Africa’s forests, a tool to help fight climate change

The African Forestry and Wildlife Commission’s upcoming session in Kinshasa, DRC, will look at bio-economy opportunities and other issues facing the continent

Opinion piece by Edward Kilawe, acting Secretary of the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission (AFWC) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Africa’s forests offer an enormous opportunity not only for prosperity, but also as a tool to help fight climate change and hunger and build the continent’s resilience against future crises.

Forests are vital as hosts for biodiversity, as carbon sinks and as sources of livelihoods for local communities.

But forests in Africa are under enormous pressure as economic demand drives deforestation and other unsustainable practices.

Forests feed the construction, manufacturing, services, agriculture, energy, and health sectors. On energy in particular, Africa is highly dependent on wood fuel, which accounts for more than 40% of total primary energy supply. The overall demand for wood outstrips supply, resulting in Africa being a net importer of forest products.

Demand is projected to grow exponentially in coming decades. The annual global consumption of all natural resources, including those from forests, is projected to more than double to 190 billion tonnes by 2060, driven by population growth and increasing affluence. Biomass, including forest products, provides around a quarter of the total and this percentage is also expected to grow.

Meeting this demand must not be at the cost of ecosystems, and instead must be sustainable through increased efficiency, restoration, reforestation and afforestation on degraded lands.

A forest-based bioeconomy for Africa

A sustainable, carbon-neutral and circular bioeconomy can be built through sustainable wood and non-wood forest products. Countries already taking on this emerging concept include Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia, South Africa and Uganda.

A forest-based bioeconomy would support local community socio-economic development and enhance forest value chains beyond primary forest products. Sustainable plantations would meet Africa’s fuelwood and other wood demands. Related industries including ecotourism and forest fruits and nuts production would be expanded. ‘Waste’ material would be repurposed to create other jobs, goods and services.

In Africa, it would require policies at local, national and regional levels that bring the forest sector onboard at the start of the process. Innovative public-private partnerships are needed. Information-sharing on lessons learned between countries should be encouraged.

Kinshasa hosts regional meeting on forests and wildlife

This bioeconomy approach is one of the topics to be discussed next week when technical experts, policy advisors, representatives of forest communities, and government decision-makers from across Africa meet in Kinshasa at the 23rd Session of the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission (AFWC), hosted by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Commission, established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is the most important continental forum to discuss policy, scientific and technical issues relating to forestry and wildlife.

Other topics to be addressed next week include the role of forestry and wildlife in COVID-19 recovery programmes, progress on addressing deforestation, and sustainable wildlife management in Africa.

FAO is working with partners across Africa to promote the sustainable use of ecosystems through more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems. Multimillion dollar, country-led projects are already underway in many of Africa’s heavily forested countries to promote sustainable use of forests that balances livelihoods and economic prosperity with carbon storage, reforestation and boosting ecosystems.

Recommendations from next week’s Session of the AFWC will be shared back to governments through their participating delegations and will inform discussions at the global level within FAO. It is through these fora that consensus-building and information-sharing can contribute to robust yet sustainable forestry and wildlife sectors in Africa.



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