Call to save Africa's forests

Kemantha Govender

6 December 2011

Experts warned of a new wave of deforestation in Africa, while emphasizing the importance of forests in slowing climate change, at Forest Day 5 during the COP 17 climate summit in Durban on Sunday.

"It is urgent to safeguard Africa's forests, not only because they slow climate change, but also because they act as a final barrier to creeping desertification, underpin sustainable agricultural production, and support the livelihoods of tens of millions of rural poor," said Frances Seymour, director-general of the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

South Africa's Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, cited expert opinions indicating that a new wave of deforestation is sweeping across Africa.

"South Africa regards climate change as one of the greatest threats to sustainable development and believes that climate change, if unmitigated, has the potential to undo or undermine many of the positive advances made in meeting South Africa's own development goals and the Millennium Development Goals," said Joemat-Pettersson.

Joemat-Pettersson called for a collective, comprehensive international programme on adaptation that provides access to significantly up-scaled finance, technology and capacity building for all developing countries.

"The socio-economic impact of climate change is predicted to range from severe to disastrous for all, and will require extensive action to adjust and adapt to a changing climate," said Joemat-Pettersson.

Bob Scholes from South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research said: "The next major wave of deforestation is already here and it is happening in Africa. If we can do something to influence deforestation we can have a greater effect than everything that has happened so far under the Kyoto Protocol."

The president of the African Wildlife Foundation, Helen Gichohi said: "The disappearing forests, the overgrazed rangelands, and conversion to crop agriculture of grasslands and wetlands that had served as a refuge to drought, have all diminished the resilience of ecosystems."

Gichohi said nine percent of forest cover had been lost between 1995 and 2005 across sub-Saharan Africa, representing an average loss of 40 000 square kilometres of forest per year.

Kenya has lost the majority of its forest cover to settlements and agriculture, leaving only 1.7 percent of its land still forested.

"Forests cannot be sustained if people are hungry or governance of natural resources is inadequate," said Rachel Kyte, vice-president of Sustainable Development at the World Bank.

"Hunger places a direct burden on forests when people are forced to push deeper into forested areas to grow crops ... or resort to making and selling charcoal in order to buy food."

Source: BuaNews

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