Inclusive energy policy could save forests
Deforestation and climate change pose serious risks to the environment, including life on the planet.
To tackle this twin evil, SADC and East African countries have successfully developed regional forest and climate change instruments.
This was confirmed by Executive Director at the Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa ( CCARDESA) Cliff Dlamini.
However, he said countries have not developed strategies aimed at improving the capacity for national forestry. “African countries are still struggling to align forest policy legislative frameworks with the UN Forest Instrument”. While the Botswana government is trying to regulate the collection of firewood in an attempt to curb the risk of deforestation and extinction of certain trees, African Forestry Forum Executive Secretary Professor Godwin Kowero says there is a need for a comprehensive energy policy that is developed inclusively. The Department of Forestry and Range Resources recently advised the public to comply with the Agricultural Resources Conservation Regulations ( Statutory Instrument No. 8 of 2006) on the utilisation of veldt products. The indiscriminate felling of live trees is detrimental to the environment and a direct cause of land degradation. Responding to Botswana Guardian questions during the ongoing Africa Forestry Forum webinar on Paris Agreement themed, ‘ Building Climate Resilient Communities In African Dry Forests on forestry and climate change Through The Paris Agreement,’ Dr. Kowero said it is important to recognise that fuelwood production is as much a land- use activity that should be accommodated and planned for nationally and at household level in rural areas, just like it is for agricultural crops, livestock production, wildlife management, and human habitat. “Under such circumstances what is needed in our countries, and including Botswana, is a comprehensive energy policy, developed in a very inclusive manner, that puts at the centre, the energy most of our people use, namely fuelwood. “It should provide guidance on how substitutes for fuelwood evolve over time, and in which areas, like rural vs. urban as well as provide for clear incentives to accelerate the pace of substitution or even complementarity”. Dr. Kowero revealed that rapid population growth, poor agricultural performance, rural poverty, environmental degradation, market and policy failures, and the use of inappropriate technologies combine to accelerate the rate at which Africa loses its forests, as well as the quality of its forests ( forest degradation)“In such a context, problems experienced in the forestry sector are mostly societal development problems, more than inadequacies specific to the sector itself. In such a situation, it becomes very difficult for the continent to manage and use forest resources sustainably, because of very weak coordination among the many sectors that impact these resources.
The two main global forest challenges, namely deforestation, and degradation appear to be more pronounced in Africa than in other regions.”
Dr. Kowero explained that ideally, collecting firewood from forests should not degrade the quality of the forest if it is only dead wood that is gathered. However, in times of firewood scarcity, people cut down standing trees or even de- bark them so that they die and can later be harvested as firewood. “This is what we term forest degradation because it interferes with the health and sometimes structure of the forest if it is done extensively. “As regards the production of charcoal, in many cases people clear the landscape of trees over time and this changes the structure of the landscape as the forests are no longer there.
“Ideally in producing charcoal only a few trees should be felled in a specific area, and this will not result in altering the health and structure of the forest permanently”, he said.
However, in the woodlands, and depending on rainfall, one can come back to harvest wood for charcoal from that area after 13- 18 years; and this could be a sustainable way for producing charcoal.
So, depending on the extent of disturbance on the forest, fuelwood production can lead to deforestation and forest degradation, the two key problems the whole world is dealing with and are caused by numerous issues.
He also pointed out that African governments are increasingly becoming aware of the role of natural forest resources in the broader socio- economic development and environmental stability of their countries. The forests are valued for their habitats for wildlife, beekeeping, unique natural ecosystems, and genetic resources. They are catchments to many rivers that are cornerstones of economic development on the continent.
The critical functions of the natural forests in the protection of soils and watersheds and the conservation of biological diversity have great economic and social implications in Africa. For example, adequate forest cover is a prerequisite for sustainable agricultural production systems, wildlife management, and tourism in many countries.