Empower locals to better manage forests – Experts

photo showing forest experts from over 25 African countries at the AFF workshop- Nairobi- Kenya
photo showing forest experts from over 25 African countries at the AFF workshop- Nairobi- Kenya

By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame

Providing local communities including women with the right resources to manage forests shrinking in Africa could help ease poverty and deforestation, Environment experts have said in a training workshop on sustainable forest management organized by the African Forest Forum in Nairobi, Kenya.

Drawing examples from Brazil and Nepal where thousands of community-led forest initiatives have significantly led to a drop in deforestation, the experts say such success cases, if replicated in Africa will help drive efforts towards sustainable forest management.

A case study from Nepal presented at the workshop shows that supporting communities  to take care of their own forests led to a 37 percent drop in deforestation and a 4.3 percent decline in poverty levels between 2000 and 2012.

Forest experts say this should be the way forward for Africa.

“Giving local communities in Africa the chance to look after their own forests will permit them intensify measures against illegal logging and other abuses because they know the forest is their future” says Dr Julius Chuezi Tieguhong, a forest researcher and participant at the African Forest Forum training work shop.

He says community forest management will help achieved a clear win-win for local people, protect the environment and fight against poverty.

Another expert, Cecile Ndjebet of the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forest, abbreviated in french (REFACOF) emphasized on the need to drive sustainable forest management by providing local community women with alternative income generating activities that keeps them away from destroying their forest and their future.

She cited the case of Cameroon where a government support agriculture programme for local farmers has permitted forest community women to be able to engage in processing, packaging and marketing of Non-timber Forest Products (NTFP) like pepper, ginger and other spices to improve on their income.

The programme called AGROPOLE accordingly, tackles food security, forest conservation and climate change, as well as the connection between agriculture, forestry and local economies.

She says the success of the programme has kept the women off their former trade of burning trees to produce  charcoal to raise income.

“When women and local communities are empowered to secure their rights to land and provided environment friendly income generating activities, they can conserve resources and prevent environmental degradation,” Cecile Ndjebet said.

Other examples of efforts to empower local forest communities in countries like Kenya, Senegal, Ivory Coast were also cited.

Experts express worry that the neglect of local communities in forest management only helps to aggravate deforestation globally.

Deforestation is the second leading cause of climate change after fossil fuels, accounting for almost a fifth of planet-warming emissions, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said in a 2018 report.

Cutting down forests can also harm livelihoods and cause tensions, as people compete for fewer resources, the report noted.

According to a 2018 analysis by the Rights and Resources Initiative, a global land rights coalition,indigenous peoples and local communities legally own only about 15 percent of forests land worldwide, a situation that relegates them to the background in sustainable forest management efforts.

Environment experts say African leaders and policy makers have to grasp the scale of the challenge to get local communities involved in forest management at all levels to better address poverty eradication and environmental protection in the continent.

According to AFF, a stronger response by governments, public organization and the private sector is needed to drive sustainable forest management to permit Africa’s fight against poverty and help preserve forest depletion that is surging across the globe.

The world lost 12 million hectares (30 million acres) of tropical tree cover in 2018 – the equivalent of 30 football pitches a minute, said an April report by Global Forest Watch, run by the U.S.-based World Resources Institute.

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