Nigeria has already lost approximately 90% of its forests, and according to the FAO, the country has the highest primary forest deforestation rate anywhere in the world; approaching 20% per year between 2005-2010. Over half of the country’s remaining forest is located in Cross River State. Cross River National Park (Oban Division) includes 3,000 square kilometres of forest, and is the heart of the answer to long-term endangered species survival in the region. However, for as long as the communities that surround the Park do not recognize its boundaries, the protection the Park offers is entirely theoretical. CERCOPAN’s Forest Conservation programme, works with three neighbouring communities on the northwest periphery of the Park. The forests of these villages encompass 400 square kilometres. Each community has agreed voluntarily to a ban on commercial logging, primate hunting and other destructive practices in their forests and CERCOPAN provides support, training, education programmes and patrols to ensure compliance. CERCOPAN’s community-based conservation model provides the incentive that has brought about these agreements.
An even more ambitious initiative is to provide for total protection of all the community forests surrounding the Park through the United Nations REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) programme. Ambitious? Yes, but look at the results to date. Less than a handful of viable environmental conservation NGO’s operate in Cross River State, yet through our collective example and lobbying, the region’s environmental credentials have been transformed. A state-wide logging ban, vigorously enforced, has now been in place for over 4 years. In Oct 2011 the United Nations approved Nigeria’s REDD policy document, providing a $4M grant over two and a half years to build the support structures for a future full-scale REDD programme. One of the three pilot projects envisioned within the policy document incorporates the forests of Iko Esai and neighbouring villages to the North and South. But the implementation will be fraught with difficulties, and success will require flourishing NGO’s that can ensure impartiality, practicality, and dedication to the goals of conservation.