Future of Africa Rainforests

July 9, 2017

Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighbor Congo have the highest rate per capita forest cover than any other in Africa. Sadly, deforestation, logging and fire are among the most potent causes of Congo rainforest loss and degradation. The same happens with Mau forest in Kenya. Population invasions are associated with fragmented and damaged forests compounds the impacts. Climate change too will exacerbate these impacts as well as causing major damage in its own right. The 2017 high resolution maps of forest cover in Africa change show the highest rates of forest change occur in subtropical forests so primary forests are now rare.It is clear that African countries like Congo can strive for a landscape dominated by non-forests like agriculture with little connecting forest, or can seek to maintain productive working forests that provide valuable habitats for most forest species, provide connectivity among populations, and allow the landscape to sustain many wide-ranging forest species.On the positive side, these forests can be supervised and managed by people who care about them and can combat fires, and confront hunters and other threats. While there are risks, African researchers believe that this latter option comprising a matrix of managed production-forest remains one way to ensure the survival of the Africa’s tropical forests and their rich diversity. Conservation is seldom simple to achieve and there will be challenges. Nonetheless, well managed production forestry, as part of a larger forest-landscape guided by science, offers a vision where conflicting interests will benefit by working together.Congo basin forests are the most biologically diverse and ecologically complex terrestrial ecosystems in Africa. They are the pinnacle of evolution. At their peak, Congo rainforests covered the whole of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo when they were still under Belgian colony. So much of Africa wildlife in all sorts of ecosystems spread across the continent had their beginnings in rainforests like Congo.

Africa rainforests still contain some of the oldest lineages of plants and animals on earth. They give an insight into how the rich and wondrous diversity that exists today evolved, spread and survived. They are still the life store from which the future unfolds, they are a window into the past, the present and future.The rapid rise in concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide whose levels continue to increase at faster and faster rates. Deforestation generally accounts for approximately a sixth of Africa carbon emissions around two times greater than those from road, air, rail and shipping traffic combined. Moreover, long-term studies are showing that increased drought-induced water stress followed by extreme weather patterns of heavy rains and wind in both the tropics and subtropics is changing the composition of forests from ones dominated by larger trees to ones dominated by higher proportions of smaller individuals. This is because the larger trees like those in Congo basin, the forest giants, are more stressed than smaller trees by the increasingly warming and drying environments. Finding outcomes that offer real improvements for conservation gains depend on recognising some myths and acknowledging the dynamic nature of forests. In well-managed forests, foresters seek to harvest in an ecologically-appropriate way. Many of the technical arguments against timber production in tropical rainforests like Congo basin relate to species loss or to the increased likelihood of forest conversion. There is ample evidence from various sites that logged forests lack many of the species, especially the larger animal species found in more pristine forests. There are also many cases where forests that have been selectively logged for timber have subsequently been converted to pasture or other intensive uses. But, African countries now realise, the implied cause and effect relationships are not necessarily inevitable. Its time to deal with these issues one at a time if Africa rainforests are to have a future.

Contador Harrison