Africa need to balance economy and environment
Several African countries have over the last few years announced an encouraging plan to issue a moratorium on farming activities in gazetted forest land concessions.The concession moratorium underpin extension to an existing moratorium on primary forest clearing and land conversion. The moratoriums are expected to halt the main driver of deforestation over the past three decades. While debates have always arose following such announcements, African countries are presented with an opportunity to improve forestry sector governance for sustainable development.Spanning less than 10% percent of Africa’s terrestrial area, forest lands have been under threat due to pressure to expand the food market and accommodate economic development interests. While these problems persist, the forestry sector has not been able to counter the threats with tangible alternatives for economic opportunities. In fact, the contribution of forestry to gross domestic product has been in continuous decline to the point where it fell below 1 percent of GDP in 2015. The forestry business is now dominated by logging and in Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda timber is now a sunset industry. In Democratic Republic of Congo, the forestry sector is not even identified as a national development priority by President Joseph Kabila government. As a result, the recently allocated budget estimates across sub sahara for the Environment and Forestry Ministries was only about 5 percent of the Agriculture Ministries budget, even though in most African countries, Agriculture Ministry do not have any land jurisdiction. As a result, the Environment and Forestry Ministries has received requests to convert a large amount of its forest area to encourage economic growth, particularly through agricultural production. To address these challenges, African countries have to start considering forest resources as a platform for the continent’s economic development.
Forests should be seen as a source for sustainable growth and the benchmark for other sectors’ development. This way of thinking contradicts current approaches that are more focused on limiting agricultural commodities’ land expansion by increasing productivity and as a byproduct, increasing conversation.With some of the most tropical forest countries in the world,Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Congo, Rwanda among others have enormous forest areas that produce tangible and non-tangible value as resources for economic growth. African countries can create demand for various creative forest-based business models such as ecotourism, bioprospecting, forest-friendly food products, fresh water supply, non-timber forest products, educational resource centers and streamlining sustainable logging and rattan with the creative industry. From a comparative advantage perspective, African countries have the potential to take the lead in an unlimited market space. To shift toward more forest friendly economic development, the African governments, which are mandated by law to manage forest resources, must develop enabling conditions for sustainable forest-based business development.The first priority is for the Environment and Forestry Ministries should be to employ an asset management strategy for the forest resources falling under their jurisdiction. The ministries should evaluate and capitalise on all economic resources within the forest area as government assets and should focus on growing those assets, including but not limited in scope to, timber, biodiversity, mineral resources, environmental services, and scenic landscapes. This asset inventory and database should ideally be conducted on a multilayer scale from the national level using the existing network of forest management units.Assigning an economic value to the natural resources under the ministry’s forest jurisdiction is crucial since the current licensing system and other decisions informing forest conversion are being made without considering these natural resources as assets. In turn, the forest assets’ value should become the baseline for any national or local level development plan and resulting investment decisions.
They should also be used as a benchmark when devolving authority and responsibility for the management of production and protected forest areas to the provincial government. Having African governments consider forests as robust high-value assets will strengthen their oversight and commitment to keeping them healthy and intact.I also have a view that, good science should be a fundamental guide for all natural resource decisions in Africa where a population of more than one billion people live. Understanding and applying relevant and progressive research will help land managers and the public better evaluate the right uses of forest assets. It will also accelerate return of future forest value to present value.Governments in addition needs to foster forest entrepreneurship, recognising the untapped potential of forest-based business models and the fact that this is a new and uncontested market with little competition. The African market should be considered the primary potential market space.In turn, the enabling conditions for this new forest-based business development and entrepreneurship will need to be supported by a broad coalition of partners, especially partners in the private sector.If African countries makes changes in managing forest assets with the use of sound science, research and an eye toward growth and entrepreneurship, then the African economy has the potential to transform into a forest-based economy and end the debate on competing land use.As forests face many threats, it is Africans job to manage them sustainably and ensure that their forests benefit Africa for generations to come.