• Saturday, May 25, 2024
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How AI can save Nigeria from multi-billion dollar illegal logging


In what could be described as an unusual place to find a solution to Nigeria’s illegal logging problem, the Making AI event by Google in Amsterdam has revealed a possible solution to the illicit trade, which also threatens environmental sustainability.

Millions of trees from Nigerian forests have been lost to illegal logging over the years, and a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency even suggested that, as much as $1 billion could have been realised in the illegal trading of logs from Nigeria just within a four-year period. It was also reported that sometime in 2016, 1.4 million logs of rosewood valued at $300 million were seized by Chinese authorities after being shipped from Nigeria. There have been insinuations that the logs were illegally cut and taken from Nigeria, claims that are now hard to establish as the shipment got released under what some environmental right groups describe as ‘controversial circumstances’.

However, with the application of Artificial Intelligence, Nigeria may be able to combat this illegal activity, which also wrecks havoc on the environment. The best part of this is that the technology could be made available for free, once there is an expression of readiness and commitment from organisations in Nigeria with interest in environmental sustainability.

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The technology, developed by Rainforest Connection, a non-profit establishment, uses Google’s TensorFlow machine learning framework in detecting the sounds of chainsaws and logging trucks in the forest.

The innovation is the work of Topher White, CEO of Rainforest Connection, who developed the platform to collect audio data from the forests, through old cell phones placed on trees, transmitting this data which is then processed and sends immediate alerts to local groups/authorities when logging activities are detected.


The technology developed by Rainforest Connection uses old cell phones that are thrown away, putting them up in trees with solar panels, and equipped with microphones. They listen to all the sounds in the forest and stream through the internet. This, as White explained is then analysed with artificial intelligence for logging trucks, chainsaws, gunshots etc, subsequently, alerts are sent to local groups on ground.

White in an exclusive interview with BusinessDay, explained that the old cell phones placed on trees, “listen to all the sounds in the forest and stream it up to the cloud where we then analyse it for chainsaws, logging trucks, gunshots, motorcycles. Things that indicate damaging activity and then we send alerts to local partnerships like tribes and NGOs who can show up and stop it in real time. Also, we have built tools to make law enforcement available to them as well as legal action.”

According to White, similar projects have been executed in Cameroun, in a sustainable logging reserve called Mbang, and there are new projects in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Africa. There are potentials for the application of this technology in Nigeria, and Rainforest Connection is eager to do something in the country.

“We would love to operate in Nigeria, especially also because Nigeria is a hub of technological innovations. It will be great for us to work out there with people that can help improve the technology. For us, everything depends on the partnerships, because it does not matter if we detect illegal logging and there is nobody there to stop it.

“We have not had any groups come to us from Nigeria that want to use the technology, but if anybody will like to use it to catch illegal logging or just conservation in general, we would love to work with them,” White told BusinessDay.

Setting up in a new country costs $25,000, but White explained that when a group approaches the company for the technology to be provided in any area, they could help raise funds for such operations. This, according to him, is predicated on the sincerity of those requesting for the technology, even though it is faster to deploy when funding is already available.

The ($25,000) setup will cover about 100 square kilometres (approximately 10,000 hectares) for a few years, but can cover more area by focusing installations on roads and periphery of the target area.

Acknowledging Google’s impact, White noted “without Google, we wouldn’t be able to do any of what we do. And I think in doing so, we have become a great example of how their tools can be used in helping people in a lot of these remote places.”

Bridget Gosselink, head of product impact at Google.org, also told BusinessDay, “apart from the tools, Google has been consulting and providing advice on how they can improve the AI in their models (for better impact).”