Nairobi, 9 September 2015 - The demand for forest products and services in Africa is growing rapidly, fuelled by a growing population and an expanding economy. By 2050, domestic demand for industrial roundwood could double or even triple from the current annual level of 96.2 million m3 found a report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Such pressure, coupled with the encroachment of other sectors on forests, could lead to unsustainable levels of exploitation and accelerating deforestation, resulting in loss of livelihoods and a decrease in biodiversity.
The report, entitled "The Role of Forests in a Green Economy Transformation in Africa", calls for a stronger integration of the largely informal forest sector into national planning and accounting. This would boost the sector's productivity, while promoting sustainable management of forest resources, helping to meet the growing demand for forest products.
Covering around 35 per cent of Africa's land, forests and wooded lands play a very important role in its economy, which is not fully reflected in official statistics. Economic policymaking tends to focus only on the formal wood industry, which contributes less than 1 per cent to the continent's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Meanwhile, the mostly informal charcoal and fuelwood industry is responsible for 90 per cent of wood consumption in Africa, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It contributes an estimated 2 per cent of the continent's GDP and employs nearly 5 per cent of its workforce. Forests make crucial contributions to GDP in other sectors by providing vital ecosystem services, such as storing carbon, protecting watersheds from erosion and sustaining biodiversity.
These services are threatened by land degradation, over-harvesting and deforestation. FAO estimates that between 1990 and 2010 around 75 million hectares of Africa's forests disappeared. That rate is expected to accelerate in the next 15 to 35 years, unless the informal forest economy, including ecosystem goods and benefits, is incorporated into national planning, investments and accounting.
The report proposes a package of policies, which could lead to a better inclusion of forests into green economy planning. Resolving unclear rights to forest resources, valuing ecosystem goods and services, and boosting local control and engagement by working with the informal sector could all precipitate the continent's transition to a green economy.
Drawing on examples from Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa, the report illustrates best practices and lessons learned during the implementation of different types of interventions. For example, the adoption of legal management plans in Cameroon has led to an 11 per cent decrease in harvesting intensity in some places. In another example, Kenya has introduced legislation allowing charcoal producer associations to apply for licences to harvest woodfuel and produce charcoal.
The report, prepared by UNEP and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) was released ahead of the 14th World Forestry Congress, which will be held in Durban, South Africa, between 7th and 11th September this year.