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INFLUENCE OF GENDER ON SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT OF FOREST RESOURCES
ABIA STATE, NIGERIA AS CASE STUDY
1.1 Background Information
The contribution of forest to the sustainability of livelihood and environmental quality cannot be overemphasized. Forest resources, namely woodland, shrubland, bush fallow and farm bush and trees on farms, as well as ecosystem dominated by trees (Arnold, 1998), provide households with income, ensure food security, reduce their vulnerability to shocks and adversities and promote their wellbeing. Indeed, forest environment and the diversity of life, which they harbour, represent an irreplaceable asset to the biosphere and mankind. Ecologically, their function is unquestionable as they provide two-thirds of the net primary productivity of all terrestrial ecosystems, of which our priceless tropical forest account for about sixty percent (Adegboye, 1992). The rich flora and fauna found in the forest meet the subsistence need of the numerous communities especially those living in the vicinity of the forest (Kailsha, 1993).
Globally, forest resources have been a source of subsistence to millions of people throughout the evolutionary history of our species. Different parts of the forest plants, such as leaf, flower, fruit, seed, twig, pod, stem, root, tuber, bark and exudates and whole plant are used for various purposes. Forests not only provide food, fibre and fuelwood but also supply household articles, construction materials and ornamentals to mankind (Adegboye, 1992, Adger and Brown, 1994; Louis, 1993; Kailsha, 1993; Odoemena, 2006). Forest hard wood has been a source of hard currencies, fuel wood and security for the poor. In fact, research on non-farm rural employment and income shows that small scale production and trading activities in forest products constitute one of the largest parts of rural non-farm enterprise employment (Liedholm and Mead, 1993). It is in acknowledgement of the importance of forest resources for livelihood and environmental stability that its conservation and hence sustainable management has been included in the millennium development goals of the United Nations. In Nigeria, poverty has led to the dependence of over 90% of the rural population on forest for livelihood and economic survival (United Nations, 2002; Chukwuone, 2008).
Again, forests play a profound role in the maintenance of soil fertility. Forest leaves and branches of trees cover the top soil, thereby intercepting heavy down pours of rainfall and high velocity moving wind which would have eroded the soil, thereby rendering it less fertile and unproductive. Similarly, dead and decaying portions of forest trees improve the soil texture and structure thus increasing the water infiltration capacity of the soil and thereby enhancing nutrient recycling.
However, for man to continue to derive these benefits, forests and their abundant resources must be well protected against over exploitation. Unfortunately, this is not so. The over – exploitation of forest resources by both genders represents one of the greatest forces in global environmental degradation (Cock and Kock, 1991; GEO, 2000). Although the net loss of forest is slowing down, deforestation and forest degradation remains an on-going phenomenon, especially in tropical regions.
Forest resources have continued to provide off-farm employment to a large segment of the rural populace and account for enormous share of household income. For instance, in 1996 in Southeastern Nigeria, 35.7% of the rural population collected non timber forest products (NTFPs) daily and it accounted for 94% of total income from minor sources (Nweze and Igbokwe, 2000). Similarly, Bisong and Ajake (2001) discovered that women in southern Nigeria depend heavily on non-wood forest products (NWFPs). In fact, many Nigerians depend on forest resources for food, fibre and herbal medicines (Chukwuone, 2008).
The growing demand for ecosystem services from forests, calls for a strategic approach to optimize the capacity of forests to mitigate climate change, conserve biodiversity, safeguard wildlife and protect land and watershed (FAO, 2005). This has to do with the adoption of sustainable forest management. The forest principle states that to achieve sustainable forest management forest resources and forest lands should be managed to meet the social, economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual human needs of the present and future generation (FAO, 2005).
Sustainable management of these resources will help guarantee the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs. One of the cardinal means of ensuring sustainability in forest resources is the application of FAO strategy for sustainable management of forests and trees. This calls for increase involvement of forest stakeholders particularly women in policy- making and legislation, to enhance the contribution of forests to livelihoods, and to make forestry, a more economically viable land-use option. Indigenous knowledge of the local people, both male and female gender, especially as it pertains to the use of the forest resources is a key issue in resource conservation and sustainability (Osemeobo and Ujor, 1999).
