Forests and Trees – their roles and opportunities in Africa’s economic development, food security and environmental health

30 aug 2015

The purposes of the report are to highlight and promote the great potential roles of forests and trees to contribute to Africa’s economic development, food security and environmental health, and to indicate what requirements need to be addressed in order to realise these potentials.Official statistics on forest and tree resources in Africa are unreliable for many reasons. FAO indicates an area of 675 mill ha of closed forests (23% of the land area), 350 mill ha of “other wooded land”, and a considerable and growing volume of wood in “trees outside forests”, e.g. in agroforestry systems. The plantation area is indicated as c. 15 mill ha, but this includes formations that strictly speaking are not forest plantations. Even more unreliable figures are quoted for uses of wood and NWFPs. First, it must be kept in mind that the estimated use of wood for fire-wood and charcoal accounts for more than 80% (615 mill tons) of wood removals. Wood for industrial purposes is estimated at 72 mill m³ annually, which is probably an underestimate in view of widespread illegal felling/trade in timber. In addition, there is a substantial informal secondary wood and NWF products sector. As a result of all this, the official contribution of the forest sector to GNP and employment is modest, but should, according to FAO, be three times larger if also informal and illegal activities were captured in statistics. Today, many macro-trends and issues influence the forest sector and its potential to contribute to Africa’s economy, food security and environment. These include: i) a continued high rate of deforestation and forest degradation; ii) a rapid economic development in much of Africa with urbanisation and growing middle classes and a growing demand for wood and NWF products; iii) an increasing competition for land for production of food, fibre and fuel (the 3F-question); iv) a rapid growth of tree planting and forest/woodland management by farmers, communities and rural people; and, v) the increasing focus on the role of forests and trees in climate change mitigation. The potential roles of forests and trees in Africa are treated under three separate categories. The first deals with contributions to economic development and poverty alleviation. The largest wood-based economic sector today is related to production, transport and sale of charcoal, which is estimated to be worth billions of USD and employing millions of people. However, since this almost invariably occurs in the informal, and often illegal, sectors of the economy, figures are uncertain. Demand is rapidly increasing and there is an enormous economic potential provided that charcoal production/sale are legalised, based on sustainably managed forest/tree resources, modernised technology and given advice. The same applies for other products for local and regional markets, such as scaffolding, building and transmission poles, and for locally sawn timber and products like furniture. Due to factors such as increased local demand, export markets and land availability there is also a substantial potential for conventional forest products and commercial level forest and tree management, by private and government enterprises as well as by farmers and communities. The potential contribution of forests and trees to food security is also large, but often overlooked. Already today, the supplementary food and income derived from wood and NWFPs is an essential part of livelihoods of rural people. The potential of trees in increasing/maintaining fertility of soils and providing fodder to domestic animals, and thereby food crop and livestock productivity and sustainability, have been given much attention in recent decades. The role of forests in hydrology, and thereby water availability for agriculture, and the roles of trees in creating amenable microclimate, e.g. windbreaks and shade also contribute to improved food security. All these various forms of contributions have considerable potentials for improvement. The third category relates to environment enhancement and climate change mitigation. Today, with an almost singular focus on climate change, it is important to point out that by far the most important role forest and tree management can play is to vastly increase the “working biomass” of wood in sustainably managed forests, plantations and on trees on farm. This is more important than to just focus on halting deforestation. In addition, increased use of wood in “long-term deposits”, e.g. construction wood, furniture, flooring, etc., will contribute to CO₂ sequestration. To achieve all this, economic incentives are essential. The well-known role of Africa’s forests and woodlands as protectors of flora and fauna biodiversity is as important as ever and under continuing threat. Instead of just relying on complete protection, integrated use of forests is the way forward, with economic incentives playing an important role, e.g. through eco-tourism, careful harvesting of wood and NWFPs, regulated hunting, etc. Finally, the role of forests and woodlands in catchment and river basin hydrology remain crucial to the continent’s water supply. In order to realise the above potentials of forests and trees, several requirements need to be addressed, with different importance in different countries and in different agro-ecological, political and market situations. They include: Policies, legislation and regulations need to be revised, modernised and applied effectively, guaranteeing both an enabling environment for investments and engagement in the forest sector by farmers, communities and the private sector, and an effective prevention of destructive and illegal practices. Realistic plans for the sector at appropriate geographic and commodity levels must be developed and implemented. Land and tree tenure must be modernised to ensure long-term willingness to invest in forest management and tree planting. Africa must acquire a stronger voice and influence in international policy processes influencing forests and their use. Strengthening institutions in support of forest development must be given priority. This includes government forest administrations and extension bodies, education/training/research institutions, farmer and community organisations, the private sector, professional associations, and regional organisations with a mandate to handle forest issues. Technical know-how must be increased through research, training, partnership, enhanced practical experience, etc. Among technical aspects that need to be given priority are genetically improved plant material, better management of forests and trees (particularly by communities and farmers), improved products matching customer demands, effective and continuing inventory and monitoring of forest and tree resources, better understanding of environment-forest interactions, and an improved ability to assess and implement integrated management of land and natural resources (e.g. through “landscape approaches”). Economic issues that require attention are partly related to policy issues. Others include better access to credit and reliable information on markets and prices, that taxes and fees are not prohibitive and discouraging to investments, that value adding and value chains of wood and non-wood products are much better understood, that forest certification can be applied when demanded, and that investments in infrastructure (both roads and IT) are increased. Apart from forcefully, and as appropriate in different situations, addressing the requirements above, the way forward for countries, organisations, private sector actors and others who want to see an expanded forest and wood sector in Africa should include the following: i) an overall assessment of the current situation with regard to resources, problems and opportunities in the sector; ii) promoting the inclusion of forests, trees and forestry in the mandates of regional bodies, in view of their growing importance on the continent; iii) exploit the potentials related to the enormous funds made available for forest-climate initiative, but ensure that ec
onomic aspects are in the fore-ground; iv) explore opportunities for partnerships with actors outside Africa, for increased investments, access to know-how and expanded markets; and, v) for promotional purposes, point at and explain the significant roles forest and trees can and must play in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

AFF Forests and Trees2008201501