Nigeria's forests play an important role in the provision of ecosystem goods and services for the Nigerian population , . Although they roughly covered only 7.7% of the country’s total land area in 2015 , about 80% of Nigeria’s rural economy depend on forests, which provide important opportunities for sustainable livelihoods and poverty eradication . The forest sector contributes about 2.5% to the Gross Domestic Product and provides employment for over 5 million people through the supply of timber and non-timber products . Non-timber forest products (NTFP) are important sources of income for many households in Nigeria  and are used for food, medicines, oil, resin, tannin, household equipment, fuel wood, furniture and building materials . One key use of Nigeria’s forests is for fuel, with about 70% of Nigerian households and 90% of the country’s rural population using fuelwood for their energy needs, according to Nigeria’s Fifth National Biodiversity Report , .
Additionally, Nigeria has extensive areas of mangrove forests, which are also an important source of timber and NTFPs for the Nigerian population. The Niger Delta has over 3,100 km of coastline and an estimated 1 million hectares of mangrove forest, making it the largest mangrove system in Africa. In 1995, the annual value of timber products from the Niger Delta was estimated to be $22.8 million . The Niger Delta also plays an important role in preserving seascape biodiversity, ensuring regional water and food security, and in carbon storage, among others. However, the Niger Delta mangrove forest is threatened by prevalent oil spillage, mass deforestation and the ravaging Nypa palm invasive species .
Despite the importance of Nigeria’s forests, the country continues to lose forest cover every year. About 70-80% of the country’s original forests, including coastal and mangrove forests, have disappeared through unsustainable logging and agricultural expansion . According to a 2015 estimate from the Chatham House Illegal Logging Portal, just 20,000 hectares of Nigeria’s primary forests remain . The 2015 Food and Agriculture Office (FAO) Global Forest Resources Assessment  ranked Nigeria as the country with the fourth greatest annual net loss of forest area globally, with a 5% annual rate of deforestation (410,000 hectares/year) between 2010-2015 . The 2020 FAO Global Forest Assessment also reported an annual rate of deforestation of 5%, with Nigeria's forest resources area declining from 26,526,000 ha in 1990 to 21,627,000 ha in 2020 due to deforestation from agriculture, industrial development, and overexploitation .
The major drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Nigeria include agricultural expansion and poor agricultural management practices, unsustainable practices in the timber industry, illegal timber extraction, major infrastructure and energy development projects, charcoal and wood fuel production, land use change from settlement development and expansion, and extractive industries including mining, sand dredging and oil production. The loss of mangroves is mainly caused by extraction for charcoal production, construction, and firewood .
Key policies and governance approach
The mandate to coordinate environmental protection and natural resource conservation is vested in the Federal Ministry of Environment . The Federal Ministry of Environment sets national policies, but responsibility for the implementation of forest and land management lies with each of the country’s 36 states, each of which has its own forestry and related land management laws guided by those at federal level .
The National Forest Policy is the overarching framework on forestry development in Nigeria . To commemorate the 2022 International Day of Forests, Nigeria launched the revised 2020 National Forest Policy for sustainable forest management and promoting good forest governance to improve livelihoods in the country , . The policy sets out strategies for growing the forest sector further and addressing emerging environmental issues like climate change resulting from increased population with its attendant pressure on the forests and its resources .
With regards to climate change, Nigeria has developed a new REDD+ Strategy (2021), including a National Forest Investment Plan (2019-2023), to curb deforestation and reduce forest-related emissions . Nigeria will implement its REDD+ Strategy over a 30 year period, from 2021 to 2050, to achieve short, medium, and long-term goals. The Strategy prioritises actions, defines institutional arrangements, recommends policy (re)alignments, and identifies partnerships and financial mechanisms that will assist the country to reduce the rate of carbon emissions and enhance removals from the forest sector while creating benefits for resilience building and green economic development, so that Nigeria can meet its National REDD+ Programme objectives. Further, it addresses, among others, the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, land tenure issues, forest governance issues, gender considerations and safeguards .
In addition, the Nigerian authorities are making concerted efforts to address the illegal timber trade, such as through renewed efforts to enforce the ban on trade in timber (restated in July 2020) and the new Nigerian National Wildlife and Forest Crime Strategy 2022-2026 .
Successes and remaining challenges
Efforts towards sustainable forest management are underway in Nigeria through the development of appropriate strategies and action plans, reforestation programs, as well as extension and advisory services.
