ECOWAS ministers adopt Forest Convergence Plan for West Africa
Ministers in-charge of forests and wildlife from member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have adopted the Convergence Plan for the Sustainable Management and Utilization of Forest Ecosystems in West Africa and the Sub Regional Action Programme for Combating Desertification in West Africa at a meeting held in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire on 12 September.
The Prime Minister of Côte d'Ivoire and Minister of Economy and Finance, in his speech delivered by Mr. Charles Koffi Diby, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, welcomed the adoption of the two plans. "Both plans should serve as reference frameworks for national and regional actions towards achieving sustainable management of forests, wildlife and land", he said to the delegates at the opening session of the ministerial meeting.
Forests receding at an alarming rate
Forest and woodlands in West Africa cover a total surface area of about 72.1 million hectares (about 14% of the land surface area in West Africa) including 4.2 million hectares of primary forests, 66.2 million of secondary forests, 1.7 million hectares of forest plantations and important agro-forestry parklands. Protected areas cover 27.7 million hectares, which provides a wide range of goods and services including wood and non-wood products for household and commercial needs.
According to FAO’s statistical data, forests in West Africa are receding at an alarming rate of 19% over the last ten years, a loss of about 870,000 hectares per year between 2000 and 2010. The main factors causing deforestation in the sub-region are not limited to uncontrolled logging, bushfires, extensive farming, land use conflict but also political, legal, institutional, technical and economic challenges.
The ECOWAS Commissioner for Agriculture, Environment and Water Resources, Dr. Lapodini Marc Atouga, acknowledged the threats to forests and wildlife in West Africa. “Our sub-region is undoubtedly one of the world's most threatened by the adverse effects of the destruction of our vegetation cover and land degradation, which have a negative impact on human health, food security, economic and hampering efforts to reduce poverty in our countries that are dependent on agriculture”, he said.
Objectives of the Forest Convergence Plan
The Convergence Plan will strengthen intra sub-regional cooperation in the area of forestry and wildlife while mobilizing political, institutional, financial and technical support and help to address key issues of common interest and transboundary nature such as:
- Harmonization of forest policies, laws and regulations taking into account agro-ecological peculiarities and the different institutional settings;
- Participation in the efforts to address desertification and soil degradation through rehabilitation of fragile and degraded ecosystems (mangroves, humid and arid zones), control of bush fires and the anarchical exploitation of shared and transboundary pastoral resources;
- Facilitation of the role of local players (regional and local administrations, farmer and other stakeholder organizations, technical departments) in the decentralized management of forest and wildlife resources and improved governance approaches while involving women and youth;
- Enhancement of vital services generated by different forest ecosystems, including their contribution to food security and peoples’ means of subsistence and optimization of the use of current opportunities related to adaptation, mitigation and vulnerability to climate change and the way they impact forest ecosystems in the sub-region.
The West Africa Forest Dialogue process
Sub-regional institutions in the forestry and wildlife sectors, with the support of international intergovernmental and non-governmental institutions and organizations, initiated the West Africa Forest Dialogue process leading to the development of the Convergence Plan. The process was an answer to the need in the sub-region regarding the poor cooperation between West African countries in the area of forest and wildlife management. FAO provided technical support to the process through a Technical Cooperation Project –“Supporting the preparation of the convergence plan for the sustainable management and utilization of forest ecosystems in West Africa,” which was implemented in collaboration with the ECOWAS.
During the meeting, FAO reiterated its support for the initiatives. “FAO will continue to provide technical expertise in its field of competence, particularly in forestry and wildlife management and in the fight against desertification,” said Mr. Luc Pierre Genot, FAO Representative to Côte d'Ivoire.