Tropical tree species restoration: field notes from Nigeria

Posted on by Adam Harrower

Adam Harrower from Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden reflects on a recent trip to Nigeria to deliver training in tree conservation techniques. 

Reforestation efforts in Nigeria are being spearheaded by GTC partner, “The Forest Unit” at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan. These efforts focus on the collection and propagation of native tree species which are currently highly threatened with extinction within Nigeria. Struggling against rampant national deforestation (3.5% per annum), the IITA Forest Unit is collecting and propagating native tree species in preparation for future restoration efforts.

Deni Bown IITA Forest Unit Nigeria

The Head of the Forest Unit, Deni Bown (centre) has established a thriving nursery boasting a large variety of indigenous trees and shrubs, including more than 15 threatened tree species. Saplings are mostly used in species restoration efforts and community landscaping projects in western Nigeria.

IITA Forest Unit nursery, Nigeria

Although the facilities of the nursery are rudimentary, the health and rapid growth of the saplings is assisted greatly by the conducive moist tropical climate of Ibadan.

IITA Forest Unit nursery 2, Nigeria

Some of the nursery’s running costs are supplemented by the sale of indigenous saplings. These young native trees are destined for a private landscaping operation near Lagos.

Nigeria workshop 1

A very successful two day workshop to build capacity for tree conservation, supported by the Global Trees Campaign, SANBI (the South African National Biodiversity Institute) and the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, was held on the IITA campus at Ibadan, Nigeria in June 2016, as part of the project Prioritising and Protecting Nigeria’s Threatened Trees.

Nigeria workshop 2

Delegates were invited from various institutions across Nigeria, providing a cross-section of interests, skills, expertise and experiences relating to Nigerian forests and their conservation. The basics and essentials of a tree conservation programme were addressed including identification, IUCN Red List categories, practicalities of seed collecting from threatened trees, cleaning and storage of seed, nursery cultivation, planting and aftercare.

Nigeria workshop 3

IITA Forest Unit Field Supervisor, Olukunle Olasupo, demonstrated to delegates methods of seed extraction and seed cleaning from fruit of local native trees.

Cola nigerica Nigeria

Many of the tree species that the Forest Unit nursery cultivates are threatened according to the IUCN Red List. The importance of taking care when handling threatened species was emphasised to workshop participants. Newly germinated and precious seedlings of Critically Endangered Cola nigerica (Nigerian Kola tree) can be seen here thriving in the nursery under the watchful eye and green fingers of skilled nurseryman Olukunle Olasupo.

Nigeria workshop

‘Happy Tree Huggers’ – the workshop delegates from across Nigeria. All in all, the workshop was a great success at many levels. It was a forum where participants could share their concerns about trees and forests. Delegates left with a solid foundation of how to initiate effective tree conservation projects in Nigeria. Many friendships were made and already cross collaboration is happening between institutions. We hope this workshop will be the catalyst to saving what little remains of Nigeria’s tropical rainforest.

Nigeria workshop 4

Workshop participants demonstrated their commitment to tree conservation by planting threatened species in the IITA Tree Heritage Park. In the photo above, Dr. Emmanuel Aigbokan, Associate Professor of Plant Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Benin, Benin City, carefully plants a seedling of the Endangered African black walnut (Mansonia altissima).

Nigeria workshop 5

Dr. Olufunke Olayode, Head of the Department of Silviculture, Ekiti State University, gently places and plants a seedling of the threatened sapele Entandrophragma cylindricum, assessed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Nigeria workshop 7

Mr Odigha Odigha, chairman of the NGO Coalition for the Environment, Cross River State, washing his hands and watering a newly planted sapling.

IITA Forest Reserve Nigeria

With the workshop complete, we had the opportunity to visit the forest reserve on the IITA campus, one of the last remaining and best-preserved fragments of Nigerian rainforest. The forest includes specimens of the tall forest canopy tree Ceiba pentandra (silk cotton tree) with its impressively buttressing roots.

IITA Forest Reserve Nigeria 2

Botanists botanising. Deni Bown, local plant guru, has authored the book Common Plants of the IITA to help IITA students and staff identify and appreciate the local flora. Here she leads a tour of the IITA forest reserve.

All photos in this blog were taken by Adam Harrower.


  1. Emmanuel Aigbokhan on

    Great initiative. Thank you Adam!

  2. Mohammed Kamal Hossain on

    Excellent initiative for bringing back the native species. Wish all the best.


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