Reducing Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Central and West Africa
Tropical forests contain more species than any other biome of the world and are enriched with vast amounts of biological diversity. These forests play a vital role in human health and well-being while offering a wide array of ecosystem services. However, biological diversity and ecosystem goods and services provided by tropical forests are on the decline due to extensive deforestation and degradation - the unfortunate consequence of human-induced landscape impacts such as the expansion of agriculture or extensive firewood collection. Further compounding issues are social concerns including inappropriate governance, wide-spread poverty and unemployment. In order to successfully halt and reverse deforestation various ecological, socio-economic, cultural, and institutional factors need to be addressed at the local level.
In many African countries there is a strong connection between forest degradation and the inability by decision-makers and society at large to access existing scientific knowledge and innovations that could aid in reversing the numerable negative effects of forest degradation. In an attempt to address this issue, IUFRO and its partner institutions in the four African countries of Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia, and Nigeria, supported by ITTO, through the REDDES program (Reducing deforestation and forest degradation and enhancing environmental services from forests), established a project to propagate and disseminate forest-related scientific information. The goal of the project was to support efforts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation through the enhancement of socio-economic sustainability and community well-being in forest-dependent areas of West- and Central Africa.
Before carrying out the local level investigation at the four pilot sites, three broad objectives for this collaborative deforestation and forest degradation project were developed.
1. Assessment of REDDES pilot areas
2. Sharing and dissemination of REDDES scientific information to policy makers and forest stakeholders
3. Expanding the research and networking capacity of African forest scientists
Through a comprehensive analysis involving both the local stakeholders and the scientists working in the area of the pilot sites, the following factors were jointly identified to be the predominant drivers of deforestation and degradation in the three regions.
• Degradation in natural forests: This is primarily caused by unsustainable timber extraction including excessive cuttings and poor harvesting operations as the results of untrained operators and generally corrupt practices.
• Expansion of agriculture lands: As populations continue to increase rapidly, agricultural land becomes of increasing importance to feed the growing population; while poor governance compounds the problem resulting in further land clearing and forest fragmentation.
• Unsustainable agricultural practices: Typically where temporary crop cultivation encroaches into forested areas and the lack of reliable authorities leaves this violation unchecked.
• Climate change: Changes to rainfall patterns cause severe drought and eventually lead to crop failure and thus further encroachment onto forested areas as demand for fertile land continually increases.
• Involvement of local communities in land management decisions: Stakeholders at all pilot sites noted a lack of involvement at the local level in decision-making processes. Consequently, decisions made by government are neither well understood nor widely supported at the local level.
• Governance: Forest resources are subject to damage and unsustainable exploitation due to weak rule of law and deficient monitoring by forest services.
• Poverty: Unemployment and extensive rural poverty results in many individuals overexploiting resources, causing vast degradation of landscapes.
• Awareness and education: Securing basic needs on a daily basis is the first priority of individuals at all of the pilot sites and therefore interest in issues of environmental protection and biodiversity conservation is quite low. This obstacle is compounded by the fact that literacy rates are low which negatively impact other aspects of an individual’s life including how they manage environments.
Though it is true that analogous causes of deforestation and forest degradation exist across the four pilot sites, effective solutions need to be developed with a site-specific approach. Accordingly, implementation strategies were developed for each site following in-depth consultation with various stakeholders. Site specific results are located on the designated country’s information page, as shown below.
The overarching successes of this project, across the four pilot sites were:
• Identification of key causes directly linked to deforestation and forest degradation
• Successful integration of forest stakeholders and policy makers in a common forum
• Enthusiastic stakeholder participation in various discussions
• Establishment of common strategies for REDDES field implementation.
• Collaborative development, among stakeholders, of realistic solutions to forest degradation problems.
Cumulatively, the project initiated the development of concrete forest rehabilitation strategies and raised awareness about matters related to land degradation while encouraging active stakeholder participation in discussions and planning initiatives.
Strategies for implementation of REDDES activities
While similar problems causing deforestation and degradation of forests can be identified among the pilot sites and therefore regrouped as common problems, solutions have to be developed site-by-site in order to be effective. Therefore the following local REDDES strategies have been identified during intensive consultations with different local forest stakeholders including government officials, local communities, NGOs, and private sector representatives.
