Cross River State had the largest tropical rainforest area in Nigeria and has always been one of the biggest producers of export crops in this country. As such, the state has suffered from serious forest loss due to the expansion of plantation agriculture, particularly for oil palm. But how destructive are oil palm plantations for the region and its people? According to Raphael Ayama Offiong from the University of Calabar, the answer is largely missing, because there is a significant lack of data on both the current state of oil palm plantations in Cross River State as well as their environmental and social impacts.
Since 1907, Cross River State has lost more than two thirds of its forest area to large scale plantations, in which oil palm alone occupies 62.5% of the cultivated area. Plantation estates are found around the tropical rainforest belt of the state because of the fertile soil and conducive environment. More and more estates are being established by multinational companies along the fringes of reserve forest areas, exposing the remaining rainforests to the threats of deforestation, degradation and biodiversity loss.
Expansion of oil palm as the major driver of forest loss in Cross River State is having strong negative impacts on biodiversity and the livelihoods of local communities. Plantations require the clearing of forests, resulting in the modification and degradation of the environment. Local people are then impoverished due to the loss of a forest as a source of income, land, social and cultural values, and intense conflicts from land grabbing issues. Deforestation is also expanding due to increased encroachment and slash and burn practices, related to new road access and escalating poverty.
Nevertheless, the total area of oil palm plantations in Cross River State is not known, neither their actual impacts on the forests and forest-dependent communities. In order to propose research and policy developments that could have an impact on uncontrolled oil palm expansion, we have to know the area of oil palm plantations, and their environmental and social impacts in the entire state.