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Can the instruments linked to the Convention on climate change foster a sustainable forest management in Africa?

African forestry sector difficulties

From the standpoint of sustainable development, the instruments of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol related to developing countries must deal with the concrete problems these countries face, in particular problems regarding the management of their forest resources. The correct analysis of these problems is essential to determine how the proposed instruments can help, and how flanking measures and regulations will enable them to function effectively.

Many studies have investigated the causes of deforestation and the degradation of the of forest resource. The norm has been to distinguish between the people causing deforestation (farmers, concessionaires, herders) and the underlying structural causes. One of the most recent documents dealing with this question10 indicates that socio-economic factors, such as population and economic growth that have increased the demand for products and land have been acerbated by "market failures". One of these failures is the lack of market prices for goods and services linked to forestry, since only certain wood species and a small number of non-wood forestry products are considered to be "commercial" and sold at market prices. All other forestry resources and functions such as soil and water conservation, animal and plant biodiversity, regulation of micro-climate, carbon storage that contribute to the well-being of local, regional and global population are not included in the market economy. The conservation and management of these goods and services are of no economic interest to private entities, demonstrating the sharp divergence between individual economic rationale and the collective well-being.

The long-term conservation and management of forestry resources is particularly difficult in the context of marketing and capital mobility. Wood as a natural resource renews itself over a long period of time, generally several dozens or even hundreds of years, which is too long in terms of the modern economy's investment cycles and usual interest rates. Concurrent agricultural land use and artificially simplified ecosystems offer far shorter cycles of return on investment and reduce the attractiveness of natural resources management which better protects forest diversity and enhances socio-environmental functions. In many tropical countries, companies reap the easy income from exploitation of primary forests, and then convert forest lands into grazing lands or industrial plantations involving planting of single tree species such as oil palms, acacia mangium, eucalyptus, that return a higher rate of return on invested capital, rather than managing secondary forests with felling cycles from 20 to 40 years.

Agricultural production and land ownership patterns in Africa have played an ambivalent role in the evolution of the forestry sector. On one hand, traditional slash-and-burn agriculture in forests has long permitted renewal of woodlands and soil fertility. On the other hand, demographics, changes in land ownership laws that allowed governments to appropriate forest lands without possessing a management capacity, development of new crops and the decline of traditional authorities in land allocation have contributed to a crisis state in forest management. Very few countries have succeeded in halting unsustainable exploitation practices for timber and fuelwood, thus worsening the situation.

Combining instruments: Prerequisite for achieving sustainable forestry

How can the instruments related to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change contribute to change ? Since the causes underlying degradation of forests are closely connected to the continuing global increase in demands, a major characteristic of contemporary society, expecting simple, ready-made solution is not realistic. The gap between the social cost of forest degradation and the private cost of exploiting the resource must be narrowed. Governments must create policies and taxation, requiring operators to assume an increasing part of the cost of environmental degradation they cause. This implies a pricing system that reflects the social value of forestry goods and services and allows for the remuneration of non-market functions for those agents who opt for truly sustainable management of natural ecosystems. Remunerating forestry's carbon function helps to reduce the economic handicap of long-term sustainable management via considerable profits that can accrue under this land management regime.

Remuneration of the carbon function, which must be developed into a practicable mechanism, resolves only one of the many causes of deforestation and forest decline. Past experience has clearly demonstrated the limits of forest management which is exclusively based upon regulatory constraints. The economic incentive system entices actors to circumvent regulations that forest administrations have attempted to enforce with varying degrees of conviction. Economic instruments cannot always substitute for regulations. However, they can contribute to reducing tension between the short-term perspective that dominates practical choices by operators and farmers, and that of long-term forest management, by modifying the incentive structure for economic practices.

Investments made in the forestry sector, if they concentrate on short-cycle activities, lead to biological impoverishment of woodlands and to the degradation of forests. Exploitation of primary forests and planting of fast growing species profoundly change the composition and structure of forests to the detriment of biological diversity. Forest management carried out to preserve or restore this diversity, e.g. via reduced-impact logging, enrichment planting, planting of native species, is handicapped by low returns compared to alternatives that radically simplify the ecosystem or cause its degradation, often leading to its conversion to non-forestry uses. Massive planting of short-rotation species in tropical areas, feared by ecologists for their perverse effects, has already begun and may have become the reference scenario in many regions of Southeast Asia and Latin America. The reason for these choices is simple: they result from the high alternative rates of return of private investors, discouraging them from investing in activities where the return on investment is low and/or deferred too far into the future.

The creation of a CDM carbon income would not eliminate the profitability gap between short-rotation and long-rotation forestry, but it could potentially make long-rotation forestry profitable. Creating related capacities, such as investment funds in carbon sink projects, organizations that monitor CDM implementation, combining financing instruments, e.g. GEF funds and private green investments and / or incentives, such as forest certification and other performance bonuses can all help reduce the profitability gap.

The potential of different instruments to address forest degradation

A variety of causes, involving different actors, lead to forest ecosystems degradation and destruction. Consequently, the instruments for dealing with them cannot be identical. Forest exploitation, for example, opens up roads into remote forests and provides inroads for influx of new dwellers, thereby triggering land clearing and permanent or subsistence agriculture, which in turn can supply distant markets, thanks to the road system created and maintained by forest concessionaires.