The growth trajectory of the forest sector is characterized by intensive reforestation and driven by increasing green investments to stop the loss of forests, recover deforested areas and expand forests coverage in the country through the REDD+ and green economy approach. Planned initiatives in Nigeria should continue to ensure that forests are protected and sustainably managed . In 2017, Nigeria pledged to restore 4 million hectares (9.9 million acres) of degraded forests. By 2021, Nigeria has reclaimed 555,480 hectares of land and planted 15 million trees .
Despite Nigeria’s efforts to conserve its forests, gaps exist. The most immediate needs in conservation are effective legislation, research, adequate human capacity, funding, and impactful interventions . For instance, at the state level, management capacity of the state forestry departments and local organizations is mostly low, with poor funding, low staff morale, limited technical training and often high levels of government corruption. Further, federal, State and local governments in the forest sector are all impeded by inadequate capacity and training, as well as a lack equipment and other resources for forest management .
Initiatives and Development Plans
The Great Green Wall (GGW) is an ongoing conservation effort in Nigeria. The country was at the forefront of championing, together with other Sahel countries and the African Union Commission, the launch of the GGW for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative, instituted in 2007 at the margins of the Food Security Summit. Since then, Nigeria has been supported by FAO, with funding from the EU, to develop its GGW Strategy and action plan adopted in 2012, set up its national agency for the GGW, join the Pan African Agency of the GGW, and to implement the initiative on the ground to support communities in large scale restoration of degraded lands .
However, the programme is facing challenges related to its limit scope, as it covers only 3 out of 11 target states in Nigeria, and limited funding from the UN side especially because funds are no longer available from the EU. To compound this, the government has not developed a new action plan that addresses the funding issue and is also not directing funds to the agency for programme activities. Regardless of these challenges, the initiative has seen positive results with five million hectares of degraded land restored and 20,000 jobs created in the process since 2007. There is also a pending World Bank programme that may be able to offer funding .
In addition, many other forestry initiatives and programs have been developed to support sustainable forest management in the country. These include the Nigerian Forestry Action Program, the Africa Forest Outlook Study, the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Desertification and Deforestation Program, and the National Shelterbelt Council Program. The National Afforestation Program is underway in all ecological zones of Nigeria and aims to restore degraded forest reserves and other landscapes nationwide. The National Forestry Trust Fund was also created to address the lack of funding that militates against forestry development in Nigeria .
Goals and Ambitions
As part of the broader African Forest Landscape Restoration initiative which aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes by 2030, Nigeria plans to increase forest cover to 25% of its landmass .
- Improve forest governance structures and transparency.
- Support innovative programs for payment for ecosystem services (e.g., REDD+).
- Undertake forest carbon inventories to strengthen the National Forest Reference Emission Level (NERF).
- Develop a National Forest Monitoring System (NFMS) and a Safeguard Information System (SIS) by the end of 2022, as indicated in the National REDD+ Strategy.
- Mobilize climate finance.
- Develop the capabilities in all relevant institutions for sustainable forest management, including through capacity building and technology transfer.
- Raise awareness on sustainable forest management.
- Increase community-based management of natural resources.
- Strengthen the current implementation of the national program for community management of forest resources.
- Support the thorough implementation of the revised National Forest Policy 2020.
- Implement biodiversity and forest conservation programming at key locations in Nigeria, including key interventions such as capacity building and support to local communities.
- Increase participatory resource-use planning for forestry and mangrove preservation.
- Secure active participation of under-represented stakeholders, such women and vulnerable groups, in sustainable forest management.
- Promote sustainable charcoal use (e.g., consider biocoal, which is made of agricultural waste and not trees).
- Develop capacities of environmental science teachers at all levels of education (especially tertiary institutions) such as colleges of forestry and universities.
- Promote effective climate smart agriculture through appropriate agricultural development plans, policies and technology on landscape management architecture.
- Develop appropriate strategies for the integration of agriculture and forestry practices, such as agroforestry, to address agricultural expansion and leakage.
 The Clearing-House Mechanism of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2018). Nigeria: Sixth National Report. [Online]. Available: https://chm.cbd.int/database/record/33266224-118A-604C-2D7B-4758C453214A.
 EnviroNews Nigeria (2022). Nigeria inaugurates national policy for sustainable forest management. [Online]. Available: https://www.environewsnigeria.com/nigeria-inaugurates-national-policy-for-sustainable-forest-management/.
 Voice of Nigeria (2022). Nigeria Launches National Forest Policy. [Online]. Available: https://von.gov.ng/nigeria-launches-national-forest-policy/.
 Anthony Osae-Brown, Bloomberg News (2022). Nigeria Plans to Increase Forest Cover to 25% of Landmass. [Online]. Available: https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/nigeria-plans-to-increase-forest-cover-to-25-of-landmass-1.1763658.