• Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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The need to check deforestation in West Africa



Achieving long-term development in West Africa requires much more than just exploiting the region’s natural resources. Sustainable development would entail integrating livelihood, climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives with agriculture.
In many parts of West Africa, tropical forests are disappearing at a much faster rate than many of governments and their agencies are willing to admit. While some may argue that this is not peculiar to the region, findings indicate that the problem is more endemic in sub-Saharan Africa than in Asia and Latin America and the Carribbeans. Africa’s forest and woodland of 1,339 million hectares, constitutes about 20 per cent of the world’s total.
While in Africa, the population density relative to forest area is close to the world’s average, the deforestation rate is four times the world’s average. Low government priority assigned to the forestry sector as seen from the low budgetary allocation to the sector, poor enforcement of regulations, lack of incentives, in particular to local communities and the private sector, ill-defined property rights and the treatment of forest resources as public goods, among others, have been identified as factors inhibiting the implementation of sustainable forest management practices in Africa.

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According to a report released May 2009 in Cameroun, governments control over tropical forests account significantly for the failure to stop deforestation in parts of Africa. More than 70 per cent of the continent’s remaining tropical forests, according to the report, are located in Central Africa’s Congo Basin, but civil conflicts, inadequate governance, and lack of action on land reform put much of the forest area at risk. The International Tropical Timber Organisation, ITTO, the United Nations agency which authored of the report, warns that failure to ensure land rights for local communities in the forests of Central and West Africa will impede efforts to check deforestation.
Action on land tenure could help to halt deforestation, slow climate change and alleviate poverty, says the report, entitled Tropical Forest Tenure Assessment: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities. The study reveal that less than two percent of Africa’s tropical forests are owned by or designated for use by the region’s forest communities and indigenous groups compared to nearly one-third of all forests in Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific.
In many parts of rural Ghana, increasing pressure from illegal logging has led to high deforestation; loss of soil fertility, increased soil erosion, water depletion, soil and water pollution and loss of biodiversity. Although government pronouncements suggest that it is gaining an upper hand in the battle against illegal logging operations, evidence on the ground suggests that most of the lumber on the local markets is supplied through illegal means predominated by itinerant chainsaw operators and their urban financiers.
Recently the Ghanaian government and the European Union entered into an accord agreeing that every timber imported to Europe from Ghana has to be certified. The agreement sets up a legally-binding voluntary partnership agreement (VPA) which commits Ghana to developing transparent systems for collecting timber taxes. In turn, the EU must establish border measures to exclude unlicensed Ghanaian wood from the European market, partly by certifying all imported timber as legally logged. More than half of Ghana’s £200m annual timber harvest is sold to Europe, but World Bank studies estimate that up to 60 per cent of logging in the country has been illegal.
Between 1990 and 2000, Sierra Leone lost an average of 19,300 hectares of forest per year. This amounts to an average annual deforestation rate of 0.63 per cent. Between 2000 and 2005, the rate of forest change increased by 7.3 per cent to 0.68 per cent per annum. In total, between 1990 and 2005, Sierra Leone lost 9.5 per cent of its forest cover, or around 290,000 hectares. Measuring the total rate of habitat conversion (defined as change in forest area plus change in woodland area minus net plantation expansion) for the 1990-2005 interval, Sierra Leone lost 17.7 per cent of its forest and woodland habitat.
The average number of trees per hectare in Senegal, estimated at more than 250 during the colonial era, dropped to less than 20 trees per hectare by 1995, according to a study titled Phenomena of Drought and Desertification in Senegal commissioned in 2006. Senegal has long since passed the threshold of the sustainable exploitation of its forest resources, observes Mansour Fall, an agricultural scientist. Senegal forms part of the Sahel, which extends from the Sahara to Equatorial areas. The region is generally regarded as the worst cases of deforestation on the continent.

