(By Izuchukwu Ezukanma)
“Six years into the programme and with a scorecard in public domain, there is need to review the exercise: The concept, methodology, and results with a view to improving and sustaining it over an extended period of time because the success and sustainability of any programme in Lagos is likely to be exported and replicated elsewhere in the country. The planting of five million trees in six years is no mean feat anywhere in the world, much less Lagos. From the record, there is now a tree for every four inhabitant of the city“.
THE import of the recent disclosure by the Lagos State Governor, Raji Fashola (SAN), that over five million trees were planted and 75,168 jobs created specifically for the same purpose by the Lagos State government in the last six years may have been lost to a great segment of the populace. More topical issues in the news complemented the low environmental consciousness: Boko Haram insurgency, gubernatorial polls in Ekiti and Osun and lately the Ebola scare, to drown the significance of such a pronouncement. Many people are wont to dismiss tree planting and other green initiatives of government as one those white elephant project whose overriding aim is to siphon public fund while others relegate the exercise to a mere component of environment beautification undertaking like painting of road median and sidewalks, and decorative street lighting during yuletide and other festive occasions.
Tree planting and other greener-city undertaking in a sprawling metropolis has far reaching benefits because the green plants are essential for the existence of all kinds of life, including human life. The green plants are the only natural process and the most efficient and cost effective means of purifying the atmosphere by absorbing carbon dioxide from it and releasing (by a breakdown of water) an almost equal volume of pure oxygen into it. From the same process, major food components such as: Starch, protein, vitamins, and oil are produced using carbon dioxide from the air and water and inorganic salts from soil. The dual ability to purify the atmosphere and manufacture foods are the exclusive preserve of green plant and are produced by the green corpuscles or chloroplast of leaf during the day, sunlight being the source of energy. Animals, being devoid of chloroplast, have no such ability. Animals, including human beings, are, therefore, dependent on plants for their basic needs, viz: oxygen for respiration and food for nutrition. In this respect, chloroplasts hold a strategic position in the living world.
In considering air pollution, air quality, and human health, I will prefer to avoid the familiar path of: green house gases, global warming, ozone depletion, and all the likes, which, on their own are very correct but end up placing a problem at hand on a very remote scale and gives us the erroneous impression that we are isolated from an impending catastrophe. Bringing the problem nearer home, we are all familiar with reports from various parts of the country of individuals and, in some cases, whole families, who were found dead in the morning after they retired to their bed the previous evening with their electric generating sets running and placed near their windows. In simplest terms, exhaust fumes from the electric generating sets, mainly carbon oxides were pumped into the rooms and these suffocated the occupants. Casualties and survivors of these poisoning episodes are simply victims and beneficiaries of carbon oxides circulation and removal dynamics respectively operational within the room.
On a larger scale, although the system is not as closed as the system in a poorly ventilated room, in a modern city like Lagos with the highest number of motor vehicles on the roads per time, factories, fossil fuel-fired electricity generating sets in Nigeria, all potent sources of air pollutants, crammed together in a relatively small area like this city, but, with prolonged exposure, the results will not be different. Therefore, it is a most critical intervention by the Lagos State Government to plant more trees in Lagos to complement the natural but largely precarious factors like wind circulation patterns and proximity to the sea in enhancing the air quality and improving the health and general wellbeing of inhabitants of the city.
Six years into the programme and with a scorecard in public domain, there is need to review the exercise: The concept, methodology, and results with a view to improving and sustaining it over an extended period of time because the success and sustainability of any programme in Lagos is likely to be exported and replicated elsewhere in the country. The planting of five million trees in six years is no mean feat anywhere in the world, much less Lagos. From the record, there is now a tree for every four inhabitant of the city.
When compared with shrubs, grasses, and herbs, the tree is the most important component of an urban-green initiative. It is the cheapest to establish and maintain over time. Because trees are perennial, they tend to outlive the others. The projected crown cover intercept the incoming sun beam thereby attenuating the prevailing environment of the under-storey. The branching patterns and when in bloom, adds to the aesthetic beauty of the surrounding. The root buttresses help to stabilise the soil thereby preventing soil erosion and flash flooding. While the trees’ trunks and boughs offer habitat for other organisms like epiphytes, arthropods, birds, and reptiles to thrive, sustain biodiversity, and contribute their complementary beneficial roles in the ecosystem. With over five million trees planted in the last six years, innumerable good had been done to the Lagos environment.
Extensive land area must have been covered if the said five million trees were directed to a reforestation exercise. Let us consider two trees selected solely on their matured tree sizes and which most people in Western Nigeria are familiar with: cocoa and cola. If small trees the size of cocoa with a standard plantation spacing of 3x3m were planted, at least 4591.36 hectares of forest were planted while bigger trees like cola with spacing size of 9x9m will take at least 41 322.314 hectares. However, I am in no position to comment on the reforestation exercise because I have not visited the forest reserves in Lagos State. But, if the trees were meant to be solely on the major roads and the streets of Lagos, listed in the news reports, I need not confer further to conclude that the five million juvenile trees less than six years are not there! By some grain of luck, only a 10th of the reported trees are standing today. Anyone with basic exposure in plant ecology will not agree less. This does not diminish the fact that Lagos is now greener than it was six-seven years ago nor does it subtract from the fact that five million trees may have been raised and transplanted, but simply not there at present and, there are so many reasons to explain that.
Space is an overriding factor in the survival of a sedentary organism like trees. Plants compete for space with other plants as well as man. In competition with other plants, they can easily shade off their competitors or release chemicals into the surrounding environment to either kill or prevent them from reproducing, a phenomenon known as allelopathy. For this reason, spacing is recommended for various tree species; young plants are not planted besides older ones. When trees are planted in spaces where street traders display their wares, certainly those plants will not last long.
Although it is not a common sight to see herdsmen driving their herd of cattle along the streets of Lagos, there are enough herd of stray cattle roaming the streets, which find the tender shoots of saplings most palatable and will waste no time in devouring them. Young trees plant without adequate fencing will certainly suffer the same fate as an unguarded bullion van loaded with cash on the street of Lagos. Apart from ruminants, there are other herbivorous organisms, especially insects that will wreak an equal if not bigger amount of damage to young plants. This brings to question the quality and intensity of post-transplant care. The juvenile plant is the most vulnerable to a host pest and pathogen attacks which must be kept at bay with periodic fumigation. The saplings needs enhanced nutrition to: grow, establish, and wade off diseases. Unfortunately, most of the transplant sites are deficient in the most basic of macro and micro nutrient elements which are undetected in most cases.
• To be continued.
• Ezukanma is an environmental pollution monitoring research analyst, 34/36 Ikorodu Road Jibowu, Lagos. + 234 708 119 8262.
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