Thursday, November 11, 2010

IITA marks 2010 Open Day with tree planting to save biodiversity

Members of staff of IITA marked the 2010 Open Day with the planting of indigenous trees in Ibadan to help mitigate the effects of climate change and losses in biodiversity.

The planting of trees comes at a time when Nigeria’s deforestation rate has reached an alarming rate of 3.5% per year, translating to a loss of 350,000–400,000 hectares of forest per year. In 1976, Nigeria had 23 million ha of forest; today only 9.6 million ha remain—less than 10% of Nigeria’s total land area!!

Dr. John Peacock, who is manager of the IITA - Leventis Foundation Project, says the planting of trees is part of a new initiative to restore rainforests in Nigeria. IITA is also contributing to the important UN-REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) initiative in Nigeria.

Through the IITA-Leventis Project, the team, particularly Olukunle Olasupo and Deni Bown, have raised over 15,000 seedlings of 33 different species since February 2010 in preparation for planting next year, with at least as many again hoped for during the coming dry season when most tree species produce seeds.

“We would like every family, represented by staff members in IITA, to plant an indigenous tree next year as part of IITA’s activities to increase the forest area,” Peacock added.

Earlier this year, IITA and partners made efforts to raise awareness of the need to preserve biodiversity—a term that describes the variety of living organisms—especially in forests that are increasingly becoming lost or threatened. For example, statistics indicate that Nigeria’s Milicia excelsa (iroko) has become endangered, with about $100 m worth of iroko timber illegally poached from remaining forests last year. “The unfortunate thing is that these very valuable trees are not being replaced,” Peacock noted.

Over the years IITA has championed efforts not only to increase crop productivity but also the conservation of biodiversity and natural resources including water and forest. Today, the 1000 ha at IITA Ibadan campus is taken up by research, administration, and residential buildings, lakes and experimental plots, and a further 350 ha. comprises valuable secondary forest. This forest can be compared to an oasis in the desert and is dominated by a canopy that includes fine specimens of Milicia excelsa (iroko), Ceiba pentandra (silk cotton tree), Celtis zenkeri (ita-gidi), Terminalia (afara), and Antiaris toxicaria var. africana (akiro).
In 1979, an arboretum was established comprising 152 different tree species, 81 of which are indigenous. Peacock says the IITA-Leventis Project plans to increase the forest area and the IITA arboretum with the planting of more indigenous trees.

Another area of importance to the project is education, particularly of school children, says Deni Bown, project coordinator and medicinal plant expert with the IITA-Leventis Project. “In this regard we are educating the young on the importance of afforestation and conservation,” she said.
Peacock and his team are hopeful that through reforestation and education the rate of deforestation in Nigeria will be significantly reduced.

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