According to the ITTO report, several African countries, including Angola, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Gambia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Sudan and Tanzania have all introduced or amended laws to strengthen the land rights of local communities. Recognizing local land rights alone would not solve all the problems facing the forestry sector in Africa, it is, however, an important step forward. Experience shows that governments need to do much more by supporting local management and enterprises.
There are some countries that have recognized local land rights, but the government still controls the forest, and hands out concessions to industrial loggers leading to more degradation and corruption. If there is one constant these days, it is that nothing is constant. This is certainly so for tropical forest management. Developing Africa’s forestry industry requires multi-dimensional approach. In recent years the underlying drivers of tropical deforestation have shifted profoundly, prompting conservationists to reassess their strategies for protecting forests.
Failure to ensure land rights for indigenous peoples and particularly women, will impede efforts to stop deforestation and mitigate climate change, say the authors. Reducing tropical deforestation to 50 per cent of its current level over the next 50 years and then maintaining that level until 2100 would, according to the report, reduce carbon emissions by 50 gigatonnes this century; the near equivalent of six years’ global fossil fuel emissions.
Since the late 1980s, the underlying causes of deforestation have shifted quite dramatically from mostly subsistence-driven deforestation through the 1980s, to far more industrial-driven deforestation more recently. According to William Laurance, a forestry expert, the idea that rural farmers and shifting cultivators were responsible for most deforestation prompted conservation strategies, such as Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (ICDPS), that attempted to link nature preservation with sustainable rural development.
Today, however, few consider ICDPS successful in most developing countries. Critics point to weaknesses in their design and implementation and the fact that local peoples typically used ICDP funds to bolster their incomes, rather than replace the benefits they gain from exploiting nature. However, while forestry management might be weak in most of Africa, countries like South Africa are managing to get things considerably right.
The South African forestry industry is based on plantation forestry, so natural forests are not affected. According to Stephen Keet, a forestry expert, there is a code of environmental practice that is adhered to and monitored by external people as well as the environmental authorities. Plantation forestry management is based on yield regulation that ensures that annual harvesting is matched by re-establishment – the aim being long-term sustainability of plantations and the associated processing facilities.
Such steps ought to be replicated in others parts of the continent. The industry players need to be sensitized to see the investment opportunities for the regeneration of the forest resources. To this end the various governments need to encourage the private sector to get involved in industrial tree planting especially by giving incentives in terms of land allocation for the private sector participants who are willing to have industrial plantations for some common economic trees.
For this partnership to evolve there is the strong need to develop forestry management plans for the major forest reserves zones. Such plans would specify the roles and benefits of each user of the forest resources. The tropical timber industry is vulnerable to boycotts and negative publicity, for at least two reasons. First, only a small fraction of tropical forest slated for timber production (5 per cent) is legitimately eco-certified. Second, logging is an indirect but nonetheless major driver of tropical deforestation.
The quest for food security through agricultural expansion often leads to deforestation and forest degradation. The main challenge in regenerating forest resources for much of sub-Saharan Africa, therefore, is how to design agricultural landscapes to resolve livelihood-environment conflict and maintain forests’ ecosystem benefits such as water storage, erosion control, biodiversity conservation and soil rehabilitation.

According to F.K. Akinifesi of the World Agroforestry Centre in Malawi, the way forward is to integrate climate and livelihood, adaptation and mitigation, and agriculture. Agroforestry should be a key component of this approach. Integrating trees into agricultural landscapes on a massive scale would create an effective carbon sink while ensuring sustainable food production, and would help adapt to climate change in other ways too. As he further explained in a recent publication, if efforts to mitigate climate change is to succeed, it must recognise rural livelihood priorities and focus on providing a stream of benefits. Agroforestry tree planting offers this, from tree products such as fruits, medicines and wood to ecosystem benefits such as pollination, water storage and erosion control.
Nigeria’s first forestry act was passed by the British colonial authorities in 1937. It established a forest reserve system under which certain areas could be exploited for timber by firms and individuals granted licenses to do so. Replanting was expected to prevent these areas from becoming depleted. But, legislation alone has proved unable to protect Nigeria’s forests. It is not the lack of good laws or policies and programmes (that is at issue), but simply the lack of will and discipline to observe and implement them by a compromised, corrupt bureaucracy, observed Philip Asiodu, president of the Nigeria Conservation Foundation, a non-governmental organisation based in Lagos.
The depletion of forest cover has been especially severe in central and northern Nigeria, opening the door to soil erosion and desertification. It is widely reported that 350,000 hectares of land in the country are lost to desertification annually. The 1988 National Agricultural Policy further sought to ensure sustainable use of forests, and to expand wooded land to 20 percent of the country’s territory but according to an FAO report, only 12.2 percent of Nigeria’s land is currently forested.
The Ghana-EU understanding on certification was largely driven by conservation organizations promoting a full boycott of West African timber in Europe. The agitators are eyeing wider bans on other timber importers. Tropical timber industry can expect an increasingly hard line from environmental groups and consumers, as part of a broader effort to combat the growing impacts on forests of industrialization and globalization.
Perspectives on the role of forests in development have evolved significantly since the Rio Earth Summit of 1992. In many African countries, there is a growing recognition of the need to address the issues of poverty in national development programmes. Poverty reduction strategies have been put in place to sustainably use forestry resources and meet the Millennium Development Goals. The fact that so many people depend on the forests make the natural resource unique and important.
Forest restoration has become a necessity in many parts of the world, particularly where local communities are suffering from the social and environmental impacts resulting from deforestation. The Shinyanga region in central Tanzania have provided a key tool for forest restoration, with their indigenous natural resource management system called ngitili, which involves conservation of fallow and range lands by encouraging vegetation regeneration, particularly for browse and fodder.
The Shinyanga people have had to deal with erratic and poorly distributed rainfall with high variability between seasons, so they have developed a response to acute fodder shortages caused by long and frequent droughts. The traditional ngitili system provided a good entry point for forest restoration through local community efforts. According to the World Rainforest Movement, the objectives of ngitili have been expanded to cover other wood products and services required by the community while retaining the original objective of providing fodder for the dry season. Currently, traditional and scientific experiences are shared in management of ngitili to facilitate restoration of forests and improvement of community livelihood.
Ngitili areas have led to soil conservation and reduced soil erosion, consequently contributing to improvement of agriculture and livestock production. Important naturally regenerating indigenous trees are being left and managed on farm and grazing land. To ensure that the ngitili were guarded and respected, traditional law known as mchenya was applied, supervised by the village security committee. This example proves that forest restoration is not a technical issue but one requires concerted effort by all stakeholders key among which is local communities.