In Africa, nearly all issues in the forestry debate of today revolve, directly or indirectly, around deforestation and forest degradation. Although current information as reported by FAO indicates a decrease in net forest loss in Africa, deforestation still remains a key challenge in many countries. The pre-XIV World Forestry Congress workshop was a unique opportunity for stakeholders in African forestry to better understand the broader context in which deforestation, forest and land degradation has been taking place and especially why it is so rapid in Africa as compared to other continents.
Participants were able to dive into the society – forestry nexus with a view of coming up with ways through which forestry can be better profiled and managed in ways that could improve livelihoods, national incomes and the environment. These voices were a reminder that the forestry landscape has been very dynamic, with new actors emerging to fulfil unique roles in forest management as well as new demands on the sector.
Discussions about the evidence of change also included the latest information on the status of forestry in the continent. Special focus was given to important trends and challenges affecting development of the African forestry sector. Parallel sessions brought to light ways for addressing deforestation and forest degradation; innovative ideas for enhancing Africa’s adaptive capacity to climate change; the crucial role of good forest governance in promoting environmental sustainability, and empowerment of indigenous host communities to cater for their socio-economic needs through their active participation in development initiatives.
By looking at the thematic presentations spread over the workshop’s 9 sessions and 5 plenaries, it can be safely concluded that there is not a single recipe to enhance progress towards forest-related sustainable development on the continent. Rather, a range of actions, programs, policies, institutions and innovative projects will need to be pursued by actors in government, civil society organisations, local communities, youth and the private sector. In light of this, key messages from the two day workshop were identified, discussed and presented by AFF’s Executive Secretary, Prof. Godwin Kowero during Africa Day – a special event of the XIV WFC held on 8 September 2015 in Durban.
Concluding from the discussions: Africa is in need of a new narrative that captures the urgency of the environmental challenges facing its forests as opportunities for partnerships, income generation, innovative governance are inspiring stakeholders to take action while at the same time bridging the information gap on the society – forest relationship is critical for a truly integrated, systemic approach to forest related development. The messages also suggest that, these challenges can be overcome if managed under a holistic vision, where the main principles focus on gender mainstreaming, good forest governance, sustaining the forest resource base, wise and sustainable use of forest products and ecosystem services, and public private-participation in forest management. The following summary for decision makers sets out priority actions that can be taken by policy makers and forestry stakeholders locally, regionally and globally in order to deliver an economically beneficial African forestry sector.
Eleven key messages for decision makers

Africa’s current forest cover of 624 million hectares (23% of land area) represents natural capital that supports rural livelihoods as well as national economies with great potential to participate in global economy.   The forest ecosystem is characterized by high biodiversity and species endemism. It is estimated that 82% of household energy in Africa is derived from wood. 72 million m³ of wood is removed annually as industrial while the annual value of trade in NTFPs in Africa is estimated at over USD 500 million. Africa’s forests contribute 21% of total global carbon stock held in forests. Other values include construction materials, spiritual, cultural, tourism, watershed protection, coastal shoreline protection. Africa’s forests are therefore set to play a major role in the implementation of Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the SDGs.
Africa’s forests are under extreme pressure due to agricultural expansion, and over exploitation, attributed to rapid population growth, while urbanization coupled with economic growth has led to higher demand for forest goods.  Africa’s major economic sectors namely agriculture and forestry as well as coastal ecosystems are extremely vulnerable and least resilient to climate despite Africa’s GHG’s contribution being very low. To ensure that Africa remains on the path of sustainable development the human impacts and issues of climate change have to be addressed with added seriousness by the wider scientific and academic community, policy makers, multilateral and bilateral development agencies, and the governments. Development of innovative governance and management frameworks and sustainable financing mechanisms for SFM, to enhance Africa’s capacity to deal with these pressures and optimize benefits from REDD+ and CDM projects are critical.
Addressing deforestation and forest and land degradation are primary areas of focus by African forest stakeholders towards restoration of the integrity and functionalities as well as resilience of forests for enhanced contribution to national economic development, poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability. To this end African local communities and scientists have developed forest restoration and rehabilitation technologies and approaches that could enhance the success rate of rehabilitation of forests in different ecological contexts such as woodlands, mangrove forests, among others. These would require considerable efforts in getting them adopted and up-scaled.
The African business environment has changed considerably in the recent times. New actors have emerged to fulfil unique roles in forest management. The private sector, local communities and civil society including professional forestry associations are increasingly taking up roles of forestry management including expanding democratic space for public interest, while the governments’ facilitating role has become increasingly crucial to ensure that policy formulation effectively responds to current, new and emerging demands on forestry.
Africa presents considerable economic opportunities that would require synergies from the private and public sectors, civil societies, academia and research communities to realize the sustainable development goals. Specifically, innovation and technology development are critical for catalyzing the forest sector to participate more meaningfully in economic development and to also reduce Africa’s vulnerability to climate change and other shocks.
Africa has a growing youth population and with it, an increasing unemployment and the need for better living conditions. Investments into the forest sector to boost growth and development of the sector and also in its key actors, in order to strengthen them as viable socio-economic entities, are necessary in order to increase forest production and related forward linkages. Investments in capacity building, largely at technical education level, are necessary in order to empower youth with technical education and skills that could come with the many opportunities a growing forestry sector would create.
In order to build and strengthen professionalism and work ethic in the sector the strengthening and establishment of professional forestry associations is absolutely necessary. This could be through clear policy incentives that can support their growth and development to enable these associations to effectively occupy their unique niche in the sector.
The potential economic contribution of fair trade in timber and non-timber forest products is widely acknowledged among Africa’s forest stakeholders at the local, national and international levels. Both timber and non-timber forest products contribute significantly to livelihoods through subsistence and local trade, and national economies through international trade. Non-timber forest products are contributing to the development of natural products industry valued at billions of dollars annually in the international market. However poor market infrastructure, low technology application, inadequate financing, some illegalities in harvesting and trade in forest products, and lack of good benefit sharing arrangements constrain development of the sector. Regional guidelines to facilitate access and benefit sharing along the Nagoya Protocol principles need to be developed.
Well-functioning forest law enforcement and governance institutions are critical for the sustainable management of African forests, and to also address illegal activities in the sector, including illegal logging and trade in timber, a major issue that is depriving legal producers of incomes and governments of tax revenues.
The important role of traditional institutions and traditional knowledge in forest governance is receiving increasing attention. Integrating traditional forest management knowledge and practices with scientific approaches is recommended, including the participation of local communities in forest management and utilization. Targeting the socioeconomic needs of indigenous communities, including mainstreaming of gender roles in forestry, holds significant prospect for sustainability and viability of forest based climate change intervention initiatives.
The important role of regional economic communities in addressing forestry related trans-boundary issues at political and technical levels is also receiving considerable attention, especially so within the framework of regional and sub-regional economic integration. Also the need for aligning Africa’s programmes with international processes is gaining currency. Various projects, programmes and initiatives have been developed on natural resources, and forest resources in particular, to position the various sub-regions in the development of Africa’s forestry agenda. Many of these initiatives are few and at their infancy, the continent still needs to do much more at the sub-regional and regional levels, and this requires considerable resources.