Lessons from #AfricanForestry2016: Understanding Sustainable Forest Management


    With the changing climate and anthropogenic components, it is becoming quite obvious that the forests are in a ‘critical condition’.

    Africa’s forests, according to Peter Condo in a UNFF report on forest financing in Africa, cover an estimated 674 million hectares which is about 23% of the continent’s land area and 16.7% of global forest cover. These figures are set reduce even further due to the continued destruction of the forests for agricultural land, roads, buildings, etc.

    There is therefore a great need to understand the issues plaguing the forests as well as share knowledge with experts across the continent on ways to stop the loss of African forestry as well as how to restore the losses.

    This was the point of this year’s regional workshop organized by The African Forest Forum (AFF), in support with the University of Lome, Togo on ‘Sharing of knowledge and experiences to strengthen collaboration among stakeholders in African forestry on sustainable forest management and climate change related issues’.


    So to address the question of how to cut trees while still conserving the forest lies in the answer called Sustainable Forest Management (SFM).

    Put simply, SFM is the management of forests using the principles of sustainable development. The point is to manage and use the forests in a way that maintains their ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, in a way that does not cause damage to other ecosystems.

    The successful management of forests benefits everyone, ranging from safeguarding local livelihoods to protecting the biodiversity and ecosystems provided by forests, reducing rural poverty and mitigating some of the effects of climate change.

    Increasing human population is putting undue pressure on the forests for agricultural lands, fuel such as charcoal, firewood etc and fibre. This pressure isn’t expected to ease up anytime soon and many of the exerts believe there might be no need for it to do so.

    Sustainable forestry has been touted as a way to reconcile the demand for tropical woods with preservation of forests. By carefully removing only as many of the trees or other products as can be replaced relatively quickly and leaving others untouched, and, in addition, planting tree seedlings of desirable species, it is thought that forest ecosystems can be maintained so as to provide many crops of timber or other forest products.

    After an initial harvest, the forests would be left alone for an extended period of time, after which they could again be harvested for valuable products. This is why the issue of Forest Certification, improving tree quality with germplasm, smart farming (maximizing farmlands to grow crops, rear animals and more on the same farmland reducing the need to cut down more trees for more land) and alternative fuel sources is essential.

    While it is important to preach the message of tree planting, it is important to broaden the message with regards the reasons why local farmers should preserve and plant trees. This means it is not enough to talk about the timber and carbon purposes of trees when many more benefits abound like food, shelter, cooling of the earth and more.

    At the moment, there is insufficient data available on the state of tree and forest pests and diseases in parts of Africa but this should be addressed as proper understanding of the issues can prevent losses of economically viable trees. It will also lead to better trends in germ plasm and tree improvement that will be more resistant to harmful pests and diseases.

    In many African nations, forestry remains at the bottom of the environmental chain of consideration but with renewed efforts from foresters and different stakeholders in convincing policy makers to take sustainable forestry seriously, things are gradually beginning to change.

    For more information on the findings and recommendations by the participants at the workshop, visit: www.afforum.org