Washington — Forest areas cover 23 percent of Africa's surface area, an estimated 675 million hectares with wooded landscapes - trees outside of forests - accounting for another 13 percent, or 350 million hectares.
Five countries alone - Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Angola, Zambia and Mozambique - account for half of this forested area.
A new World Bank report, Forest Trees and Woodlands in Africa argues that Africa's forests have often been narrowly viewed as a source of export revenues from industrial timber and a global public good. In reality, forests play much broader roles, as diverse sources of jobs and livelihoods and as providers of valuable ecosystem services that are vital for increasing economic and social resilience including combating climate change.
"The objective of sustainable management of forests, trees and woodlands in Africa can best be met by taking a fresh approach that recognizes the diverse roles that forests play, both in nurturing peoples' lives and nature," said Jamal Saghir, World Bank Director for Sustainable Development in the Africa Region. "Sustained engagement is needed together with a tacit acknowledgement that the most effective management approaches will be found outside traditional forestry institutions, so reforms and operations must be guided by a multi-sector approach."
The report presents an overview of the varied ecosystems in Sub Saharan Africa that support forests, trees and woodlands and the traditional uses of timber and trees.
Forest resources are the main source of household energy in the region. These household needs account for 90 percent of timber removals, and most clearing of woodland is done by poor farmers seeking land for low-productivity, subsistence agriculture.
Recent World Bank estimates show the direct annual cost of soil erosion ranges from about US$10 to US$100 million. The cost of deforestation is unknown, but the value of forest products (besides timber) harvested annually is about US$6 million for rural households that depend heavily on biofuels. The same is true for many urban dwellers.
Action areas for managing forests
The report lays out seven action areas, which involve policy measures, increased investments and a greater push for sound governance to better manage forests:
Sustainable protection and development for wood-fuel and charcoal industries to serve domestic (and potentially export) markets;
Landscape and watershed restoration, including planting trees and the development of policy measures to prevent future and mitigate past damages from mining investments;
Plantation management to support a range of timber products in addition to wood-fuel including poles for construction and electricity transmission lines and furniture;
Reforms and incentives in the domestic timber industry to reduce waste and support legal timber operators;
Increased management planning, development, and financing for protected areas, community-based resource management and eco-tourism;
Improved forest sales management in heavily forested countries
Development of REDD+ (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) programs and carbon finance to help countries capture potential revenues from the carbon storing value of forests and promote co-benefits with communities through landscape restoration and reforestation projects.
Because of the geographic and climatic diversity in Africa, these action areas are adapted for the specific environmental challenges in each region:
For the Sahelian region: To support the dry woodlands and address periodic drought the World Bank supports scaling-up community-based forest and woodland management approaches and private enterprise programs for a range of products such as Shea-nut and fruit.
For humid West Africa: The World Bank's support addresses the highly diverse economies, ecosystems and population densities in these countries with sustainable harvesting improvements in the local timber industry; increasing access to financing for small hold farmers; protecting coastal mangrove forests, fisheries habitats, and watershed protection and erosion control. The Bank also encourages countries to take advantage of REDD+ for more sustainable forest management.
For Central Africa: The priorities here are related to the sub-region's principal ecosystem, the Congo Basin rainforest, large urban populations and substantial carbon stocks in forests. Actions areas would support sustainable wood energy production around major cities, enhancing business development for the domestic timber processing industry, and forest biodiversity conservation.
For Eastern Africa: There is a great need in this region to strengthen community-based forest and woodland management approaches that build upon farmers' organizations including providing support mechanisms for planting trees, and forest projection for nature conservation and eco-tourism.
For Southern Africa: The World Bank encourages enhanced protected area management and eco-tourism development; support for farmer managed agro-forestry using decentralized approaches, watershed management; coastal zone management; and incorporating forest management into mining, roads, energy and other sector investments.
"Partnerships are at the core of the sustainable management agenda," said Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Sector Manager for Environment and Natural Resources Management, Africa Region. "The action areas identified in the new report emphasize both the diversity of the region and the need for a sub-regional approach to identifying priorities. By working collectively, we can secure a better future for Africans and their forests which are a tremendous global public good."
Data and technology for forests
The report stresses the World Bank's message that there is an urgent need to improve the availability and quality of information, especially statistical data, surrounding forests and woodlands.
Mobile phones and other Information Communications and Technology are already being used to improve the collection and dissemination of forest data, including real-time fire alerts, game density mapping, and verification for legal timber operations.
These welcome trends hold the key for better management of Africa's precious forest resources.