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Make restoration of forests a priority

OPINION
By Lewis Kihumba | April 5th 2021

The world celebrated International Day of Forests (IDF) on March 21 amid increasing depletion of these critical ecosystems. Forests cover about 31 per cent of global land area and are home to around 80 per cent of the globe’s biodiversity. From food, water purification, climate change mitigation through acting as carbon sinks – absorbing about 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year,  to supporting livelihoods of about one billion people around the world, forests play a key role in the well-being of humanity.

Over 15,000 acres of indigenous Kapchemutwo forest in Keiyo North, Elgeyo Marakwet County invaded and cleared. The logging is done in broad daylight. Tuesday 30, March 2021. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

In spite of this prominence, they are disappearing at an alarming rate. According to the 2020 State of the World Forests report, more than 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through conversion to other land uses. Between 2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares per year.

In 2019 alone, 12 million hectares of tree cover were lost. In Africa, deforestation drivers include agricultural development, logging, mining and infrastructure projects. As the continent’s population increases, it is inevitable that pressure on these  forests will  significantly increase.

This year’s theme, Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being, resonates with the need for humanity to preserve our environment. Covid-19 pandemic reminds us that the health of the planet and humanity is interconnected.

Deforestation is significantly increasing the risk of zoonotic diseases that jump from animals to humans. As forests are cleared, contact between human and wildlife increases. Further, the loss of forests has exacerbated  flooding, drop in agricultural yield due to erosion, flooding, biodiversity loss and desertification, among others.

Against the backdrop of these deforestation levels is the need for urgent restoration. Across Africa, a number of initiatives are being rolled out on a national, regional and continental scale to halt deforestation.

One such initiative is the Trillion Trees, a venture by BirdLife International, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to end deforestation and restore one trillion trees by 2050 around the globe, including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative is yet another example of ongoing restoration.

Led by the African Union, it seeks to restore drylands in more than 20 countries spanning more than 8,000 kilometres from Senegal’s Atlantic coast to the east coast of Djibouti. Envisaged to be completed by 2030, about 100 million hectares of dryland are expected to be restored and 10 million green jobs created. 

The involvement of local communities in these restoration efforts is critical. BirdLife International and its partners are restoring forests through this model. In Kenya for instance, BirdLife partner Nature Kenya is working with Community Forest Associations and Site Support Groups to restore forests, with more than four million trees planted across the country since 2019. Additionally, almost 1000 ha of degraded forests in the Mt Kenya Forest have been restored.

In Sierra Leone and Liberia, BirdLife partners are working with local communities to effectively manage and conserve the 370,000 ha Gola Forest - the largest remaining block of Upper Guinean Forest, straddling the two countries’ borders. In Madagascar, forest restoration activities undertaken with local communities have helped save more than 44,000 ha since 2015, underpinning the effectiveness of this  approach.

Sector investments

Such initiatives will go a long way in helping the continent achieve the Bonn Challenge, a global goal of restoring 350 million hectares by 2030. Key to this is establishing linkages and partnerships with governments and the private sector to achieve these targets. Public Private Partnerships can play a key role in restoring Africa’s forests through enabling investments in sustainable commodity production.

Noting that agricultural commodity production, for example cocoa, oil palm and soy is the largest driver of deforestation on the continent, PPPs can play an effective role in safeguarding these forests. This can be realised through ensuring sustainability of this production, strengthening land use governance in addition to mobilising sustainable private sector investments. 

As we focus on key issues, nature and the overall planetary health, including climate action, protecting biodiversity and tackling pollution, let us also take action to conserve our forests. We need more forests now than ever and as we celebrate International Day of The Forests, let us do more to preserve our forests for a healthy posterity.

Mr Kihumba is a communications manager at BirdLife International.
[email protected] 

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