The risks posed by forest degradation for global environmental degradation, in particular climate change, will obviously depend upon the intensity of the phenomena involved: small-scale slash-and-burn agriculture, for example, has generally had only a moderate impact on greenhouse gas emissions, except in cases when it caused large forest fires. These risks also depend on the nature of ecosystems. The collection of fuelwood has only a minor impact in humid tropical areas with large forest areas, but is more destructive in arid or semiarid regions. Converting natural forest into industrial plantations could constitute a risk, if the plantations proved to be vulnerable to fires; in Indonesia, many of the large fires have involved oil palm or acacia mangium plantations, or have at least started here.

Table 4 presents different cases of forest degradation observed in Africa, the stakeholders involved and the underlying causes. Possible actions to control these degradations and most suitable instruments are presented. The instruments considered are:

We see that in all cases Government policies and measures would be indispensable for resolving the problems causing forest degradation. The climate-change related instruments could be supplementary means of action, but they cannot substitute for suitable policies.

Nature of forest degradation

Stakeholders involved

Principal causes

Potentially adequate policies and measures

Potentially adequate climate change related instruments

Small-scale pioneer agriculture (food-crops)

Local farmers or migrants

Population growth associated with extensive farming

Illegal access to land and land-tenure insecurity

Land-tenure reforms, agricultural policy, rural taxes, rural development projects in general


Small-scale slash-and-burn agriculture on fallows

Local farmers

Population growth without adaptation of agricultural systems

Rural development projects in general


Small-scale agroforestry, such as cocoa planting

Local farmers or migrants, small-scale entrepreneurs

Low profitability of forestry

Encouraging state policies

Land-tenure insecurity

Land-tenure reforms, modification of incentive structure

Forest conservation: funds

Agro-forestry: funds

Conversion of forest to pasture

Small-scale farmer entrepreneurs

Low profitability of forestry

Encouraging state policies

Modification of incentive structure

Forest conservation: funds

Agro-forestry: funds

Conversion of natural forest into industrial plantations

Large-scale entrepreneurs

Low profitability of forestry

Growing needs for raw material for industrial production (palm oil, pulp)

Land-use policy

Sustainable forest management: funds

Fuelwood collection

Local populations, informal businesses

Rural poverty

Free access to forest resources

Insufficient supply of fuelwood from renewable stocks

Fuelwood distribution scheme, adjusting land-tenure, rural markets, taxes, control

Sustainable forest management: funds

Afforestation/reforestation: CDM

Rural markets financing and development: funds


Local herders

Degradation of traditional pastures

Lack of alternative economic activities to cattle raising

Concurrence with agriculture for land, leading to pressures on forest areas

Land-tenure reform

Fodder plantations: CDM

small scale forest exploitation

Small-scale local or urban entrepreneurs

Unregulated access to resources

Forest regulation, rules for forest management, incentive structure to stakeholders and local populations


Industrial forest exploitation

Large- or medium-scale businesses

Low profitability of long-term natural forest management

Unregulated access to resources

Inadequate State forest protection policies

Forest policy in general

Financing specific aspects of sustainable forestry,

(RIL, waste management): funds

Table 4: Combination of national policies and measures  and climate-change economic instruments to address forest degradation in Africa

Adapting institutional frameworks to these instruments

In a large majority of African countries, governments play an important role in the management of economic and social affairs, which frequently inhibits development of institutions that could serve as a relay mechanism and interface to the rural world. It also limits the expansion of a private sector that is sufficiently independent from the state. In many of these countries, government services are highly inefficient, which, as in the case of official development assistance, inevitably leads to lagging implementation of new programs, and to accentuated administrative difficulties caused by an ever-present and poorly equipped bureaucracy. This inevitably increases transaction costs, that is those costs not directly linked to implementation of activities.

The African countries are on the whole ill-prepared to fully utilize the potential that the new economic instruments of the Convention on Climate Change offer, in spite of the fact that a great deal of global environmental stakes reside on this continent. Africa presently has the smallest number of projects for combating climate change, and lags behind South America in the forestry sector. This clearly implies that efforts should increase to help the African countries develop their capacity for good governance, adapt their institutions to make full use of these instruments, and eliminate situations in which the legal framework is found to be inadequate in dealing with questions of land ownership and forestry rights. These are some of the traditional objectives of official development assistance, which many developing countries fear will be increasingly diminished in favor of new instruments based upon private bilateral investment mechanisms, such as the CDM.

The African countries must integrate the potential offered by these global environment instruments in conceiving and implementing public policies. Unlike classical tools such as taxation systems that reside largely within the competence of the state, these new instruments are under the joint supervision of the international community through its specialized bodies, of the international companies that invest, and of the governments of the countries that benefit from the flow of investments. The expanding field of prerequisites, e.g. reforms, legal provisions, demanded by the IMF or the World Bank as prerequisite for loans related to structural adjustment programs now includes the evaluation of the environmental policies of the beneficiary countries. Environmental policies interact with other sectoral policies in the area of biodiversity and global climate change. This could provide an opportunity for countries to make their public policies far more coherent and to make use of the enlarged range of instruments that have been made available to improve not only the management of their environment, but also the effectiveness of their institutions. These countries would then be able to fully utilize these instruments in order to further their development.

10 Contreras-Hermosilla, A. 2000. The Underlying Causes of Forest Decline, Occasional Paper n. 30, CIFOR.

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