By Rosemary Munala
The PanAfrican Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) urges governments to heighten tree planting and take measures to protect and conserve existing forests to guard against greenhouse gas emissions.
In a statement released to mark the International Day of Forests, Mithika Mwenda, the executive Director of PACJA said deforestation poses danger to Africa.
He added that the most critical phase in which the world is passing through is a complexity in the form of Climate Change.
The international day of forests is marked annually on March 21 to let the people know about the significance of trees.
However, African forests have come under pressure in the recent past.
The triple grabs land, water and forests, human settlement and poor land use planning have alienated a big chunk of gazetted forests.
In Kenya for example, about half of its forest cover were lost within two decades of 1980 and 2000 due to corruption and divesture from forestry, according to Global Forest Watch.
Currently, the national assembly is debating the Forest Conservation and Management Amendment Bill.
The Bill is however being opposed by forest activists who maintain the amendment will weaken the power of Kenya’s Forest Service (KFS), a State agency charged with the management of forests.
Acquisition of lands that were previously under forest cover for purposes of advancing large scale commercial agricultural activities have also caused a lot of harm to the continent’s forests, as large tracts of forested land get cleared to pave way for agriculture.
A new challenge is also emerging, where corporates have become big agents of deforestation in many countries in Africa. Multinationals are invading forest to advance agricultural practices or in development of infrastructural installations in total disregard on the effects of their activities on the forests and other ecosystems that rely on the forests.
Such development activities in fragile forest ecosystems usually cause harm to these ecosystem, eventually resulting in reduced quality and quantity of water in rivers, loss of wildlife habitats and migratory corridors, which often escalates human wildlife conflicts, pollution and introduction of alien and invasive species among other adverse impacts.
This culminates in dwindling economy and the obvious victims are women and children neighbouring these ecosystems who depend on them for their livelihoods.
Unfortunately, the link between forests and climate change is never a factor to those out to decimate Africa’s forests.
The rampant deforestation orchestrated by the multinationals in Africa must be curbed.
Nevertheless, the nexus between water and forest is intricate. Increased forest cover and especially for water catchment areas has a direct correlation to growing potential for water resources and potential.
“As PACJA, we want to use this moment to keep creating the awareness that forests have a major role to help us in the war against climate change,” said Mithika.
This forest day happens back to back with World Water Day.
The theme of this year’s World water day lays emphasis on sustainable exploitation of underground water.
“Unfortunately, the theme in its narrative fails to recognize that we cannot have sustainable surface and underground waters if we do not strengthen afforestation measures as well as conservation of existing forests to enhance the recharge of underground aquifers,” said Dr. Mithika.
Investing in extraction of underground water must be accompanied by on-situ water conservation measures.
Forests play a major role here. Funding is required to re-afforest and ensure the lost opportunities for surface water are rehabilitated in line with the aspirations of Loss and Damage track of engagement under UNFCCC, asserted Mithika.
The ability of trees to hold water, allow seepage and percolation to underground aquifers is critically important in recharging the underground sources and continuing to support these aquifers to sustain the flow of water.
Despite low emissions of greenhouse gases, Africa faces a high risk from impacts of climate change as forests come under continuous threat from deforestation and degradation.
This is because Africa is home to the largest proportion of forest-dependent subsistence households in the world and too there is precious wood that is targeted for exploitation for global markets.
According to PACJA, the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Africa are mainly subsistence livelihood-related national and local scale drivers.
This situation is likely to be worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to massive job cuts and pushed communities to seek alternative livelihoods on land and forests in Africa.
A study by Glasgow Caledonia University (GCU) and PACJA of 2020 revealed the extent of the nexus between COVID-19 and Climate change and noted that many people who have lost their jobs and their livelihoods moved to rural areas where communities still depend on forest products for fuel and energy.
“There is a likelihood that the forests in Africa will experience increased pressure from communities seeking survival in the midst of Covid-19 thereby watering down the gains made so far through REDD+,” noted the PACJA and GCU study.
However, Lee White, Gabonese minister of water and environment said sustainable logging and forestry can help the woodlands refresh at a faster rate than if the forest is left alone.
Ann Tek, Coordinator of the Kenya Platform for Climate Governance said the challenge to governments, such as the Kenyan government in its management of the forest sector is how to reduce the fast rate of forest depletion, and at the same time manage forests and woodlands to provide sustainable livelihoods to communities revenged by Covid-19 pandemic.
Worse, she noted, reforesting degraded forests and land require investment in financial resources, labour largely from young people in communities in an economy that is hard hit with COVID-19.
PACJA has been in the forefront in advocating good forest governance and management of the forests in Africa. One of the most critical roles that the Alliance has been focusing on is the initiative aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).
This initiative has enabled PACJA to build the capacity of local communities and CSOs in 18 African countries to actively participate in REDD+ processes in their respective countries.
The REDD+ aims at reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
Results of a study commissioned by PACJA, with support from the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) capacity building on REDD+ project for CSOs in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Mozambique confirmed the significant participation and leadership of young people, women and CSOs in REDD+ in these countries.
Up to 46% of the CSOs that participated in the study reported to have been involved in the REDD+ process by carrying out sensitization and capacity building programmes, participating in consultative meetings, implementing relevant activities and monitoring the implementation of the process.
This is a result of the efforts that the Alliance has put in community and CSOs mobilization through national level workshops, regional exchange workshops among others.