Tropical moist forests (TMFs) occur in humid tropical areas, usually with 1,500 mm or more of precipitation and a dry season (or seasons) of three to four months or less. There is an interrupted belt of TMFs along the West African coast characterized by dense mass of evergreens and oil palms. The Upper Guinean TMFs extend from Guinea and Sierra Leone in the west through Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana all the way to Nigeria and a few hundred kilometers inland from the Atlantic coast. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) designated the Upper Guinean forests, which it calls the Guinean moist forests, as one of its Global 200 critical regions for conservation. The WWF divides the Upper Guinean forests into three eco-regions, including the Western Guinean lowland forests that extend from Guinea and Sierra Leone through Liberia and southeastern Côte d’Ivoire as far as the Sassandra River, Guinean montane forests found at higher elevations in the highlands of central Guinea, northern Sierra Leone, and eastern Côte d’Ivoire, and the eastern Guinean forests that extend east from the Sassandra River through Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to western Togo, with a few isolated enclaves further inland in the highlands of central Togo
and Benin.
The TMFs and climate change have significant impacts on national economies and social systems. Customary law often gives residents the right to use trees for firewood, fell trees for construction, collect forest products and rights for hunting and grazing or clearing of forests for agriculture. There are also ‘protected forests’, where uncontrolled clearings and unauthorized logging are forbidden. However, with the current developmental dilemma facing West Africa, degradation of the TMF appears imminent unless developers start to work ‘outside the box’ to find innovative green solutions to identified problems. Loss of TMFs occurred greatly in countries with higher population growth. Rapid and uncontrolled population accentuates social, economic as well as environmental problems. Actual rate of deforestation varies from one country to another. In Guinea, Liberia and the Ivory Coast, there is almost no primary forest cover left unscathed. In Ghana and Nigeria, the situation is much worse, and nearly all the rainforests are cut down. At the present trend of deforestation, experts estimate that the rainforests of West Africa may disappear by the year 2020. Moist forests and woodlands are declining primarily as a result of increased wood fuel collection, clearing of forests for agriculture, illegal and poorly regulated timber extraction, land tenure conflicts, increasing urbanization and industrialization. In the face of the rapidly diminishing forest and biodiversity, REDD+ represents an opportunity for partnership between developing and industrialized countries for the benefit of the global climate system. Developing countries would participate by undertaking REDD+ actions while industrialized countries participate by sharing the costs associated with the Climate change mitigation activities in the Tropical Moist Forests of West Africa actions. REDD+ can also lead to direct social benefits, such as jobs, livelihoods, land tenure clarification, carbon payments, enhanced participation in decision-making and improved governance. For all these benefits, complementary stand of the African Forest Forum (AFF) to assist African nations willing to embark on REDD+ is a vital and welcome agenda. Forest-based Plan Vivo-accredited project in the West African TMFs is currently lacking. REDD+ readiness activities in the TMFs of Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria were, therefore, discussed, with information provided on Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone to the extent available. The objective was to integrate all information on the West African humid forests to catalyze initiatives at national, regional and international levels, which may foster the adoption of REDD+ principles throughout the eco-region. As resources dwindle and the agricultural frontier expands, pressure to convert the TMFs will increase. Thus, the forest situation in tropical West Africa presents enormous challenges, reflecting the larger constraints of low income, weak policies and inadequately developed institutions.
Successful implementation of REDD+ in the sub-region is, however, linked to the reliability of historical forest database, programmes aimed at restoring the fragile ecosystem, the indigenous peoples experience, institutional capacity and economic potential that improve the well-being of local communities. It may be useful for AFF to evolve programmes aimed at periodically compiling and publishing data on national forest budget allocations and disbursements for comparative evaluation and encouragement to do better.
Greater leverage through REDD+ is achievable through improved forest and environmental education, clear definition of local project needs and priorities that are sensitive to the landscape and implementation that ensures long-term confidence in the demand for REDD+ units while avoiding leakages or displaced pressures. AFF could inject momentum in REDD+ demonstration and awareness raising by helping to generate videos, mimeos and documentaries on threatened ecosystems and the degraded habitats, and the reasons for their protection and restoration.
