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[BUJUMBURA, BURUNDI] Ten central African countries have come together to protect the Congo Basin rainforest — the world's second largest rainforest — from severe deforestation, through implementing improved national forest monitoring systems and boosting regional cooperation.

The 18-month project, launched on 26 July, is managed by the Central Africa Forests Commission (COMIFAC) and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in collaboration with Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

"Forest monitoring will be [carried out through] advanced observation mechanisms using satellite images," Felix Ngendabanyikwa, COMIFAC's National Coordinator in Burundi, told SciDev.Net. "With this technique, we can see trees being cut down or fire devastating a forest, and can estimate the extent of forest degraded."

The €6.1 million (US$7.7 million) project will use modern forest monitoring techniques instead of more traditional and "inefficient techniques", such as routinely driving through forests to make observations, Ngendabanyikwa explained. It will, however, combine innovative remote sensing with direct physical observations, to ensure "correlation" between data collected on degraded forests.

The project will build COMIFAC member states' technical and legislative capacities for improved governance and sustainable forest management.

"Each state will set up a national committee comprising various stakeholders to develop a National Strategy [on] Reducing Emissions and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD)," said Ngendabanyikwa. These "will define forests monitoring mechanisms," with COMIFAC's support.

COMIFAC covers Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe. It was established in 2005, to act as a regional forum for the conservation and sustainable management of forest ecosystems in Central Africa.

The project will train related national institutions in sustainable land and forest management, good forest governance, the rational utilisation of forest resources, and monitoring deforestation rates.

It will also mobilise local populations to participate in monitoring forest degradation, in collaboration with local authorities.

"We will reach harmonised surveillance policies on forest monitoring in the region, and, thanks to the advanced technology, we will be able to develop early warning mechanisms to avert natural catastrophes," said Ndabirorere.

With about 200 million hectares, the Congo Basin rainforests have come under threat from "intense activities" like the industrial exploitation of wood, mining and hunting.

Savin Sabumukiza, a forestry and biodiversity expert from Burundi and the president of the Conference on Central African Moist Forest Ecosystems (CEFDHAC) said the project has the funds and skilled experts to enable it to succeed, but may struggle to harmonise national needs with regional concerns.

"COMIFAC countries do not have the same forest resources and should, therefore, prepare their national projects well, to take advantage of the regional project," he said.

This article has been produced by our Sub-Saharan Africa desk.