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Africa's Shrinking Forests Need Urgent Help, Climate Change Talks Hear (AfDB)

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Issue date: 
5 December 2011
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Forests take up a huge amount of the continent, but are one of Africa's most misunderstood and undervalued natural resources.

At a discussion on deforestation at the climate change conference, or COP 17, in Durban, delegates learned that forests account for 23 percent of Africa's land area. The largest are the forest ecosystems of the Congo Basin and Upper Guinea.

However, their latent power to aid development is largely ignored, said Abdoulaye Dagamaissa, from the African Development Bank (AfDB)

"The range of ecological, economic and social services African forests provide, as well as their immense potential to contribute to socio-economic development, is largely unrecognised," said Dagamaissa. manager of the AfDB's agriculture and agro-industry department.

This neglect has contributed to a loss of 3.4 million hectares of forestland each year between 2001 and 2010. Between 1990 and 2000, more than four million hectares a year were lost.

"The reduction reflects a slight improvement in an otherwise dire situation," commented Dagamaissa.

The figures highlight the critical nature of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) programmes. Dagamaissa questioned whether Africa was doing enough to ensure SFM.

Historically, Africa has put a low priority on forestry management compared to food security, health and education. Weak forestry institutions, policies and regulatory frameworks, coupled with inadequate human resources, made it difficult to lobby for the kind of long-term planning that SFM needs.

Marta Monjane, from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said there were certain ongoing issues that need to be resolved.

Monjane, who is responsible for forests in eastern and southern Africa, said they included land tenure and secure access to land and transparency in the award of use and concession rights. Other issues needing resolution were capacity-building for all stakeholders from top to bottom, devolution to local levels, and fair benefit-sharing mechanism.

SFM principles have been in development ever since 1992 when the Rio Forest Principles were formulated. However, the World Bank's Gerhard Dieterle noted certain challenges in applying the principles to Africa's six types of forest. As forests adviser within the agriculture and rural development department at the institution, he listed them as: natural forest management; plantation forests; concession management for international markets; local forest management for domestic purposes in high forests, and agro-forestry in mosaic landscapes.

SFM will be at a disadvantage, Dieterle said, as long as illegal practices are tolerated and distort the markets. He foresees the introduction of the US Lacey Act, followed by the EU Forest Law Enforcement Government and Trade (FLEGT) directive in 2013, both of which ban the import of illegal timber, will incentivise the take-up of certification. This is also expected to impact on manufactured timber goods from transition countries, such as China.

"The UNFCCC's REDD+ process and bilateral support programmes focus on avoiding deforestation and protecting existing carbon stocks so pay only lip service to SFM," noted Dieterle.

"This detracts from tremendous opportunities available in restoring degraded landscapes and sustainable forest management to combine both mitigation and adaptation, as well as contributing to jobs, income, rural economic development, local energy needs, social peace, biodiversity protection, environmental services important for agriculture and food security."

With anticipated population growth to 3.4 billion by 2100 in Africa, it is vital not to switch to fossil energy, which would increase CO2 emissions drastically, noted Dieterle.

Increasing demand for wood for household energy through the 21st century, however, risks the further degradation or destruction of both dry and high forests, unless informal and often illegal use of this and other products are dealt with effectively.

Yet Monanje sees potential here to address local communities who feel they have little or no incentive to participate in SFM. Already at least 100 million people are involved in the exploitation of forest products in Africa, with outgrower projects supported by microfinance performing well in South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania.

"It's a problem that distribution of SFM funding is very skewed, with most of the resources being directed at the forest-rich countries of the Congo Basin," she commented.

"Dedicated funds for forest-related activities from NGOs such as Conservation International are helpful, while grants from smaller donors tend to be short-term. Under special conditions, micro-credit can be harnessed to finance forestry activity for small-scale enterprises and smallholder farmers, while also leveraging investments from local communities and other stakeholders," Monanje added.

Despite huge challenges, Dagamaissa noted the progress that had been achieved since the AfDB began supporting forestry projects in 1978 and adopted its first forestry policy in 1994.

He said: "We host the Congo Basin Forestry Fund, support the Forest Investment Programme and in 2010 contributed USD20 million to the establishment of an African Forestry Fund to support private-sector forestry development."

Dagamaissa added: "Our current portfolio of forestry investments is worth more than USD200 million. When we look at funding proposals, we always take participation into account. Without all the actors who live in the forest being involved, we know it would defeat the purpose as it couldn't be managed sustainably."

Organisations such as the Conference of Ecosystems of Central Africa and the African Forest Forum must be mirrored by dialogue with stakeholders at all levels involved in managing forests, agreed Martin Tadoum, from the Central African Forestry Commission (COMIFAC).

"This is what can make the system work," said Tadoum, COMIFAC's deputy executive secretary and technical adviser, "as well as ensuring everyone both contributes and shares in the benefits, right down to the 50 million people in the Congo Basin who live off forests and who are their primary guardians."


Extpub | by Dr. Radut