Photo: Prof. Labode Popoola, Executive Secretary – CEO, AFF and Prof. Stefan Schepers Executive Director of the independent, tripartite High-Level Groups on EU Policy Innovation (Brussels) during an inaugural meeting to explore mutual areas of collaboration.

On Tuesday 23rd January 2024, the Executive Director of the independent, tripartite High-Level Groups on EU Policy Innovation (Brussels), paid a visit to the African Forest Forum (AFF) in a significant step towards fostering cooperation between the two institutions.

Prof. Stefan Schepers, who is also the Director of the African-European Centre for Investment and Trade at the Henley campus in Johannesburg, was officially received by AFF’s Executive Secretary CEO, Prof. Labode Popoola, Technical Advisor, Prof. Godwin Kowero and Senior Staff at the Secretariat.

The aim of the visit was to explore opportunities for advancing the development of forest-based circular bio-economies in Africa. The visit comes as part of a follow-up to AFF’s participation in an expert group meeting held in South Africa by the African-European Centre for Investment and Trade (AECIT) that explored areas of strategic importance to the future of the African economy and its economic relations with the European Union.

Prof. Labode Popoola provided an overview of AFF’s mandate, membership, and impact of its work in promoting the sustainable management and use of tree and forest resources on the African continent.

An estimated 1.6 billion people, or 25% of the global population, rely on forests for their subsistence needs, livelihoods, employment, and income. In Africa, forests provide a lifeline directly or indirectly to over two-thirds of its population. At least 70 per cent of households depend on wood as their primary source of energy. Subsequently, in spite of heightened awareness on their importance, forests continue to be under threat due to deforestation and widespread degradation.

In view of this, the AFF ’team and its honourable guest explored up to nine areas through which the two institutions could improve AFF’s  visibility, profile and partnership portfolio at regional and international levels with a focus on attracting private sector’ interest and investment.

Prof. Stefan Schepers expressed his enthusiasm for the collaboration which is set to stimulate in-house innovative thinking and help renew the strategic direction for AFF. He promised support for AFF in working with the private sector to achieve a forest-based bioeconomy in the region and beyond.