In Cameroon, the REDDES strategies proposed and agreed upon by all stakeholders focus on the establishment of a participatory forest management system. This includes the development of a participatory forest management plan for regulating the exploitation of wood and NTFP and the protection of rare species, such as Baillonella toxisperma through the exclusion of these from exploitation, thus moving towards sustainable utilisation of the forest resources. Such a plan would apply the principles of FLEGT by installing check-points at the entrance of the forest to control poaching and illegal tree felling. Joint forest planning and implementation with communities would also enhance transparency as a measure against corruption. In addition, agriculture production on small-holder farmland should be transformed to agro-forestry practices, thus integrating trees into the agriculture landscape.
The stakeholder consultation process in Ghana resulted in the proposal of six main REDDES strategies and specific implementation activities to reverse deforestation and enhance tree cover and thus carbon stocks in the district. Elements in the strategies include the promotion of community-based fire prevention and management; the establishment of plantations of indigenous species including Terminalia superba, Entandrophragma spp., Khaya spp., Ceiba pentandra, Triplochiton scleroxylon, etc. (afforestation, reforestation and forest restoration) and community woodlots; the expansion of sustainable community-based enterprises (to be introduced in consultation with the communities themselves) as alternative livelihood schemes; introduction and promotion of sustainable agro-forestry and on-farm practices (such as the Modified Taungya system), and the creation of awareness on environmental degradation including building of capacity of public institutions, local communities, media and other identifiable groups on linkages between sustainable forest management, environmental services and livelihoods and also to effectively engage in conservation mechanisms in support of climate change mitigation (e.g. REDD+).
In similar vein, the strategies proposed through consultations with stakeholders in Nigeria include awareness raising among the communities on environmental degradation and negative effects on human well-being; allocation of land for agro-forestry to facilitate participation of farmers; provision of farming inputs to farmers; promoting and facilitating communal forestry as well as supplying them with tree seedlings, while giving serious consideration to empowering local community and traditional rulers to protect the forest.
Consultations with stakeholders on REDDES strategies in Liberia resulted in priorities for actions in order to enhance the urgent social and economic development needs of forest dependent people. These strategies include the need to establish a sustainable forest management system in the Yorma Forest Reserve ensuring an equitable sharing of benefits with local communities; allocation of adequate land to local forest fringe communities to practice sustainable agro-forestry and grow more cash crops; establishment of community woodlots in support of the production of fuel wood and charcoal, thus reducing the pressure in the remaining natural forest; and developing a payment scheme for local communities to keep and protect the forests in their vicinity.
The success of this project is largely due to the strategy of integrating forest stakeholders and policy makers at a common forum. Not only to identify key problems of forest degradation and deforestation, but also to develop common strategies for implementing REDDES in the field. Thus, the effectiveness of stakeholder consultation was evident in the enthusiasm with which participants engaged themselves in the various discussions. It also reinforces the need for future similar involvement of all relevant stakeholders in forest management decision making processes. Indeed, the lack of involvement of forest communities has been identified as a strong factor of forest degradation.
In all cases, the forest stakeholders were able to come up with tangible and pragmatic solutions related to deforestation and forest degradation. By now, those strategies and proposed activities are left to policy-makers. They have now the mission to implement them at their respective local level.
As a first step, leading stakeholders with the help of the project expert groups have identified a priority issue in each pilot area to be addressed first:
• Ghana: fire management involving community-based patrolling of the forest landscape for fire prevention and early detection.
• Cameroon: regulate forest extraction, particularly NTFP and develop community forestry practices.
• Liberia: raising awareness on forest degradation among all stakeholders; expansion of agroforestry and establishment of woodlots.
• Nigeria: raising awareness on forest conservation and environmental quality; allocation of land to communities for intensive farming.
One way forward would be to assist the communities by practically implementing a few priority REDDES activities identified by the communities on a pilot scale. Such demonstration activities could have snow-ball’s effects and other communities would most likely take up the challenge of implementing their own REDDES activities in the future.
All in all, the results of the project contribute to the thematic programme on REDDES in the follows two aspects:
• “Increase of the area of restored/rehabilitated degraded forests and forest area under SFM. Towards this end, the project undertook the first step towards concrete forest rehabilitation measures by enabling local decision-makers for understanding and conceptualising rehabilitation plans.
• “Effective networking among various stakeholders.” The project contributed to raising awareness of and encouraging cooperation to address land degradation through stakeholder consultations in the pilot areas. This will help developing effective joint forest rehabilitation initiatives among local communities and with participation of forest scientists.