Tiogo — While visiting a portion of the Tiogo forest in the center west of Burkina Faso recently, Louis Ouédraogo couldn't hide his wrath. Someone had entered the forest and cut down about two hectares worth of trees to plant millet as the rainy season approached.
"This person should have gone straight to jail had he been caught," said Ouédraogo, the regional director for the Centre West of Burkina Faso for the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. He urged members of the local Union of Land Use Groups to find the culprit and bring him to the police.
Protecting forests in Burkina Faso, as in much of the Sahel, is a continuing challenge. Population growth, expansion of farms and grazing and cutting of wood for cooking and charcoal production have all led to loss of trees or the degradation of forests.
Keeping people out of the forests isn't an option, as many of the country's families, who live at or below the poverty line, depend on charcoal making and selling forest products like shea butter and medicinal plants for over a quarter of their income, particularly at times when drought cuts income from farming or livestock.
"It is immoral to keep the forests untapped while populations living around them suffer from poverty, so there is a need to find a compromise that will ensure the protection of the forests resources and their regeneration, while reducing poverty through use of forest products," said Mathurin Zida, regional coordinator for West Africa of the Center for International Forestry Research.
Such a compromise is being developed and strengthened with the help of funds from the Forest Investment Program of the Climate Investment Funds. Under the programme, Burkina Faso will tap $30 million in grants, and is expected to leverage at least an additional $13 million in resources from the government and other donor governments, to improve the governance of the country's forests and limit forest loss and degradation in both state-owned and community-owned forests.
According to Urbain Belemsobgo, secretary general of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development and the government official leading the Forest Investment Program effort in Burkina Faso, the investment will strengthen government's efforts to fight deforestation and reduce poverty through participative management of land.
"The program comes to consolidate an approach that has been adopted in the 80s, so that any decision is made in a transparent, participative and operational way for a better governance of resources," Belemsobgo said.
NO NEED FOR FENCES
Ouédraogo said such a participative approach is culturally necessary "so as to include all populations groups" and make sure communities back the effort. With such full participation, "we do not need fences or guards around the forests to prevent (their) exploitation," he said.
Burkina Faso's government in 1993 introduced participative management of protected forests and signed contracts with people living around them. The aim of the new approach was to improve agricultural, forest and pasture resources, help the forests regenerate and reduce poverty, Ouédraogo said.
Adama Bako, president of the Union of Forest Management Groups in the Centre West of Burkina Faso, said the new agreement made big changes.
"Until then we were cutting trees haphazardly, as we wanted, and we had regular problems with the Ministry of Environment's forest guards," he said. "But now we know what to cut and we deal with trespassers ourselves."
Seventeen such unions are now scattered across the country, representing 400 groups who use but also keep an eye on some 600,000 hectares (1.5 million acres) of land that the government is co-managing with local populations.
An economic evaluation conducted in 2009 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Fisheries showed that investment in sustainable use of forests could lead to an increase in revenue for farmers ranging from 25 to 40 percent.
But growing pressures on Burkina Faso's resources, including its forests, now threatens the balance that has protected the forests and the livelihoods of those who have long depended on them.
Back in the 1990s, families could make 100,000 to 130,000 CFA ($200 to $260) a week cutting wood "but now we earn far less" as a result of loss and degradation of forests, said Bako, of the Union of Forest Management Groups.
LACK OF MONITORING
One problem is that Burkina Faso has just one forest monitor for every 10,000 to 15,000 hectares of forest, officials say. Another is the country's rapid 3.1 percent rate of population growth, which puts added pressure each year on its resources.
At the national level, income from forests is a crucial contributor to public revenue. Fees, taxes, and permits paid for the use of timber and other wood products contributes 5.6 percent of GDP, and forest products support a growing number of small and medium-sized businesses.
The International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) describes as "extremely high" the rate of forest deforestation in Burkina Faso's Centre West region between 1992 and 2009. About 40 percent of that loss was to expansion of farming, the organisation says.
Despite national campaigns for reforestation and against bushfires, growing pressures on land have led to forest declines of about 4 percent a year between 1992 and 2002, according to the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. About 50,000 hectares (123,000 acres) of forest disappear each year to meet demand for wood energy, the ministry said.
According to Belemsobgo, Burkina Faso was due to by now have protected 30 percent of its forests, but has so far protected only 13 to 14 percent. To counter continuing losses, the ministry hopes to put more forest in the hands of communities that live near them, in hopes they can more effectively protect them.
"We are going to increase the protected forests by going after ll small forests disseminated all over the country, including privately owned forests," Belemsobgo said.
NEW SOURCES OF INCOME
Using Forest Investment Program (FIP) funds, the country hopes to shift communities away from traditional forest exploitation - such as wood cutting for charcoal - and toward things like growing crops amid trees and running nurseries. Another aim is to sequester carbon and perhaps access income from carbon markets, and to promote use of good management techniques, such as rotating forest grazing areas.
"At the end, the FIP will contribute to a better management of forests in Burkina Faso and support all efforts to face climate change in the forestry sector," Belemsobgo predicted.
To protect the Tiago forest, for instance, which exists around the villages of Kion, Tenado and Dassa, some of the project funds will go to improve a bridge linking two parts of the forest.
Right now, that bridge over the River Mouhoun is impassible in the rainy season - one reason the farmers who cut two acres of trees in the forest to plant millet may have thought they could get away with it, said Ouédraogo, who ordered the destruction of the millet field.
Eight people were later arrested in conjunction with the illegal forest cutting to plant millet, and fined $100 each, Ouédraogo said.
During consultations before the start of FIP activities in Burkina Faso, the River Mouhoun bridge was raised as a priority item to protect the Tiogo forest, one of six protected reserves around the country, he said.
About a quarter of the forest's 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) have already been damaged as a result of incursions by farmers, overgrazing and bushfires, he said.
The effort to better protect Burkina Faso's forests also hopes to set in place a foundation to establish REDD+ - an international effort to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation - in the country.
According to the implementation plan for Burkina's FIP grant, the forest protection project could reduce carbon dioxide emissions linked to deforestation and land degradation in Burkina Faso by around 30 to 70 million tons over a period of 10 years.
Eight pilot countries were selected for the Forest Investment Program, including three in Africa: Burkina Faso, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each was chosen for its potential to significantly reduce emissions from deforestation; to conserve, manage or enhance carbon stocks; and to incorporate climate finance into policy frameworks and development activities, according to the Climate Investment Funds website.
To see a slideshow of images from Burkina Faso's Tiogo forest, click here.
Brahima Ouédraogo is a journalist based in Ouagadougou. This article is part of a series funded by the Climate Investment Funds.