L-R: Margaret Kroma, ICRAF; Edmund Barrow, IUCN; Winnie Khaemba, African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS); Prof. Larwanou Mahamane, African Forest Forum; and Lalisa Duguma, ICRAF. 2 December 2015, at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP21) in Paris, France. Convening held under the theme of “Land Day: Land Degradation Neutrality as a Solution to Climate Change.” Photo by IISD/ENB http://www.iisd.ca/climate/cop21/cbd-rcp/2dec.html
When it comes to influencing the outcomes of dialogues related to Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs)[1], insufficient capacity by African delegates to effectively negotiate during forest related debates limits opportunities for better bargains.
A detailed study commissioned by a pan African project on “Lessons Learnt on Sustainable Forest Management in Africa” confirms that in the years following the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), the African voice was faintly heard in deliberations at international forestry processes.[2] As a result Africa failed to adequately articulate its forestry related positions clearly hence partly leading to poor ownership and weak implementation of the agreements on the continent.
The lack of effective African participation at these international discourses could be an indication of a more general lack of competency in human, financial and technical capacity to effectively participate in these debates. This is in light of the fact that international policy debates are, at times, an extremely complex venture. They require a clear set of objectives articulated by leadership; a variety of technical and new skills in areas such as research and technology; high level coordination across relevant government entities; negotiating skills, tactics and strategies; networking among African country teams  and consistency in representation over time[3].
It is for this reason that AFF established a Technical Support Team (TST)[4] to Raise the Profile of Forestry that supports African delegates in regional and international dialogues on forestry and related areas in order to ensure that policies developed and decisions made conform to forest compatible development on the continent.
The AFF-TST also facilitates mainstreaming of MEAs into national policies to facilitate the adoption of sustainable forest management practices in Africa. The TST members have wide experience in international policy debates and negotiations related to forestry, and have freely contributed their expertise to African delegates in such discourses.
Subsequently, African delegates have begun to better articulate forestry related issues in international negotiations such as those organized by the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF). Limited TST support has also been extended to forestry related issues in negotiations organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
With current trends moving towards more complex global issues, well-organized and coordinated institutional mechanisms as well as effective national-level policy leadership will be crucial to further build multilateral cooperation around international policy debates.
Key policy measures
Lessons and recommendations made from a recent ‘Training Workshop for African Forestry Experts on Forest Related International Agreements for Anglophone Africa, organized by AFF from 1-4 December 2015 at the Sai Rock Hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, provide key policy measures to ensure effective participation during global debates.
Countries need, for a more equal starting position, national support to aid in identification of national interests and formulation of appropriate negotiating policies and strategies ahead of international discourses. Development of these national positions comes with a wide range of activities, including discussions with government agencies and administrative departments, review of scientific studies, and input from forestry stakeholders such as research institutions, forest enterprises, forest workers, NGOs and civil society.
In this way, African Governments will be able to put together teams that have adequate understanding of the complexity of international agreements, have technical expertise in the subject matter and are able to provide strong representation for their countries. Institutional capacities for coherence and inter-agency coordination will be strengthened to provide an integrated approach for discussions as well as mainstreaming of MEAs into National Action Plans (NAPs) for implementation and reporting.  Furthermore, a strong science- policy-management interconnection should be the focus of research and development in African forestry at the national level.
This notwithstanding, investments in information and dissemination platforms to enhance access to latest knowledge is critical for building national awareness on MEAs among the African forestry community. It is recommended that relevant national agencies in partnership with relevant actors consider taking the lead in building technical, human and financial capacity in terms of new skills, expertise and funding for better outcomes. In addition, permanent secretariats could be established as lead institutions with key focal points to guide consistency in participation at international forestry debates and maintaining institutional memory on these issues.
Further, national policymaking in support of capacity building for multilateral negotiations is necessary for the effective participation of African country teams in these negotiations.
[1] Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) are defined as “legally binding agreements between three or more states relating to the environment” (Yeboah, 2015).
[2] Oyebo, M. et al, 2009, presentation titled: “Supporting Africa in International Negotiation Processes – the role of AFF,” African Forest Forum. Unpublished.
Yeboah O. (2014) “Training module for effective engagement of African delegates in international multilateral processes,” African Forest Forum. Unpublished
[3] Read more from the proceedings of the ‘Training Workshop for African Forestry Experts on Forest Related International Agreements for Anglophone Africa,’ Available at www.afforum.org
[4] For more information on the Technical Support Team (TST), visit http://www.afforum.org/about/organization/committees