There is concern that over 90 per cent of Nigeria’s forests have already gone, and more than half of what remains is found in Cross River State. The forest there is considered to be one of the richest biodiversity reserves in Africa.
Last December in Copenhagen, the state’s officials unveiled efforts towards a REDD programme for Nigeria. They said that their main goal in Denmark was to look for donor commitment for a REDD readiness programme for the country.
If was therefore not entirely unexpected when a UN-REDD+ Programme’s Scoping Mission to the country in October headed for Cross River State. The weeklong mission was aimed at assessing the nation’s REDD potential, in the light of its desire to be elevated from its current Observers Status to a Full Participant.
The mission entailed a series of workshops, courtesy visits as well as field trips to assess designated REDD pilot sites in the state.
The UN-REDD Programme is being coordinated by the trio of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), whose officials – Josep Gari (UNDP Dakar), Julie Greenwalt (UNEP Nairobi) and Edward Kilawe (FAO Harare) – formed the core scoping team.
Other members of the team were Salisu Dahiru (Coordinator, National REDD+ Programme), Mr. Ochuko Odibo (Special Assistant, Technical), Odigha Odigha (Chairman, Cross River State Forestry Commission) and Tunde Murakinyo (Consultant to the Cross River State Forestry Commission).
The mission started on Thursday, October 14 in Calabar, the Cross River Sate capital, with an introductory gathering that highlighted the objectives and scope of the mission.
The next day (Friday) saw the team, now joined by the UNDP Nigeria Deputy Country Director (Programmes), Janthomas Hiemstra, and Peter Tarfa of the Special Climate Change Unit (SCCU) in the Federal Ministry of Environment, pay a courtesy visit to Governor Liyel Imoke in his office.
Lauding the state’s forest conservation initiative that he described as “unprecedented,” Hiemstra predicted that the current effort of the state would in the next six months attract investments and that UN-REDD would standby the state in this regards which will attract great financial benefits.
Responding, Imoke said the state had made several efforts at the conservation and protection of its forest with the cooperation of international agencies and that the observations from UN-REDD would encourage the state to forge ahead. He added that challenges faced can be surmounted through their efforts and cooperation for the programme to succeed.
The governor disclosed that the state worked closely with the Federal Ministry of Environment to achieve its aim, showing great commitment to the programme. He stated that numerous benefits derived from the forest would get to the local forest community which remained its focus.
The team then set out to the field, where it spent the remaining part of Friday and the entire Saturday. The first port of call was Ekuri, a community famous for decades of successfully managing and conserving its forest resources to the benefit of the indigenes.
Besides the Ekuri Forest Community, other destinations were Buanchor Community Forest and Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary where, besides interacting with community leaders, the scoping team visited designated REDD pilot sites that comprised forest and farm plots, in respect of which Cross River Forestry Commission officials and members of the Nigeria REDD+ Programme in the Federal Ministry of Environment shed some light on the sites as well as the criteria for their choice.
At Ekuri Village, an informal meeting with the community was held from 11:30 pm to about 2:00 am, in an atmosphere of friendship, hospitality and high expectations. The Mission heard the success story of the community’s sustainable management and conservation of its forest over the last 20 years, its plan for the future, challenges, and its confidence in, and expectations from, the REDD+ programme. Inspection of the REDD+ demonstration plot indicated a strong level of participation and capacity of the community in carbon measurement for MRV.
At the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, mission representatives inspected the second and third REDD+ pilot sites, conservation programme for Drill monkeys, Cross River gorilla and chimpanzees, and plant nursery for propagation of indigenous tree species.
The team arrived on Saturday evening in Calabar, where, the following day on Sunday October 17, a second stakeholder gathering held. The group shifted base on Monday to Abuja, where a two-day stakeholder workshop held on Tuesday and Wednesday (October 19 and 20).
At the Calabar and Abuja workshops, participants attempted to devise a work plan to be executed within the next six months. Besides introducing and exchanging information, the forum was likewise aimed at enhancing stakeholder participation in REDD+. Issues raised at the forums were centred on topics like a legal framework, stakeholder engagement and technical aspects.
Specifically, the following key points highlighted the participants’ understanding of REDD+:
• It is to help in protecting the forests, reducing carbon emissions and enhancing sustainable forest livelihoods;
• it is an environmental finance instrument;
• it is a performance-based mechanism;
• it is about reduced carbon emissions, within a context of biodiversity, poverty reduction, development and equality;
• it is a policy process, as opposed to a project;
• it entails a change of the development paradigm around forests and rural livelihoods;
• it readiness shall conform to international agreements (post-Kyoto Protocol) but adapt to country conditions;
• payments for REDD+ credits may come from an international fund and/or carbon markets (to be decided by negotiators and then countries); and,
• distribution of REDD+ benefits needs to be fair and related to forest conservation and development.
