African leaders urged to sustain forests and wildlife

forests and wildlife madagascar
Copyright: Robin Hammond / Panos

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  • African governments pay little attention to forestry resources
  • Experts call for African leaders to adopt policies that sustain forests
  • They cite engagement of women, children and the youth as a strategy

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[NAIROBI] Environmental experts have appealed to African governments to adopt policies that promote the sustainable management of forest and wildlife resources to conserve biodiversity and enhance socio-economic growth.

The appeal was made during the 20th Session of the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission of the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the 4th African Forestry and Wildlife Week held in Kenya last month (1-5 February).

Researchers and decision-makers at the session said that only by adopting such policies would African countries achieve the targets set in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and address the challenges posed by climate change.

“To ensure that forests continue to contribute to sustainable development, countries in Africa should increase the establishment of fuel wood plantations to guarantee the availability of wood energy in the future.” 

Foday Bojang, FAO

Governments must ensure that forest lands are used in a way that conserves biodiversity and releases their full potential to fulfil ecological, economic and social functions without damaging other ecosystems.

“Forestry management will be important for the implementation of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” Joseph Hailwa, the director of Forestry in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Namibia and the chairperson of the session, told participants, emphasising the importance of forests and wildlife in livelihoods protection and in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Ministers of environment, water and natural resources from African countries such as Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe attended the meeting.

Kenya’s cabinet secretary for environment and natural resources, Judi Wakhungu, expressed concern that little has been invested in research, with few studies conducted to quantify the contribution of forests to national development despite their importance to the economy and environmental stability.

Wakhungu said:  “The implication of undervaluation of forest resources is the low priority accorded to the sector by governments.”

Wakhungu singled out endangered species such as elephants, rhinos and the East African sandalwood (Osyris tenuifolia) and called for African countries to strengthen regional and international cooperation and creating information sharing platforms to combat wildlife poaching and illegal trade.  

The experts said that sustainable forest management requires the involvement of women and youth. Women in forest-related decision-making at the community level, they noted, could help control illegal activities and increase the capacity of community groups to manage conflicts.

Children and youth are future decision-makers, forest owners and managers, the session heard. “To ensure that forests continue to contribute to sustainable development, countries in Africa should increase the establishment of fuel wood plantations to guarantee the availability of wood energy in the future,” said Foday Bojang, a senior forestry officer in FAO’s regional office in Ghana.

Bojang told SciDev.Net that despite many countries aspiring to introduce modern sources of energy, wood will continue to be the most important source of domestic energy until the transition to modern energy is completed.

Significant investment in forest restoration is needed particularly in the dry lands of Africa, where forests contribute greatly to social and economic development at the local level, Bojang pointed out.

Issa Hamis, a beekeeping researcher at Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, said Africa also needs increased forestry education and awareness for sustainable forest management. Hamis added that forestry education needs to be revived to ensure the continued development of the sector and its contribution to sustainable agriculture.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.