Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change

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» Okomu Forest Reserve, Nigeria

Closed-canopy tropical moist forest once covered large parts of this landscape near the Niger River Delta. Since the 1940s, however, logging, farming, and large-scale plantations have caused major losses of natural forest. In the middle of this increasingly degraded landscape, a fragment of relatively undisturbed rain forest remains.

In this series of Landsat images, plantations of oil palm and rubber trees appear in blocks of light green and magenta. Okomu National Park in Nigeria was designated in 1999 to protect a small population of forest elephants and several species of threatened primates within the Okomu Forest Reserve. Despite the large-scale rubber and oil palm plantation expansion in the northern half of the forest reserve and farmland in the southern half, Okomu National Park remains largely protected within the reserve and its dark green hue stands out against these surroundings.

Map of the featured area.

In 1977, part of the Okomu Forest Reserve was given to the Federal Government for the Okomu Oil Palm Project. Between 1984 and 2011, the area of land used for oil palm plantations increased more than fourfold.

These plantations mostly appear in the northern part of the reserve. The image series also shows major changes in the southeastern part of the reserve, where the dark green is giving way to lighter green shades and pink. Small-scale subsistence farming is becoming more widespread. Logging and fuel wood collection also take place there under the forest canopy. People in this region can also sell forest products as a means of income.

These changes to the vegetation can cause increased localized erosion and flooding. Slightly higher than average rainfall can make the area vulnerable to flooding.

Another forest reserve called Gilli Gilli lies directly south of Okomu. Gilli Gilli has experienced less deforestation than Okomu—limited to smaller areas of degradation on its northern side. The low rate of degradation in Gilli Gilli could be because few settlements are located near it. This area is more inaccessible than Okomu.

In Okomu, a farming system called Taungya was introduced in 1945. The plan allocated parts of the reserve to food crops. Trees were required to be planted on the same farm plots and would be allowed to be harvested as timber. In Okomu, however, migrant farmers often did not plant trees. In Gilli Gilli, however, the Taungya system was not introduced.

The Landsat images do show moderate deforestation in its northern part, gradually spreading toward the southeast. However, this area’s inaccessibility has spared it from large-scale forest degradation.


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