Thursday October 21 featured a session involving the team, UNDP officials and Environment Minister John Odey. Saying that the scoping mission was aimed at achieving a clear road map for REDD in the country, Odeh described the efforts as one that would set a pace for REDD operations in the country as well as in the West African sub-region.
He called for the establishment of a technical committee to commence exploring other potential REDD ready states so that, upon completing the Cross River State process, there would not be a gap. The minister reiterated government’s commitment and support to the REDD+ Programme.
UNDP Resident Representative and Resident Coordinator for UN Systems in Nigeria, Daouda Toure, reiterated the UN body’s commitment to providing support to Nigeria in its aspiration of becoming a REDD country.
He added that addressing deforestation and forest degradation in tropical areas was relevant to various domains of the development agenda, such as the forest sector, poverty reduction and climate change.
At the close of the mission, Gari, Greenwalt and Kilawe were full of praises for Nigeria’s REDD and forest management efforts. They described the mission as successful.
Gari said, “It is more successful than we anticipated. It has been very fluid and dynamic and this is because of the way it has been internally organised and the outputs we had. The authorities at the federal level and at Cross River state have done a lot of internal work in order to appropriate REDD, in order to appropriate new domain and in order to get ready to host the UN-REDD Mission and get the best out of it. They have organised excellent field trips, excellent workshops, they have been very open and they have invited very wide range stakeholders and this is something to be commended. Especially, the preparation and organisation they have done not only in logistics but also technically in discussions and in organising themselves. The second aspect is the outcome. What we have seen and learned in the mission.”
He said that, on the field in Cross River State, they saw communities already working to defend the forest, assisting the carbon, the biodiversity. “They have a forestry commission organised in order to better protect the forest and in order also to prepare themselves for REDD. We have seen different stakeholders ready to listen, ready to learn and ready to contribute with the best of their ideas. We have met the top authorities like the Governor of Cross River state, who has excellent understanding of the issue at stake, understanding of the process to come and total support to the process to be done and we sense that we also have the support of the Minister of Environment.”
On the transformation of the nation’s observer status to being a REDD member, Gari said, “I have full confidence, because Nigeria has a lot of things to offer on REDD. We need Nigeria inside because this is going to be beneficial to humanity. I think the nation has good chance because of the way Nigeria has been working up till now to the success of the mission and arrangement at the global level gives sign that the request of Nigeria will be approved and this approval will only be in March 2011 All the indicators suggest that Nigeria will be located for a national REDD readiness plan.”
He said the timeframe for packaging the nation’s request was short but “we have seen that in a short time Nigeria has done a lot on REDD in the past few months. They have done a preliminary assessment, they have organised themselves at the federal and state levels, they have conducted carbon and biodiversity consistency studies and they have hosted and led an extraordinary mission in a few months. So, this shows basically that the country can achieve a lot in a short time. Even though we are aware that we do not have much time to prepare our proposal we know that Nigeria can do it. The challenge is not only to prepare a proposal but in the way in which the proposal has to be prepared. To prepare a document is something that can be done easily. You get a bunch of specialists who put down their ideas and that is all but the way we wish to work in REDD is participatory process which means that every component of the building block of the national plan is going to be consulted with the proper stakeholders and consultation requires time, capacity building so the stakeholders give input of quality. In terms of capacity of Nigerians, we have no problem but we have got to work fast and at the end of the day we are going to get a functional document.
On fears that REDD could trigger land grab, he explained, “It is one set of concern about the functionality of such mechanism. Development practice in Nigeria and elsewhere shows that international community comes up with many ideas promising this will solve all the poverty and developmental challenges and they don’t deliver later on the promise.
So, this brings scepticism and this is normal. Secondly, there is scepticism because the negotiations don’t go as we wish as humanity deserves, as the problems of climate change require and sometimes the negotiation goes through very cumbersome and this can make the system complicated for developing countries not to participate. In terms of the most radical concerns that REDD is going to grab land from people, create plantations instead of forest in a massive scale, I think is good to put these concerns on the table. Most of these concerns do not come from the local communities themselves and we witness it when we go to the fields. They come from certain actors at a more secondary level that think that as many of the corporate in the past, this is going to be about new colonial project, but in fact by the way REDD is crafted, the way the mission has operated, in the way the technical committees are operating we have seen transparency and of openness and of the ability to let different stakeholders to contribute. These concerns should be put a little bit in perspective, however it is very good that the issues and the risks are always on the table and on our shoulders that we don’t forget it because if we want to get a mechanism that ensures forest protection, poverty reduction we are going to be aware of every moment.
We should not scare people or tell them not to try. Simply we need to try with all the safety and all the standards required with all the openness required but not avoid doing something because it might be detrimental, but let’s do it but let’s? avoid the risks.”
