Afforestation – Its Pros and Cons

Afforestation is the establishment of a forest or stand of trees (forestation) in an area where there was no previous tree cover.  Many governments and non-governmental organisations directly engage in programs of afforestation to create forests, increase carbon capture and carbon sequestration, and help to anthropogenically improve biodiversity.

Afforestation is also the creation of forests on lands that do not have them for some amount of time, such as previous forests that were converted to ranges, though it is also the act of establishing forests on lands that are not forested at all in the past. Its term is also often associated with discussions of carbon sequestration, which is the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

In Nigeria, afforestation is of critical importance as the whole country has been ravaged by many environmental problems which can be managed through afforestation. Although deforestation affects the northern part of the country, some southern parts, as well as the relatively stable centres are not spared the menace.

Specifically, in Yobe State, desert encroachment, land degradation and siltation of rivers had retarded agricultural activities with negative effect and promoting poverty in the communities. Things got so bad that the Yobe State government earmarked the sum of N1,000 as price per tree stand, planted and nurtured for one year. Yobe state government thus embarked on massive planting and nurturing of trees to protect the environment against wind-storms, improve soil fertility and provide shelter for human and animals.

Purposes of Afforestation

There are many reasons for restoring an area via afforestation and reforestation, however they vary based on the area. Generally, it is done for either conservation or industrial-purposes.

  • Conservational afforestation and reforestation is done in the best interest of the ecosystem(environment and society), including reducing/stopping the effects of climate change.
  • To restore an area that has been destroyed due to previous overuse of the land or to reduce the amount of erosion in the soil in an area and establish a more fertile soil base.
  • Industrial-commercial afforestation and reforestation is done to maintain a good output of wood for pulp and timber demands in a specific area.

Impacts of Afforestation

Afforestation, reforestation and other forms of conservational forestry methods are often thought to be used for stopping the effects of climate change by reducing atmospheric carbon. The issue is which type of tree sequesters the most amount of carbon and does this have a positive or negative effect if any at all? The tree types that are widely discussed are old growth vs young-growth forests. Old growth forests are said to have massive carbon storage capabilities however these trees are capturing carbon incredibly slowly or unable to capture any more. With reforestation, this process is ‘solved’ by cutting down old growth and planting young-growth trees. Unfortunately, when an old growth forest is cut down, a lot of the stored carbon gets released into the atmosphere thus preventing a net positive effect. Afforestation is being thought of as a solution to the reforestation issue. By planting a new young-growth forest in an area that hasn’t previously been forested, this could be a viable option for sequestering more carbon from the atmosphere. However, planting trees in an area previously unforested could impact the original ecosystem negatively such as reducing soil moisture in an area and forcing many species to leave their preferred habitats.

Issues Affecting Afforestation

Some issues that can arise from afforestation and reforestation is climate change, anthropogenic changes to landscape and increased wood demand. Climate change can have some major effects on the growth and health on newly planted trees. Drought and major temperature fluctuations can cause serious seedling mortality to an area that has been newly planted, ultimately slowing down the restoration process. To reduce the effects of climate change on the restoration process, drought and shade tolerant species are used.

While it is intended to restore previously forested regions and help remove carbon dioxide, it is also said to have detrimental effects on diversity and agricultural profits. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of afforestation:

  1. It grows trees that provide wildlife habitats.
    At the source of almost every ecosystem are trees, serving as home, place of protection and food source for most animal species, and even us humans. By simply growing them, you are helping wildlife and ecosystems to thrive.
  2. It increases the supply of timber and charcoal.
    On the commercial side, afforestation is done by companies to grow trees to be able to source timber and charcoal from them. Aside from this, it provides more job opportunities, while helping local businesses with an increased supply of its products as well as benefiting the local economy.
  3. It helps resolve the problem of climate change.
    Through photosynthesis, trees play an important role in fighting against the greenhouse effect, which is a big contributing factor causing climate change around the world.
  4. It helps prevent soil erosion.
    As we already know, trees and their roots have a significant role in binding the soil together and preventing the process of desertification or soil erosion, which can cause regions to become useless dry wastelands.

Disadvantages of Afforestation

  1. It comes with real opportunity costs.
    One potentially huge drawback of afforestation is the simple fact that it comes with real opportunity cost, where the transformed lands can no longer be used for residential developments and agriculture that are highly beneficial to the society through more supply of food and housing for those who need them.
  2. It can affect biodiversity.
    Under poor management, this method can result in a reduction of biodiversity in the local ecosystem; introduction of potentially invasive and non-native species; modification of particular biomes; reduced stream flow; and loss of agricultural revenue. Negative grasslands that are converted into forests might not be able to contain the same habitat for local species. Also, mismanaged reforestation efforts could result in the production of a monoculture that lacks plant diversity and lessens the number of available habitats for inhabitants of the forest.
  3. It can bring some problems of ecotourism.
    If the purpose of afforestation is ecotourism, it may be subject to potential problems that come with ecotourism, such as littering and harm to wildlife.

While you can see the process of afforestation as a positive one, offering a lot of benefits to both the environment and society, it is also accompanied by the fact that it can also bring about some drawbacks. By assessing its advantages and disadvantages, you will be able to build a well-informed opinion on whether it is good for the world as a whole, or not.

In the Nigerian context, tree planting has been taken up by certain organisations and government as part of their CSR activities and also for biodiversity preservation. The extent of impact of this initiative has however not been ascertained. However, efforts should be made by organisations to be strategic in their approach. Rather than utilise the tree planting opportunity initiative as an opportunity for PR and media mileage, efforts should be made to follow through by monitoring and catering to the trees planted until they grow up to serve their purpose. Only then can benefits of afforestation be truly accrued to Nigerians.

References

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/291356792_A_REVIEW_OF_AFFORESTATION_EFFORTS_IN_NIGERIA
  2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01435698.1987.9752819?journalCode=tftl19
  3. https://www.premiumtimesng.com/regional/nnorth-east/266919-afforestation-yobe-govt-places-n1000-price-on-every-tree-planted.html



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