Women are critical actors in the management of forest resources. Their participation in sustainable forestry management is conditioned by their levels of forest dependence, the biophysical quality of the forest, their age, wealth levels, caste, or ethnicity (Davidson-Hunt,1996; Nuggehalli and Prokopy, (2009). As the main and most frequent collectors of forest products, women are more familiar with the forest than men (Agarwal, 1997). Moreover, they are more burdened than men by deteriorating forest conditions and have a tendency to conserve and to reduce pressure on forest resources in order to mitigate hardship. Men are largely involved in timber extraction unlike women who use products such as firewood, non-timber forest products (NTFP),that demand more frequent interaction with the forests (Pandofelli, Meinzen-Dick and Dohrn, 2009). Women adopt environmentally friendly farming system practices such as terracing and taungya cultivation of fodder trees and campaign against free grazing in community forests, practices which lower pressures on forests (Gbadegesin, 1996; Acharya and Gentle, 2006).
However, Jackson (1993) and Mackenzie (1995) cautioned against assuming a necessary and complementary relationship between women and sustainability because they may be constrained by the existing structure of disincentives such as limited control over land, labour and technology. Also, women under some settings may prefer not to engage in forest management activities either because of wealth or because they view land-based activities as backward (Jewitt, 2000; and Reurreccion, 2006).
Similarly, Chukwuone (2008) submits that conservation initiative, which is an aspect of sustainable management, will be more successful if the indigenous people assume active roles. This is based on the advantages that can be gained by drawing on their indigenous knowledge of the forest resources and by building on the sustainable systems of use that the local people, especially the male and female categories seem to have created (Redford and Mansour, 1996). Participatory forest resource management is often seen as an appropriate solution to reducing resource degradation and it is generally assumed that granting property rights over to local commons would ensure the equitable and sustainable use and management of environmental resources. Through local participation, nearby communities would be engaged as stakeholders in managing the resources thus ensuring their commitment to long-term management goals (FAO, 1995).
However, the management of forest resources in Nigeria, especially national parks and forest reserves are in the hands of government and local participation is limited. (Forest reserves are areas set aside by state governments for the protection of timber, NWFPs, fuel wood and other forest resources in their domains). In principle, local people own forests but the management and control of forest resources are vested in the state governments. In fact, the first Forestry Act enacted in 1937, established the forest reserve system under the state government.
1.2 Problem Statement
Despite the importance of forest resources in the maintenance of environmental equilibrium as well as its improvement of rural income, the degradation of forest resources has remained an on-going phenomenon, especially in the tropical regions. There is growing demand for ecosystem services from forests. This is impacting negatively on the capacity of forests to mitigate climate change, conserve biodiversity, safeguard wildlife and protect land and watershed. According to Osemeobo and Ujor (1999), NWFPs are being depleted at an unprecedented rate as a result of increasing population pressure, agricultural practices and demand.
In Nigeria, a great percentage of the luxurious vegetation has been removed and some species have gone into extinction (UN, 2002). For example, Nigeria lost 1.214km of forests between 1990 and 1995. Consequently, an estimated 484 plants and 12 animal species were threatened with extinction. A comparison of Nigeria’s vegetation map of 1992 and 1997 showed a sharp decline in vegetation cover in just a period of five years (Chukwuone, 2008). World Rain Forest Movement (1999) records that between 70 and 80 percent of Nigeria’s original forests have been lost leaving a paltry present-day territory of 12% forest area. Generally, forest depletion in Nigeria occurs at an annual rate of 3.5% (Chukwuone, 2008). Through their activities, the gender categories have exhibited profound impact on forest resources resulting in these visible signs of depletion and degradation of forest resources.
Unfortunately, approaches to forest governance and management in many developing countries including Nigeria, have not involved women in their desired proportion. (Tinker, 1994; Locke, 1999; and Agarwal, 2001). An improved policy environment that has potential to address gender inequality has not necessarily resulted in gains for women even though a large and growing literature illustrates their knowledge of and dependence on forest products (Shanley and Gaia, 2001; Colfer, 2005). Women continued to be disadvantaged by insecure access and property rights to forest and tree resources (Place, 1995; Meinzen-Dick, Brown, Feldstein and Quisumbing, 1997). Furthermore, they disproportionately bear the cost of tree and forest management, realize only a fraction of the benefits and are mostly enlisted to take part in decision-making when forest and tree resources are degraded (Agarwal and Chhatre, 2006). Moreover, because of lack of formal education, unemployment and personal networks, they are too poorly placed to influence resource allocation or research priorities (Crewe and Harrison 1998).