Gari, who is in the country for the fist time talked about his experiences. “This is my first time in Nigeria and it has not changed my perception in the sense that I didn’t have a prejudice. I don’t like listening to the prejudice about a country. Usually big nations like Nigeria are tagged with a lot of prejudice only because it is one of the curses of great nations. They have to hold the prejudices of external people,” he submitted.
Also assessing the mission to Nigeria, Greenwalt said everything was well organised and it showed a great commitment on the part of the host nation.
“It is very humbling to be here because the dedication and commitment of Cross River State, Federal Government and the local communities and the non-governmental organisations was incredible and it so amazing to be part of it.”
Greenwalt said it was definite that Nigeria would benefit from the UN-REDD mission. “I think Nigeria’s experience today, political will and commitment to the political process and the fact that they have such unique forest with so much biodiversity they would have a huge opportunity to attract donors and to achieve a lot in the REDD process.
On suspicion in some areas that the REDD programme could be a ploy for land grabbing, she said, “Any time you try to attach financial value to natural resources like forest, there is a lot of fear. It is really important that as much information as possible should be shared and I think it is the first step in responding to this people. The second is there is already a price on the forest; the logging companies have already put a price on extracting timber from the forest. So, it is not just necessarily that REDD is doing something that has never been done before, instead it is putting a price on the forest for the best reason that I can think possible, which is to mitigate climate change. So, you’re valuing the forest within the scheme of something as important as climate change mitigation and I think the value goes beyond just the carbon to other aspects brought in about the biodiversity and securing livelihoods and other aspects of the forest are documented and safeguarded against in the REDD mechanism. Doing all that and information sharing will assuage any fears that are out there.
On what can fast track the preparation of Nigeria’s proposal, she said described the stakeholders meeting an important step and, “with basic understanding, desire and political will goes really far to fast track it to be able to submit it to the UNDP policy board for the funding from UN-REDD. Having the support of the UNDP country office is commendable to really have this project on the ground and having the support of the three agencies, UNEP, UNDP and FAO and also the other conservation organisation, meaning the other people that have been involved in Cross River State and Nigeria along will really make a difference and also the opportunity to learn from other countries example will make the process go more smoothly.”
Greenwalt commended what she described as “the genuine hospitality and support. Everybody that I have met here has been so friendly and wonderful. We have done a wide range of things on this trip from going out in the forest, swimming in the river to meeting the governor and holding the stakeholders’ workshop; it has really been an intense trip but it has been such a powerful experience and it has renewed my energy and spirit to work on this.”
Kilawe said for Nigeria to have a national REDD programme, there are things that should be put on ground and that this was the essence of the stakeholders’ workshop to give “all the pillars, the blocks for REDD which they have to prepare and of course we are using this as an opportunity to exchange information; that is why we came and to exchange information we are trying to make sure that our meetings are very interactive to also know and learn and see what are the mechanisms.
We know that this REDD is going to be difficult for everyone to understand especially now we know it is the very first mission and also the people in the government, federal and the state and a number of other stakeholders. Maybe they have seen it in some papers which they have been reading but now to understand what is the requirement, how to make sure that there is full engagement and how to ensure the process is moving forward, that was the challenge and that is why we are saying let go to the basic to provide this information which people first can understand and that is we are trying to un-package all this blocks and trying to go one by one trying to see these are the challenges we know, but there is a solution we know.”
What has to be done, he said is to implement and see how to get it right. “Here is to build the process and when we leave it doesn’t mean we leave it because it is a mission since there are steps and work that we will continue doing to ensure that there is a feedback mechanism.”
In his assessment of the mission, he said, “It has been fruitful; we have been doing this in a lot of countries and some from the very beginning but one of the things we see different here we are lucky that the process had started. In some other countries it was maybe the very first; that have never had the opportunity of even making their own committee.”
He said from all indications after the visit to Cross River State and holding of the workshops, there was need to make the National REDD Committee more representative of all stakeholders. “All stakeholders should be reached to make sure all concerned are addressed. This is just a beginning and before we really get to the programme and when we get to the programme, it is something else. It is opportunity now to share information.”
Kilawe said it was important for all stakeholders to be on the same level of understanding so that information that reaches the communities does not raise suspicion. “That is why some feel that this mechanism may be one of those to grab their land or cause some government to propose a programme to displace them. This is not all about that; this is to sustain and to make sure we can protect our resources better in forest management, which means sustainable management of our forest. It is not about telling them not to harvest from the forest, but about telling them that you are still going to use your forest plant but in a very sustainable manner and a great reward will come with it like some financial mechanism to help you.
He said communities would benefit in two ways; first by sustainable use of forest resources and from the UN-REDD programme. “This is the kind of mentality we will like to instil. It is about empowering them to enforce their rights. So, when the government or investor comes the people can tell them they know the value of their forest resources.”