5 December 2011

Africa Is Losing Its Deforestation Battle and Action Needed, Say Experts (AfDB)

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The UN-based fund that helps compensate developing countries combat deforestation should start fighting the causes as well as the effects. That was one of the main recommendations from forestry experts who gathered at the climate change conference, COP 17, in Durban.

The discussion mainly focused on deforestation in Africa, particularly in the Congo Basin, which has the second largest rainforest after South America.

The fund, called REDD+, had put in a lot of planning and investment, but with little real effect, they concluded. In fact, deforestation was on the rise, and the REDD+ fund was needed fundamental reform.

"REDD is about conservation, sustainable management and increasing the resources of the forestry sector in Africa," said Professor Godwin Kowero, coordinator of the Africa Forest Forum, opening a round table talk on the issue.

"But the performance of the forestry sector is not encouraging - deforestation has increased. Are governments responsive to this crisis? Is it a policy failure or a lack of policy?"

He pointed out that agriculture was the main cause of deforestation, responsible for almost 80 percent of tree losses. He maintained: "So we have to address this sector very seriously. If we don't fix things in agriculture we will make no progress. Perhaps we should put these two sectors together and try to find solutions together."

The panelists mostly agreed that agriculture seriously threatened forests, but pointed out other causes.

"Poverty is also a cause of deforestation," said Raymond Mbitikon of the Central African Forests Commission. "REDD+ must be a global process that takes in the needs of everyone. Otherwise it will be difficult to make progress. There should be controlled use of forests."

He continued: "For instance, poor people use forests for firewood, they use forests for building material, to clear forests for food. There are also issues of mining and charcoal-burning." He added that controls were needed, and that "we must therefore find alternative resources that are accessible to people. Some countries have programmes, but until now we have not found a sustainable solution."

Clothilde Mollo Ngomba, of the Congo Basin Forest Fund Secretariat of the African Development Bank, agreed: "We will not succeed if communities are not fully involved. We need to ensure that the level of participation is being increased - how do we ensure that communities believe in REDD+?"

Dr Armin Sandhoevel, of investment fund firm, Allianz Climate Solutions GmBH, warned that green initiatives such as REDD could not rely on market-related funding unless implementation was improved.

"Why must investors commit to REDD+?" he said. "There are a lot of words and a lot of agreements but nothing happens. There is a gap between talk and implementation. How do you make it attractive to incentivize people to invest in this as a viable business?"

"What is essential for investment is the reliability of the project partner," he continued. "It is in the interests of the investor to have close co-operation with local communities. What makes me nervous is that 80 percent of the risk for funding is regulatory requirement. The political risk of REDD+ projects makes investors extremely nervous. What is crucial in an investor relationship is trust, and the uncertainty of the REDD+ development is not conducive to trust. Investments become more complicated, and transaction costs are extremely high. The bottom line with private investment is that the local people must benefit but the investor must also benefit."

African investment opportunities must be attractive to investors, he concluded.

Ms Ngomba responded by saying the Congo Basin could attract investment by creating a standard way of measuring carbon sequestering across Africa so gains became regionally quantifiable.

"We are expecting to have this in the next couple of years," she said, "but we cannot put a time frame on this, we need to find out what is still missing and what still needs to be done. The Congo has the second green lung of the world, so efforts started a long time ago to protect that region. We don't talk about deforestation, we talk about forest devaluation."

Professor Kowero pointed out that REDD+ had several limitations.

"We don't get the impression that a lot is happening," he said. "There are some pilots supported mostly by NGOs and external agents, but on a national scale we don't find governments implementing REDD+. When it comes to revenues from REDD+ the price of carbon has been coming down fairly fast and if that continues how can we expect markets to fund our farmers to follow alternative livelihoods? African countries do not have a say in what the markets do, we just have to take what is available. "

He struck an even gloomier note: "Even when you implement REDD+, there are things you cannot prevent. You cannot tell people not to collect firewood or building material from the forest. So introducing carbon trade is just one aspect to forest management."

Ms Ngomba agreed, saying:" We cannot talk about the market here," she said. "The market is never fair, We must seek support from the global community, we must educate the negotiators, so that all African countries can benefit."

Dr Richard Eba'a Atyi, regional coordinator for the Center for International Forestry Research said that carbon sequestration, despite its limitations, had enjoyed some success.

"Around Kinshasa, with 10 million inhabitants, people are planting trees to get carbon credits. Where land is used for industry - they must also be encouraged not to use natural resources. Industrial agriculture is more developed - investors will put money into Africa by using millions of hectares of land. How can we do this for the small farmers?"

Some lively questioners from the floor asked if REDD+ was effective in creating climate justice as combating deforestation appeared to be accompanied by land evictions and removals. Another public view was that the REDD+ process was impossible as it was a multi-level bureaucracy that was not worth the effort for poor people, and that it came across as 'the West making Africa dance'.

A questioner from Zambia agreed that most of the greenhouse contribution came from deforestation, land use change, a massive cutting of trees for charcoal burning and energy consumption because of high poverty levels. "Africa is producing an emission of poverty, while First World countries are producing an emission of prosperity." He said that poverty was the biggest contributor to deforestation.

Professor Kowero replied that this was true, and added: "The small land-holder is buying more food than he is producing. This is a result of the deterioration of our soils. Therefore we must also look at agro-forestry and improving the quality of our soil."

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