The need to appreciate the gravity of this continued lack of female involvement in the management of forest resources is urgent because women continue to be among the poorest in developing countries and their dependence on forest resources for subsistence and income will assume even greater importance as forests become more threatened because of increasing global trade, climate change, food insecurity, urbanization and energy (CIFOR, 2008).
Incidentally, the influence of gender relationships in access to forests, forest resource management and sustainability has remained a concern to scholars and practitioners. Approaches to forest management the world over have undergone profound changes: from the central state control prior to the 1970s through the community-based approaches of the 1980s and the devolution of the 1990s. Yet, women’s involvement in decision -making has hardly kept pace with the earlier changes and they do not seem to fare any better under the devolution programmes (Agarwal 2007, Jumbe and Angelsen, 2007).Women need to assume more visible roles in forest management as they face new challenges due to increasing global interconnectedness and climate change (Mwangi, Meinzen-Dick and Sun, 2009). The female gender constitutes the most important user group collecting forest produce for meeting the family’s subsistence needs. Therefore, sustainable forest management is not just possible without their active involvement. Similarly, International Union for Conservation of Nature (2011) opines that if the forestry sector ignores gender issues, it will miss a huge opportunity to reduce poverty, conserve biodiversity and bolster sustainable development. However, forest policies and forest management practices have remained gender blind and ignore the intimate relationship between gender and forests management. As a result, the women continue suffering and their drudgery increase as the forest degradation continue (Pratima, 1999).
In the past, the government established some forest reserves with the aim of conserving forest resources. Unfortunately, these forest reserves have been seriously neglected for some time. They received little or no attention in terms of investment and management (United Nation, 2002). Adequate manpower, equipment and funds are not provided for proper implementation of sustainable forest management. These forest reserves are seen as sources of generating revenue without funding the forests for sustainable production. This has resulted in the over-exploitation of the resources. Currently, Nigeria’s forest resources are under threat due to poor funding and lack of a proper management plan. Thus, the annual total deforestation rate in Nigeria between 2000 and 2005 was put at 3.3% which translates to an annual average loss of 410,000 ha of forest (FAO, 2005).
Furthermore, forest management programmes in Nigeria including Abia State are not participatory. The forest dependent communities comprising of the male and female gender are not involved in protecting and managing of the forest resources (Chukwuone, 2008). Generally, little or nothing has been done to involve both genders in the management plans for community forest. In fact, even women who constitute the most important user group, collecting forest produce and playing stabilizing roles in families, even when headed by men, are neglected. They are left out when it comes to introducing environmental and natural resources management programmes (Rodda, 1998).
Besides, most community forest areas are not under any systematic management. Many of the forest resources and species are over harvested as harvests are uncontrolled and carried out in a highly destructive manner. This may ultimately lead to extinction of these species if the situation is left unchecked.
This rural- based study therefore examined the effect of gender on sustainable management of forest resources in Abia State. The study was guided by the following research questions:
- Is division of labour and responsibilities in forestry use in the study area gender- sensitive?
- What is the nature of ownership of the forest? Is it government, community or homestead?
- What is the traditional pattern of ownership of forest by men and women?
- Does ownership determine access to, collection of, use of, and benefits from forest products?
- What are the various forest resource management practices in place in the study area?
- Are there any constraints on gender in the collection and use of forest products?
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The broad objective of the study is to examine the effects of gender on sustainable management of forest resources in Abia State, Nigeria.
The specific objectives are to:
- identify and examine the participation of men and women in the ownership and conservation of forest resources;
- identify and describe the various forest management practices;
- examine the factors influencing the decision of men and women in the adoption of improved forest resource conservation measures;
- examine whether there is any significant differences in the level of adoption of conservation strategies between the male and female famers
- analyze the benefits derivable by genders from forest use;
- analyze perceived importance of forest resource conservation factors among male and female farmers;
- identify and examine the major constraints militating against forests; and resource conservation and management.
1.4 Research Hypotheses
This study was guided by the following null hypotheses:
- there is no significant difference in the level of adoption of conservation practices between the male and female categories;
- the socio-economic and environmental factors of the respondents are not significantly related to their forest conservation practices.
1.5 Justification of the Study
Depletion of forest resources has been a source of world-wide concern. In the study area, the forests which stand out clearly as a major source of resources is currently facing accelerated degradation and depletion (Eboh, Achike, Ujah, Amakom, Oduh, Nzeh and Larsen, 2006). The growing demand for ecosystem services from forests in Nigeria including Abia State has led to over exploitation of the resources with the concomitant extinction of some valuable species (FAO, 2001).