Just when the world is turning to Africa’s forests to help deal with the devastating effects of climate change, fresh evidence coming out of the continent presages the bad news of a climate that potentially will continue to warm.
Africa’s forests are dwindling at “an alarming rate,” said Dr. Achille Momo, lead researcher of the study titled “Reinforcing the Capacities of African Forest Stakeholders to Contain loss of forest cover in different types of forests in Africa.”
He said significant portions of Africa’s 624 million hectares of forest have been lost over the past decade.
“Between 2010 and 2020, Africa recorded the highest level of forest loss in the world. Africa lost 3.6 million hectares within this period. And this is something very difficult to understand because we are coming ahead of South America that lost about 1.9 million hectares within the same period. This was very different in the past because the highest forest loss used to be recorded in Latin America, particularly the Amazon,” Momo said.
Momo was speaking in Ouagadougou during an information-sharing workshop under the theme “sustainable management of forests within the context of climate change: challenges and opportunities for Africa’s sustainable development,” organized by the African Forest Forum in partnership with the Thomas Sankara University.
Momo said the drivers of deforestation in Africa are many and varied, the most significant being agriculture which is responsible for 95% of forest loss on the continent. And the future of forests in Africa looks increasingly bleak, given the exponential rise in the continent’s population that is predicted to reach 2.4 billion in 2050 and 4.2 billion by 2100.
Momo said if the current rate of deforestation continues, close to ten Giga tons of carbon will be lost, and that means increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
“This would be very bad news for the fight against climate change,” he told Timescape Magazine.
He said Africa’s exponentially growing population will exert even more pressure on forests, triggering even more loss in future.
The Congo Basin forests are estimated to contain between 25-30 billion tons of carbon. This is roughly equal to 4 years of current global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions.
It absorbs 4% of global carbon dioxide emissions every year, offsetting more than the whole African continent’s annual emissions. This represents about 1.1-billion tons of carbon dioxide per year — three times the amount emitted by the UK in 2019.
And so African experts meeting in Ouagadougou made a raft of proposals on how best to manage the continent’s forest resources.
Amongst other approaches, they proposed agroforestry techniques to meet the needs of the population while keeping carbon in trees.
They underscored the need to scale up reforestation and afforestation programs and insisted on the need to foster the local transformation of wood to draw larger returns. In addition, they said it was critical to place a high premium on the development of value chains for non-timber forest products.
Prof. Marie Louise Avana-Tientcheu, the representative of the AFF Executive Secretary, stressed the fact that trees, be they in the forest or outside the forest need to be managed in a sustainable manner because they not only constitute a sink for carbon emissions, but they also help families and communities meet basic needs.
She added that the different views shared during this workshop will be considered to better guide the way forward at the continental level on these and other emerging issues in the forestry sector.