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2.5 Thematic paper on ecological issues

SUB- SAHARAN AFRICAN COUNTRIES: challenges and opportunities for sustainable management in Africa

A thematic paper
Written by
J. A. Odera
Programme Coordinator
Elangata Wuas Ecosystem Management Programme
National Museums of Kenya
P O Box 40658
Nairobi, Kenya



Reality and perspectives
In collaboration with ICRAF and CIFOR
Nairobi, Kenya, 9-13 December 2002


The history of forest development in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) shows that the anglophone African countries share a common evolution of modern forestry and have developed comprehensive policies and legislative instruments to guide forest development. These documents show a strong commitment to maintaining a handsome area of forests for production of wood; employment creation, conservation of habitats and biological resources, provision of environmental services; supporting agriculture; and a viable forest-base for industry.

Today the bulk of original forest cover has been replaced by secondary forests. Secondary forests are defined as those regenerating from prestine forest vegetation following disturbances with visible differences from the original primary forests. The major forest types include the tropical rain forests, moist deciduous forests, dry and very dry-zone forests, and tropical montane forests. These forests provide a wide range of benefits at local, national and global levels. The benefits include wood, energy, a wide range of non-wood products such as: food and medicine, fodder for animals, fibres, dyes, gums and resins for industrial manufacture, socio-cultural and environmental benefits, and carbon sequestration. They also support agriculture, habitats for wildlife and conservation of biological resources, provide dwelling places for indigenous people, shifting cultivators and loggers, and various environmental services.

The ecology and development of secondary forests remain poorly understood, and few in-depth data available. Earlier work was concentrated silviculture and ecology of wet forests and management for sustained yield of timber.

Results from past work and field experiences show that the forests are complex with pronounced stratification with the ecosystems held together in a dynamic state. Species composition is influenced by processes of competition and interactions between plants and their biotic and physical environments. Individual plants further display physiological and development characteristics for resilience and competitive survival under different site conditions in given forest types.

The regeneration of secondary forests follows a wave of succession that occurs in openings in the primary forest following natural disturbances such as from fallen trees, various natural disasters such as floods, or hurricane damage, or forest clearing under shifting cultivation, fire, grazing pressures, etc. Experience shows that traditional shifting cultivation exerts an effect similar to that of natural disturbances. Its success depends on attendant efficient system of nutrient recharge and amiable growing conditions, arising from a combination of high temperatures and abundant rainfall. The main soils, oxisols and ultisols, though relatively poor in nutrients, are recharged with critical nutrients from this closed cycle, originating from decaying plant biomass on the forest floor.

Adaptive morphological and physiological characters found in dryland species including diverse root systems and regulated stomatal openings. The forests' responses to common anthropogenic factors including logging are examined. Results show that logging operations are constrained by complexity and diversity of species, of which only a small minority have commercial timber value. Logging is further complicated by the relatively slow plant growth rate, the vastness of the forest area and damage vulnerability of residual plants. It is noted that logging unless well regulated, can be a major disturbing factor that significantly compromises protective and conservation functions of the forest. The state of current silvicultural and management systems, forest policies and legislation and institutional arrangements are assessed and associated challenges facing sustainable forest management efforts identified.

Lack of in-depth knowledge on secondary forest regeneration, ecology of individual species, avenues and mechanisms involved in competition between species, their physiology and life history characteristics, including phenologies, seed biology, adaptation for dispersal and germination are examined. Areas of knowledge gap and challenges to sustainable management of SSA's secondary forests recognized include:

Paucity of accurate information on intra- and inter-species, interaction competitions or associations in given sites, plant growth and yield. Failures arising from lack of inventory data and insecure land tenurial arrangements are noted. Weaknesses in forest policy and contradictions from other land use sectoral policies, institutional arrangements and governance, particularly aspects that have pivotal roles in fostering sustainable management of forests, are examined. It is noted that while the countries have well-structured policies, enforcement of sustainable forest management programme is weak and legislative instruments are often ignored. This situation is exacerbated by inter-sectoral policy conflicts, elements of corruption, poorly resourced institutions, and small numbers of skilled staff.

It is recommended, in a final chapter, that forest departments should consider mounting innovative research and capacity building programmes to enable them cope with extant challenges. The forest community is called upon to lobby for positive political commitment and support for sustainable management of all forests. The major research topics proposed include studies on: (i) the regeneration of secondary forests following logging; (ii) validation and possible adoption of reduced impact logging system (RIL) for local conditions; (iii) opening market outlets for lesser-used species particularly the rich depositories of NWFPs, and non-consumptive use of forest resources in areas such as ecotourism; (iv) mounting botanical surveys and regular forest resources inventory to provide updates on the state of forests and its performance; (v) developing methodologies for comprehensive evaluation of forests' contribution to development; and (vi) facilitating meaningful reforms on forest and forest related policies and institutions.

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