Climate change mitigation using REDD+ can be triggered through motivational apparatus following map-based analysis of the degraded eco-zones, consultations to identify country needs and priorities as well as identification of opportunities and multiple benefits. The concept could be enhanced through funding and cash incentives, better fire control and management, clean and lean development technologies and agro-forestry. The sustainability indices include equity, value addition forestry, policy reforms and setting up
networks of protected areas in contiguous countries. AFF should get involved in negotiations that make Carbon Revenue from REDD+ projects equal or greater than Opportunity Cost of other land use options. This is because if REDD payments do not match or surpass the lost opportunity cost of competing uses, the Climate change mitigation activities in the Tropical Moist Forests of West Africa associated activities may not be justified. However, a one-size-fits-all approach to monitoring biodiversity in REDD+ projects would not only be difficult to develop, but would likely fail given vast differences in forest ecology and threats across West Africa. Instead, local sites should be encouraged to develop monitoring programs based on a generally approved roadmap.
The main benefits of REDD+ are embedded in its capacity to: (i) enhance economic potential of stakeholders; (ii) draw on indigenous peoples experience in evolving best practices; (iii) enhance map-based identification of the threatened moist forest habitats in each country; (iv) secure tree and forest tenure and rights to the use of timber and other forest resources; (v) improve information and knowledge of forest resource assessment; and (vi) equip institutions responsible for forest resources to implement REDD+ projects effectively.
Strong potential for up- and out-scaling REDD+ in the TMFs of West Africa are found in: (i) environmental education – forest and environmental education must be enhanced because development and sustainability are at stake; (ii) broad policy reforms that raise the profile of climate change for capacity development; (iii) clear understanding of environmental services to be paid for; (iv) eco-labelling to sustain forest management practices; (v) stakeholder involvement and participation that calls for consensus and cross-sectorial coordination; and (vi) making Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) on on-going processes, rather than a single event, and adequate time allowed for their careful management.
AFF could also look into operational and organizational barriers to further development of community-based Forest Groups and suggest remedies while injecting motion required for promoting forest regeneration concessions. It is also desirable to strengthen institutions (e.g. Forestry Departments and Commissions) established to manage West African TMFs to develop advance deforestation tracking system. In the future, how large emission reductions from REDD+ would be depends on a significant number of assumptions. One critical variable is the amount of funding available for REDD+. The other critical variable is the possibility of international leakage, i.e. how reduced deforestation in one country or site might lead to increased emission in non-participating areas. As a matter of fact, REDD+ design, objectives and promotion deserve careful attention to avoid risk of displaced pressure and secure increased implementation.
AFF could help to develop minimum standards in the readiness phase of REDD+ in Africa to safeguard and ensure stakeholders’ agreement on the mode of monitoring and measuring carbon pools. This will build market confidence in the long-term sustainability
and demand for REDD+ units. AFF could also help to establish reliable baselines and robust monitoring approaches for advancing REDD in the West African sub-region, including the need for investment in Climate change mitigation activities in the Tropical Moist Forests of West Africa inventory and ground truthing capacity as well as remote sensing. Communities can be empowered if they have the means to monitor carbon stocks and make decisions. Accounting for benefit from REDD+ would relate to the emission reductions of the project minus leakage. Credits will be awarded if emissions from deforestation can be kept below the historical baseline reference emission rate. Thus, in areas where local land tenure rights are recognized, projects can result in clear benefits to local communities. REDD+ funds could be used to finance a multitude of different policies and measures, such as forest protection policies, improved enforcement of protected areas, expansion and better implementation of participatory forest management, and land reform processes like tenure reform surrounding the issue of landlords and tenant farmers.
Finally, exploiters of forest products must commit to responsible and sound practices, and assume more of the costs of their impacts. With these practices, and if stakeholders work in concerted efforts, the TMFs may continue to yield biological, economic and social benefits well into the future. It is desirable that AFF should inaugurate recognition awards to model West African countries doing well in promoting the sustainability of TMFs.