Nigeria's forests can be divided into two principal categories: woodlands and forests of the savanna regions (fourfifths of the country's forest area) that are sources of fuel and poles, and rainforests of the southern humid zone that supply almost all domestic timber and lumber, with fuelwood as a byproduct. Nigeria's forests have gradually shrunk over the centuries, especially in the north, where uncontrolled commercial exploitation of privately owned forests began in the late nineteenth century. Toward the end of the 1800s, the colonial government began establishing forest reserves. By 1900 more than 970 square kilometers had been set aside. By 1930 this reserve had grown to almost 30,000 square kilometers, and by 1970 to 93,420 square kilometers, mostly in the savanna regions.
Through the 1950s, forest regeneration was largely by natural reseeding, although the government established some small plantations near larger towns for fuelwood and poles. In the early 1960s, the government began emphasizing the development of forest plantations, especially ones planted with fast-growing, exotic species, such as teak and gmelina (an Australian hardwood). By 1976 about 115,000 hectares had been planted. During the late 1970s and 1980s, state plantations became an important source of timber, paper pulp, poles, and fuelwood. Despite these developments, forestry's share of Nigeria's expanding GDP declined from 6 percent in the late 1950s to 2 percent in the late 1970s and 1980s. Earnings from the export of timber and wood products--6 percent of export income in 1960-- declined to 1 percent of export income in 1970 and virtually nothing in the late 1970s and 1980s, as domestic needs increased rapidly. The oil boom of the 1970s slowed exports further, as more and more wood was diverted to the domestic construction industry.
In the 1980s, Nigeria's demand for commercial wood products (excluding paper pulp and paper) threatened to exhaust reserves before the year 2000. To reverse this process, especially in the northern savanna, the government needed to double the rate of annual plantings it set in the 1980s. In June 1989, the government announced receipt of a World Bank loan for afforestation to stabilize wood product output and forest reserves.
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