The tremendous wealth of West African forests can only reduce poverty with better knowledge of the economic value of forest products and an improved set of policies. That is the conclusion of a high-level meeting organized by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) on 3-4 July 2006 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
West Africa’s forests covered 721,550 km² in 2000. They are responsible, amongst others, for erosion control, soil nutrient cycling and formation for agriculture and livestock, and the supply of wood and non-wood products for domestic use and trade. Unfortunately, that forest wealth is not reflected by their management.
Competency for good forest management is inadequate, the economic value of forest products is unknown, forest policies are poorly considered in major government endeavours, legislation is inadequate and poorly applied, land tenure processes are insecure, and international forestry agendas are not exploited. Further, the impacts of large economic initiatives on forest ecosystems are poorly calculated or unknown.
A regional forest framework for coordination will contribute to the management of forests to generate wealth, reduce poverty and develop national economies.
The meeting went on to chart how such a regional framework for planning and collaboration on forest management in West Africa should be developed, and identified the roles of different stakeholders in such a process. The Minister of the Environment and Livelihood for Burkina Faso , His Excellency Laurent Sebogo, underlined the urgent need for such a framework.
Other leading experts and practitioners shared his opinion in their opening statements: Professor Aimé Nianogo (acting Regional Director for IUCN West Africa), Mr. Issa Bikienga (Deputy Executive Secretary of the Inter-state Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel – CILSS), Dr. Félix Dansou (Commissioner for Rural and Environment Department at the Economic & Monetary Union of West Africa, UEMOA), Dr. M.O. Afolabi (Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS) and Mr. Salinas Fernando (acting FAO Forest Officer for Africa).
Experiences with regional forest frameworks and the way forward for West Africa
Debates at the meeting advocated the necessity for on-going institutional integration and integrated forest management in the West Africa sub-region.
The framework will also be based on local culture and research results to guide development of forest policy and legislation as well as orient forestry training towards a regional integration approach.
Experiences shared from forest frameworks such as the Amazon Cooperation Treaty, the Conference on Dense and Humid Forest Ecosystems of Central Africa (CEFDHAC), and the Yaoundé Summit revealed how forest research centres, universities, protected areas, traders in local products, NGOs and others could benefit from regional frameworks and networks to share experiences and achieve synergy.
In a joyful ending, a West African multi-actor forest dialogue was proposed with the mandate to eventually propose a Heads of State Forest Summit. The way forward involves development of advocacy documents promoting the framework, to be examined at the UEMOA-ECOWAS multi-actor environment forum of October 2006 in Ouagadougou .
Experts and practitioners participating in the meeting represented FAO, CILSS, IUCN, the New Partnership for Africa ’s Development (NEPAD), ECOWAS, UEMOA, the International Institute for Research in Agro-Forestry (ICRAF), the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Fauna & Flora International (FFI), and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
For more information:
Please contact Martin Nganje, Regional Office for West Africa, Martin.Nganje@iucn.org