Forest governance key to success of Central Africa’s green economy

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BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo (17 June, 2011)_Financing forest conservation in Central Africa is an age-old issue of trust between the developed and developing worlds or “North and South”, said the President of Guyana, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo at the Three Tropical Forest Basin Summit (Amazon, Congo and Borneo-Mekong) this week.

“The North thinks they are always taking a risk by financing forestry projects, whether conservation or development, in poor developing countries. But we are the ones (the South) that are actually taking the risk. By choosing not to follow the path to development, we take the risk with the poverty of our people, the underdevelopment of our economy and infrastructure. The truth is that green economy is a big risk for us”.

However the active participation of hundreds of government officials, decision-makers, technical experts, civil societies and development partners lead to the recognition that a new cooperation, which seeks to find lasting solutions and resources to manage tropical forests under threat, is now inevitable.

The third Central African Forest Day held during the Summit and organized by CIFOR, focused on forest governance, underpinning the Center’s identification of governance as a critical element of maximizing benefits of adaptation and mitigation in Central Africa.

The break-out sessions looked at issues such as payment for environmental services and benefit sharing, tenure and rights of local communities, synergy between adaptation and mitigation, and scalar issues on governance arrangements. Many of the presentations and discussions during the event elucidated the governance challenges of implementing REDD+, both within short- and long term. One of the presenters, Dr. Alain Karsenty (CIRAD) argued that REDD+ has the opportunity to catalyze governance reforms in Congo Basin as well channeling vast investment flows for the forest sector.

After a long debate and negotiation during the Summit, a declaration was finally adopted. The Heads of State and Government committed themselves to a shared vision of developing the forest sector, including the economic, environmental and social aspects, with a view to promoting harmonious and sustainable development of their forests.

But these leaders also recognized that there are underlying complexities and linkages between forest loss and socio-economic challenges that must be addressed. This now calls for the need for new financing and partnerships: public-private-civil society and multilateral partnerships to facilitate investments in an equitable and development-oriented manner for the strengthening of the forest sectors in their countries.

Clearly, the future of tropical forests would stem from how both state and non-state actors are able to manage the complex triad of forests for local livelihoods, forests for economic development, and the need to conserve forests for their ecological goods and services. Balancing these multiple interests will not be an easy task for the leaders of the three forest basins and the rest of the world, at least not in the short term.

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  • Great article, wish I had been at this CIFOR conference! I work with a forestry social enterprise in Kenya called KOMAZA (http://www.komaza.org/). We help poor dryland families grow woodlots on their barren land in order to generate big income for our rural families and to create a sustainable supply of wood products to meet urban demand for charcoal, building poles, lumber, etc. As this article points out, it’s critical that governments in the South work to both protect indigenous forests and to develop sustainable forestry management plans. Given rising demand for wood products in Africa over the next several decades (driven by increasing populations, GDPs, and urbanization), sustainable management of natural forests will not be enough to meet demand (and even “sustainable management” of natural forests often has dire environmental consequences). Thus, it is critical for Africa to develop a robust forestry plantation industry. Plantations can produce 10X more wood per hectare per year than a natural forest and thus are the most efficient use of land for producing wood, allowing more land to be kept for true conservation. But to succeed in developing environmentally friendly forest plantations in Africa, we need the North to help provide long-horizon financing for planting everything from small family woodlots to massive plantations in ecologically appropriate areas. Planting and growing billions of trees is very capital intensive and requires longer-term financing that is currently hard to come by in Africa. Thus, the North must put the money on the table for plantation development in order to save natural forests and help local families escape poverty, while the South must reduce corruption and provide proper incentives in order to attract major outside investment in forestry in their countries. If the regulatory and financing environments are adapted to make investments in forestry readily available, the market will rise to the challenge.