Inspiration for first ever regional forest policy congress
Ahead of the IUFRO-FORNESSA regional Congress, the World Agroforestry Centre Deputy Director General, Impact and Partnerships, Professor August Temu, has issued a call to action for Africa to build its capacity in anticipation of the major role forest wealth will play in the Green Economy.
Many forestry experts will be arriving in Nairobi, Kenya for the first ever regional forest policy congress with minds fixed on how to manage Africa’s forests sustainably and profitably. Dr Temu said “For Africa to move itself forward we need our own capacity to manage our resources,” adding that “An overarching aim of this upcoming congress is to expose the best ways of unleashing the hidden wealth that is in African forests and trees.”
Prof Temu was speaking at a media briefing for the inaugural regional Congress which organisers say will attract over 300 experts. The World Agforestry Centre (ICRAF) and Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI) are proud co-hosts of the Congress which will take place at the ICRAF Headquarters, Nairobi, Kenya.
The Director of KEFRI, Dr Ben Chikamai pointed out that Kenya is well placed to host the historic event because as stated in the Kenya Constitution and Vision 2030 document, the country is committed to the wellbeing of the landscape and those who live on it. Quoting the Kenya Constitution, Dr Chikamai said "the state shall work to achieve and maintain a tree cover of at least 10% of the land area of Kenya" and "protect genetic resources and biological diversity".
As an implementing agency for Vision 2030, Dr Chikamai reported that KEFRI is well ahead of its 2012 target of 4% increase in national tree cover.
Tree cover is vital for effective participation in the Green Economy because more trees mean greater capital investments for sustainable development. Much of the wealth in developed countries resulted from capital created by utilising forest wealth claimed Prof Temu.
He argued that for a long time, Africa has benefited from timber exports and biofuels only and has paid minimal attention to the genetic resources. “If African countries are not smart enough to capture the genetic wealth in our fruits, medicines and other products hidden in the trees, other countries will capture it for themselves.”
In his opinion, the region can truly benefit from its forests if it increases its professional capacity in research, in tree product marketing and in many other areas. He warned that all those involved must not think any increase in capacity is success. He suggests capacity can only be a success when it reaches a point where the world can see Africa is able to unleash by itself, the genetic material within its trees.
Towards this end, he applauded KEFRI’s success in implementing the Kenyan policy that farmers must have 10% tree cover, saying that “it is leading towards self-reliability and helps in securing the possibility of having more products and services from trees.”
The World Agroforestry Centre firmly supports the idea that the environment must be transformed in ways that also transform people and countries. He said “That is why so many scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre are working on domesticating tree species so farmers will be able to benefit from raw materials and services as well as the genetic wealth.”
Senior Scientist and Global Coordinator of the Alternatives to Slash and Burn (ASB) Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins, Dr Peter Minang added that “ICRAF, being a research centre focused on agriculture and trees is the perfect venue for this conference because it drives home the message that forests must not be considered in isolation especially as 19 African countries have more than 10% of their GDP coming from forests and trees.”
He was making the point that the failure to see agriculture as a part of forest management exacerbates the negative effects of climate because as forests are cleared for agriculture, large amounts of carbon are released to the atmosphere.
Dr Minang hopes that the congress will explore how Africa can move towards regional policies that enable forest management to be a part of agriculture and others sectors of the economy because integrated land use systems will help reduce carbon emissions from all land uses. He has recommended a policy brief prepared by ICRAF,ASB and IUFRO that outlines how forests should be managed together with agriculture in order to reduce poverty.