The Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, on Wednesday, met with over 40 host communities of the Okomu Forest Reserve, urging the support and collaboration of all stakeholders towards the protection and preservation of forest assets in the state.
Obaseki made the call at a one-day workshop for the coalition of actors, including communities and other stakeholders, themed, “Improved Livelihoods and Environmental Sustainability in the Okomu Forest Landscape,” held at the John Odigie-Oyegun Public Service Academy in Benin City.
Presenting his keynote address, the governor said his administration remains committed to the diversification of the state’s economy, adding that the government is taking advantage of the forest resources in the state to boost Edo's economy.
According to him, “This workshop is an opportunity for the over 40 communities around Okomu to brainstorm about how to preserve the forest resources and improve the livelihoods of the people who depend on these resources.
“We are particularly blessed in Edo and we will continue to work with partners like IDH because we are very keen to diversify our economy. As a governor, I have always advocated that the time has come to diversify the economy. We can't continue to rely on oil to grow our economy anymore.
“We are here to let you know that you are in a very unique area in Okomu and as a people and state, we must protect and preserve the forests because there are not many places like that on earth. If you note very well, the issues going on now is related to the environment and the implications is quite threatening.”
He further noted, “We also are here to talk about our livelihoods. Our people were never poor and local communities were sustainable but that is not the case anymore because governments no longer invest in these communities.”
Decrying the spate of illegal activities, especially logging at the Inikurugha axis, Obaseki added, “Okomu is very precious and rare because it is a lowland rainforest and a home to rare species like the white throated monkeys as well as the various floral in the area. However, these valuable resources are being degraded, especially through illegal logging, unsupervised farming and other human activities.”
The governor further called on the stakeholders to deliberate and come up with ideas on how to stall further actions that portend possible loss of the forest, its resources as well as its cultural significance, adding, "As a government, we have realized that we can no longer do certain things. So, we want to partner with communities and other parties to do what they know how to do best. We will work with people who are better at doing what should be done just like IDH while we can concentrate on what we should do, which includes regulations.
Through effective stakeholders’ engagements and consultations, we are going to use this project as a blueprint to address similar issues other communities are experiencing, as we intend to also use oil palms to regrow our forests and plant timbers to diversify our economy.”
On his part, the Lead, IDH NISCOPS Oil Palm Programme Nigeria, Dr. Chris Okafor, stated that, “The workshop has to do with challenges, institutional infrastructure, and improvement of yield and small holder farmers as well as improved business practices and management in Okomu.”