Exploring human-environment interactions and their effects around Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve, Nigeria
Thesis DisciplineEnvironmental Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Many protected areas around the world face degradation in the face of poverty, maladapted agricultural practices and population growth in their surroundings. This research uses a multidisciplinary approach to study this complex problem in the context of a montane ecosystem. The study area comprises Ngel Nyaki and Kurmin Danko Forest Reserves on the Mambilla Plateau in Eastern Nigeria and the surrounding landscape, comprising pastoral lands, farmland, villages and homesteads. Ongoing degradation of the Forest Reserves through their illegal use as grazing areas by the local Fulani pastoralists indicates that the exclusionary protection of the forest is not working. It may be that a participatory forestry approach to conservation would be more successful. The research presented in this thesis uses a variety of methods (interviews, remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS) and ecological monitoring) to evaluate the current situation in the study area with the aim of determining the likelihood of such a participatory approach to conservation being successful. Satellite images from the years 1988, 2000 and 2009 were used to quantify changes in forest cover to measure deforestation and regeneration rates. Interviews were used to understand the Fulani's pastoral management systems, land ownership status, cattle movements and living situation. Data from interviews and observations as well as from satellite imagery were combined in a GIS to approximate stocking rates and property boundaries and to identify the level of livelihood diversification the different Fulani families have undergone. As grass and water availability have been identified as the main environmental factors determining grazing and cattle movements, environmental data was collected to determine changes in the rates of grass productivity and streamflow over the course of one dry season. The study found that the extent of natural forest is decreasing all over the study area, on privately owned properties, commonly owned properties and in the Forest Reserves. Evidence of human impacts such as charred grassland by late burning and cattle tracks were clearly visible throughout the reserves, with the exception of the core forest area, indicating ongoing intensive use and management of the reserve for cattle grazing. The stocking rates in dry and wet seasons have been found likely to exceed carrying capacities, which results in overgrazing and a reduction in vegetation cover. The Fulani in the study area have already undergone a transition from relying purely on livestock and livestock products to relying on a mix of livestock, agriculture and silviculture. This transition shows potential for forest transition according to the 'forest transition theory', which, supported by the right policy incentives could be transformed into landscape scale conservation of endemic flora and fauna. xii Biomass productivity and water availability in wet and dry seasons were found to be highly asymmetric, which seriously restricts the number of suitable cattle management systems. Data indicate that tall riverine vegetation may have effects on stream water availability during the dry season. The findings of this section point to the need of carefully reassessing the current management of tall riverine vegetation on the Mambilla plateau, also in view of the sustainability of the water supply for pastoral livelihoods.