Research shows impact of climate change on Africa’s forests

The research results of a group of young PhD and masters students have shown the challenges, and also some solutions, related to climate change and forests in Africa – highlighting that, if adopted by decision-makers, research can make a societal impact.

Some 15 PhD and three masters students in forest conservation management, representing 10 African countries, who benefited from African Forest Forum, or AFF, funding, presented their findings at a regional workshop in Nairobi, Kenya from 3-7 July to about 70 forest stakeholders from 18 countries on the continent.

The AFF has been working with African governments and other international partners to support research, innovation and knowledge innovation in the forestry sector, aiming at an improvement in livelihoods and in strengthening the fight against climate change on the continent.

According to AFF, the young researchers conducted studies to deepen the understanding of the complex relationships between a changing climate and forests as well as tree resources to enable those in the forestry sector to develop appropriate mitigation and adaptation responses to address the impacts of climate change.

Environmental experts present agreed that the research findings yielded results that will help to benefit efforts to tackle climate change and can improve the livelihoods of the population on the continent.

“The findings show a lot of challenges but, at the same time, opportunities and resources that will go a long way towards driving the fight against climate change,” said Ben Chikamai, the executive secretary of the Network for Natural Gums and Resins in Africa, or NGARA, and one of the chairs of a discussion and exchange session at the workshop.

He added that the research findings will reinforce synergy in the global fight against climate change and the push to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG13, namely taking climate action, and including a call for the improvement of human and institutional capacity to deal with climate change.

What were the studies about?

It is against this backdrop that the knowledge-sharing workshop focused on the theme, ‘Forest and Tree-based ecosystems services for socio-ecological resilence to climate change in Africa’, according to the AFF.

The students carried out their studies in different ecosystems (Sahel parklands, moist forest, mangroves and woodlands) on varied forest issues such as forest cover dynamics, forest ecosystems, goods and services, the dynamics of fruit trees, and the reduction of the vulnerability of populations to climate change.

Other topics explored the contribution of coffee and cocoa agroforests in adapting to climate change, as well as climate justice.

Basiru Adeniyi Okanlawon, a PhD student from Nigeria, worked on the topic ‘Climate change and climate justice: a gender analysis of REDD+ in the South of Cross River, Nigeria’. REDD+ stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries.

He notes in his findings that international NGOs and organisations were more concerned in driving gender mainstreaming than local NGOs and the government, as evidenced by the number of available funded projects on the ground.

“In Nigeria, cultural norms impede women from getting involved with men in development actions. They must seek and get the consent of men [such as their husbands], who are reluctant to accept,” Okanlawon said.

This explains why, according to his findings, only 7% of women in the South of Cross River in Nigeria are engaged in REDD+ activities.

Alice Jebiwott, another PhD research student from Kenya, worked on a study titled, ‘An assessment of Mau forest cover, climate change and impacts of evictions on livelihoods in the Rift Valley, Kenya’.

She notes in her findings that the eviction of Rift Valley forest populations from their natural habitat has brought misery to their lives, depriving them of their sources of income, indigenous knowledge and their land rights.

“Their lives before and after the eviction have completely changed for the worse. Those who earned their living as herbalists, non-timber forest products, and so on, can no longer do so. Women who took care of their households through trade in such products have been deprived of these opportunities,” Jebiwott said.

Danielle Chimi, a PhD student from Cameroon, researched ‘The dynamics of fruit tree growing, ecosystem services and reducing the vulnerability of the populations to climate change in the West Highlands region of Cameroon’. She notes that agroforestry systems are one of the best alternatives for forest populations in the African continent.

“Fruit tree planting is an important ecosystem service that can [protect] the forest population from poverty and [help them in] the fight against climate change,” she said.

She notes that, with the fall in world market prices of cash crops such as coffee, on which forest populations relied, as well as climate threats to food crops traditionally favoured, the forest population moved to agroforestry, growing mostly fruits.

“These resilience measures have really improved the livelihood of the farming population of the west region in Cameroon,” Chimi revealed in her research.

A growing innovation among forest communities as revealed by the different research studies is the increasing use of ecosystem services and efforts to add value by the different stakeholders in the production chain.

“Ecosystem services obtained naturally from the forest such as stable clean water supplies, productive soil, and carbon sequestration, are increasingly exploited by government, the private sector and the forest population.

“If managed sustainably, this will potentially help in the fight against climate change,” said Yaya Doumbia from Côte d’Ivoire who researched the topic, ‘Climate change vulnerability of forest cover in Southwest Ivory Coast’.

Importance of knowledge-generation

Highlighting the importance of research, Dr Joshua K Cheboiwo, the chief research officer and director at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute, or KEFRI, said there was an urgent need for Africa to advance economic activities in forestry that will enhance sustainable economic development, lead to poverty alleviation, employment creation, environmental goods and services and fight climate change.

“Africa needs huge investment in forest production, processing and trade. Manufactured products like paper, [those used in] construction, furniture, packaging, printing, textile will generate surplus forex,” he said.

AFF Executive Secretary Professor Godwin Kowero pointed out that the population of Africa is expected to rise to 2.5 billion by 2050.

The projected demand for industrial wood is estimated to grow from about 75 million cubic metres per year in 2020 to 250 million cubic metres per year by 2030.

Consequently, the strain on African forests and trees outside forests has to be carefully managed, especially in the context of increasing deforestation and forest degradation on the continent that are increasingly being made worse by the adverse effects of climate change.

“These resources consist of a myriad of different tree species, good for timber and other building materials, as well as an abundance of non-timber forest products, offering ecosystem resources to improve the lives of the population,” Kowero said.

“We can see from the presentations the in-depth research carried out in the different countries and we encourage stakeholders to take the findings very seriously,” he added.

According to Professor Marie-Louise Avana, the director of programmes at AFF and a university lecturer, reseachers also have to work as teams to better exchange and improve the quality of their work.

“Collaboration and the exchange of experiences only helps to improve knowledge and performance. That is one of the objectives of this AFF-organised workshop,” she said.