An agreement is reached to restore African forests, although the deforestation crisis continues.
A number of African countries have pledged towards a US$1.6 billion initiative to combat the effects of climate change by restoring 100 million hectares of forest over the next 15 years.
The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) was launched on December 6th at the Global Landscapes Forum, which took place during the November 30-December 11th Paris Conference on Climate change.
The Cameroon Tribune reported that a prominent issue at the conference was the depletion of forests at a “scandalous rate to meet energy requirements, especially for the low income segments of the African population”.
So far, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda have agreed to attempt restoration of more than 42m hectares of land. While Cameroon, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Republic of the Congo and Togo have also committed to as-yet undecided targets.
The AFR100 is to build upon the Bonn Challenge, which was launched four years ago with the aims to rejuvenate 150m hectares of land by 2020, and the New York Declaration on Forests, which aims for 350m hectares by 2030.
The initiative is to be funded by the World Bank with a $1bn investment, alongside $600m of private sector investment, over the 15 year project period.
There is significant evidence that forests contribute greatly to reducing desertification, improving soil fertility, enhancing water resources and food security, alongside increasing biodiversity and the capacity for resilience to climate change.
Others have noted how such an initiative could provide a catalyst for economic growth; Rwandan Minister for Natural Resources, Vincent Biruta said, “restoring our landscapes brings prosperity, security and opportunity”, reported the Guardian.
“With forest landscape restoration we’ve seen agricultural yields rise and farmers in our rural communities diversify their livelihoods and improve their wellbeing”, he added.
There is a long history of human interaction with forested landscapes in Africa; the Guardian reported how communities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia had restored 1m hectares. Similarly the use of agro-ecological and agroforestry techniques – the incorporation of trees into agricultural and homestead settings – is well documented.
Despite this the African continent is currently facing a deforestation crisis. The United Nations (UN), earlier this year, reported that an area of woodland the size of South Africa had been lost since 1990. French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal commented that deforestation trends may have triggered the Ebola outbreak, as the forest dwelling bats carrying the virus were brought into close contact with humans.
Eucalyptus plantation – CC
The World Rainforest Movement (WRM) has pointed to wider issues, asking, “Why does the internationally accepted definition of “forest” only include trees and not the human beings and animals that inhabit forests?”.
According to the WRM, the universal definition of a ‘forest’, created by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), equates to a certain set of physical and spatial characteristics, and therefore also includes the millions of hectares of monocultures such as eucalyptus and pine.
Millions of hectares of primary forest are being substituted for these monocultures; WRM claimed that industrial tree plantations have increased fourfold in the ‘global south’ in the last 20 years and today stand at around 60bn hectares.
Deforestation, conservation projects and industrial plantations are in many instances exclusionary of marginalised populations who rely on forest landscapes as a source of livelihood.
Abdon Nababan, Secretary General of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago, an Indonesian NGO, cited by SciDev, said that “we need the world to recognise our rights as part of any climate change deal”.
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