Sensitizing communities against deforestation

The Inugu Omono community in Kogi State, Nigeria, depends on the nearby forest for its subsistence. Deforestation threatens its future while worsening the already-felt effects of climate change. Encouraging environment-friendly practices as well as combating illegal logging are essential to improve local socio-economic conditions.

By David Michael Terungwa, Climate Reality Leader, President of Global Initiative for Food Security and Ecosystem Preservation (aka African Green Movement).

On 6 and 7 January 2017, I visited the remote Imugu Omono community in Kogi State, Nigeria. This community has a population of about 800 inhabitants whose main occupation is farming and hunting. There is no electricity or clean water source in the community, the people depend on kerosene lanterns for lightening at night and hand-dug wells for their water needs.

The only available energy for cooking in this community is fuel wood known locally as firewood; the story is the same across Nigeria as 70% of the population is dependent on fuel wood as the main energy source for cooking. It is customary for the Inugu Omono people to measure the strength of a woman by the number of trees she is able to cut down and collect. A young man in search of a bride would look out for the young woman who is strong enough to collect firewood.

The community is bounded by the Shemagale Mountain Forest. This forest contain indigenous trees and harbuors some wild animals such as monkeys, pythons, grass cutters, bush pigs, etc.

The deforestation is threatening the community’s subsistence. The main culprit is logging. I discovered that the community elder’s collect very small amount of money from logging companies to allow them carry out commercial – yet illegal – logging, thus making it very difficult to stop this exploitation of the forest. Another threat to the forest is bush burning which is usually carried out by the hunters to ease their hunting expeditions. This practice destroys the forest ecosystem.  I could not measure the size of this forest but according to local  hunters, it takes about 7 days for the forest to be burnt down. Cutting trees for use as firewood is also contributing to the ongoing deforestation.

It took me about three hours’ drive from Abuja to get to the bank of the River Benue, followed by a 56 minutes crossing by a small paddled canoe and another 45 minutes journey by bike through a push path to get the community. Upon arrival at 5 pm, I paid a courtesy call to the Chief, the Aguma of Inugu Omono Chief Shegaba Kaura, to inform him of my mission. A meeting was scheduled later that evening with the community leaders, elders, women and youths leaders.

Dispelling misconceptions about climate change

I came with a laptop and projector to make a visual presentation on the causes and effects of climate change, but there was no electricity to power them. Fortunately the moon provided us natural lighting.

I informed the people about climate change, what it is and how it affects us. They had never heard these words. From our discussion, it was clear that the community is experiencing the effects of climate change, which are noticeable in the irregular rainfall and poor yields.

However they don’t know the cause of these changing climating conditions. In fact, they  sometimes attribute them to the anger of the gods. This lack of understanding of climate change limits their ability to provide a solution for themselves and leads to a decline in income and increased poverty.

Energy saving cooking stoves

The next morning, I spoke to the women about the effects of deforestation and practically demonstrated to them how to produce firewood energy stoves as compared to the open fire for cooking.

The locally made stove is made from clay. Clay is a poor conductor of heat, which means that heat can’t go through the material, causing minimal minimal loss when burning wood for cooking. In contrast, open fires consume a lot of wood. The firewood energy stove saves wood, thereby reducing the number of trees that are cut down for use as fuel for cooking. This technology helps reduce the rate of deforestation and forest degradation.

I also encouraged the community to plant fruit trees  which can bring economic value, and will therefore not be cut down as firewood.

Visit to the community forest

I also visited the community forest accompanied by two hunters to see firsthand the destructive activities. But unfortunately after an hour walk into the forest I could not go further to get to point where commercial logging is taking place.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the African Climate Reality Project.