Against the backdrop of the Equator Prize bestowed on it by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Ekuri Initiative has lamented that the efforts of the community are not locally acknowledged despite its international recognition.
Edwin Ogar, who heads the project, disclosed that, consequently, the community is in dire need and mired in poverty.
His words: “In Nigeria, the successes of the Ekuri community forestry initiative in climate change mitigation, watersheds protection and carbon sequestration that benefits the entire world does not receive the accolade it deserves. The Ekuri community is languish in infrastructure poverty, high illiteracy and poverty, and even though they own the rich Ekuri community forest totalling 33,600 hectares (ha) worth several billions of Naira, in the past 30 years, they have decided to conserve this forest for the sustainable development of Nigeria and the world at large.
“However, despite the supreme sacrifice to keep the forest in lieu of deforestation beneficial to everyone in Nigeria, the Ekuri community is denied basic facilities to make life a bit comfortable and to strengthen their resolve in the conservation of this forest. We are highly disappointed that, instead of government, corporate bodies or individuals coming to the aid of Ekuri and address identified priorities, the community is still struggling despite local efforts and few donors’ support.
“The honouring of the Ekuri Initiative by United Nations is another attestation that ‘a Prophet is honoured everywhere except in his home town’.
“Ekuri Initiative is not honoured in Nigeria; rather, it is regarded as a back bencher by government officials whose agenda for such attitude is highly incomprehensible. This seemingly poor attitude towards the Ekuri community and, by extension, the Ekuri Initiative, is worrisome but is wholly incapable of changing the vision of the Ekuri and we remain resolute in our idea conceived in 1982.”
He, however, expressed appreciation to the UNDP for the award, saying that it “will strengthen the Ekuri community through her Ekuri Initiative in the conservation of biodiversity for the purpose of community development and poverty reduction.”
He added: “We thank the UNDP particularly the Equator Initiative for chronicling the success stories of recipients of the Equator Award as s mechanism to enhance policy change and to inspire other communities south of the equator to emulate these examples.
“We know that the task of conservation is onerous and several challenges do crop up, but the beauty of it is the ability to resolve them timely and forge ahead. This we have demonstrated over the years and we will continue to do same.”
In a reaction, climate change expert, Prof. Olukayode Oladipo, stated: “You have started a process that cannot be stopped, as long as you do not give up. When you started to push me in those days, you never knew what will come out with such a success.
“Thus, my advice is that you should not give up, especially in view of the REDD+ programme that is ongoing in the state (Cross River State). In addition, you may think of developing specific proposals for donor support using the Equator Initiative award as a baseline.”
National Coordinator, UNDP GEF-Small Grants Programme, Ibironke Favour Olubamise, described the Ekuri Initiative as a grantee of the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-Small Grants Programme.
The Ekuri Initiative along with the Smallholders Foundation are winners of the Equator Prize award from Nigeria. The case studies were developed by the award group at the UNDP headquarters as part of the efforts to mark the 10-year anniversary of Equator Initiative.
The Equator Prize is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding and exemplary community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
Olubamise said: “It is worthy of note that GEF Small Grants has supported the sustainability of the conservation effort by helping to reduce threats to wildlife which became apparent despite all the efforts to protect Ekuri forest, through extensive environmental education and provision of alternative livelihood activities. GEF-SGP is also supporting replication which intends to incorporate other surrounding communities, from where the threats to wildlife emanated, in conservation effort, as reported in the case study.”