some of the money going directly back to the communities.