The Afi River Forest Reserve is losing 'large tracts' of primary forest believed to be a result of illegal land clearing for cocoa cultivation
Cross River State lost more than 16,000 hectares of tree cover in 2017, a near four-fold increase on losses the previous year.
Cross River State, home to some
of Nigeria’s last remaining tropical rainforest and critically endangered
gorillas, is facing new threats from illegal deforestation for cocoa, an NGO in
the region has warned. Meanwhile, Earthsight research reveals that EU imports
of cocoa from the country have been rising rapidly, and may be helping drive
farmers into forest areas.
The Wildlife Conservation Society
(WCS) in Nigeria raised the alarm after receiving reports that ‘large tracts’
of primary forest are being destroyed in the Afi River Forest Reserve, a 312km
area in Cross River, southern Nigeria, for the illegal cultivation of a cocoa
In an April letter to the Cross
River State Forestry Commission, the organisation urged authorities to act to
prevent further destruction of the land which is also home to a dwindling
gorilla population, The
Guardian Nigeria reported.
“WCS is concerned by the ongoing
deforestation which threatens to destroy this critical forest corridor,” WCS
Nigeria director Dr Inaoyom Imong wrote in the letter.
“The loss of this corridor will
have severe consequences for the long-term conservation of the population of
critically endangered Cross River gorillas and other endangered species in the
Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary.”
Cross River State lost more than
16,000 hectares of tree cover in 2017, a near four-fold increase on losses the
previous year, Earthsight analysis of Global Forest Watch data shows.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian
Conservation Foundation said in 2018 that it believed the country had
lost north of 90% of its forests to deforestation with illegal logging, palm
oil cultivation and charcoal production the main drivers.
Nigeria is the world’s third largest producer of cocoa, with exports worth $0.8bn each year. Analysis of the latest trade data by Earthsight reveal that nearly three-quarters of exports are to the EU, which imported 248,000 tonnes last year, worth €0.5bn. We found that Nigeria supplies around 10% of the EU’s cocoa demand, with the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium among the largest importers.
EU consumption of Nigerian cocoa is rising rapidly, with imports up 65% in just the last three years. Significant quantities are also being imported
into the USA, nearly all of them by the multi-billion-dollar-turnover Sucden
Group, an agri-commodities trading giant owned by French multi-millionaire
Nigeria is also a significant
contributor to deforestation across West Africa, but it is often the mass
production in nearby Ghana and Ivory Coast – the world’s largest producers –
that hits the headlines. The pair suffered the highest increased loss of
primary forest in 2018, according
to GFW, with losses in Ghana spiking 60 per cent and 26% in Ivory
Coast during the year, in part due to continued cocoa production.
In response to the WCS letter,
Bette Obi, chair of the Cross River State Forestry Commission, told The
Guardian Nigeria: “Our reserves are no go area but I cannot assure you that
they are still 100 percent the way they should be.
“As far as that place is not
de-reserved whatever they are doing there is illegal. We are on top of the
matter and we are summoning the community to come here with those that are
concerned so that we interact with them.”
Nationally, the Ministry of
Environment has announced plans to create a new national forest management
policy, while under the African Union-led Great Green Wall program –
an afforestation initiative spanning 20 nations – Nigeria aims
to increase forest cover by planting seedlings over 131,000ha.
Muhammadu Buhari’s government is
also looking to taper the widespread Illegal logging and charcoal production
that exists across the country and is in the process of establishing a National
Timber and Forest Product Certification Council to improve practices in the
However, the threats facing the
Afi River Forest Reserve remain. WCS Nigeria director Andrew Dunn remarked: “The
remaining gorillas in Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mbe Mountains are
endangered by the current deforestation going on inside Afi River Forest
“[We] feel very strongly that new
cocoa should be planted on areas that have already been degraded and not on the
state’s remaining forest.”