Negative impacts of deforestation require proactive interventions in order to reverse the trend. African governments are moving towards averting the situation by embracing sustainable management of forest instruments at all levels.
The key issue forest policy must address is the implementation of national programmes, with focus on afforestation and reforestation programmes, in order to increase forest and tree cover in African countries. Another control strategy is the embracement of forest certification in order to strengthen sustainable forest management.
Some African countries (South Africa, Gabon) have embraced certification in controlling the rate of deforestation and promotion of sustainable forest management. The successes obtained by these countries need to be emulated by other African countries. Some countries have also encouraged public and private sector participation in the management of forests: various tools for participatory forest management have been piloted and are now under implementation.
Rolling out educational programmes at all levels will help in curbing deforestation at community, subnational and national levels. This can be spearheaded by governments, religious bodies, community based organisations, and the private sector.
Investments in technology that reduce the consumption of paper will alter the rate of deforestation. Improving land productivity per unit area will reduce the pressure on forest land.
Re-orienting investments on biofuel to less productive or marginal land has a potential of shifting interest in clearing woodlands and forests for planting biofuel feedstock. The shift from fuelwood to other forms of clean energy (electricity, gas, fireless cookers) will reduce the increased demand of charcoal in the urban areas. Statistics show that wood and charcoal remain the most popular source of biomass energy, as compared to cooking gas, kerosene and electricity.
Various initiatives that are taking place in Africa on alternatives to fuelwood (briquettes from waste agricultural produce, charcoal dusts) need to be validated and up-scaled. Also production of biogas from methane is showing some positive trends. The promotion of fireless cookers is another good alternative, especially in warming food.
Reducing the costs of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) and electricity can attract households to shift to such alternatives of clean energy.
Other alternatives include the use of high efficiency cooking stoves (such as huni mbili) that have shown reduced rates of wood consumption, enabling households to reduce fuelwood from 20-25 kg to 10 kg per week. Such stoves should be encouraged also in hotels, restaurants, schools, tea factories, and hospitals.
Unfortunately, the use of fuel-wood will remain for several years to come, due to low economic development, poor governance and management of natural resources, the increased rate of social inequality, poor implementation of policies and increased vulnerability to climate change. This will continue to pose serious challenges in the continent.
To address the issue of a sustainable supply of wood, African forestry stakeholders should implement the following initiatives: promotion of agro-forestry practices, increased areas under plantation, improving effectiveness of production and consumption, promoting good tools for sustainable forest management, strengthening institutional and legal frameworks that support forest administration and management, strengthening capacity in forest management, improving research and monitoring to enhance innovation and technology development.
Vincent Onguso Oeba
Programme Officer at African Forest Forum, Nairobi