FAO Regional Office for Africa

Tree seed systems hold key for restoring forests, landscapes and livelihoods in Africa

Forest genetic resources, biodiversity and restoration advance the SDGs

Nora Berrahmouni, FAO Senior Forestry Officer for Africa, Photo: @FAO/Paul Ninson

11 April 2019, Kumasi Ghana – In sub-Saharan Africa, forests and trees sustain livelihoods and nutrition of millions of people. The genetic diversity of trees offers largely untapped opportunities for preventing hunger, alleviating poverty and managing forests sustainably. Tree seed systems involve the selection, procurement, documentation, storage, testing and delivery of forest reproductive material at national or subnational levels.  

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with Bioversity International and the Forest Research Institute of Ghana, organized a three-day event in Kumasi this week. National experts of a regional network, the Sub-Saharan Forest Genetic Resources Programme (SAFORGEN), from 22 African countries, and representatives from FAO, Bioversity International, the  World Agroforestry  Centre (ICRAF), the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) focused on the crucial role of tree seed systems in meeting the restoration commitments in the region.

The event also provided an opportunity for the participants to discuss the progress made in the implementation of the Global Plan of Action on forest genetic resources, adopted by the FAO Conference in 2013, and the contributions of SAFORGEN to its implementation.

In his message to the meeting, Assistant Director-General of the FAO Regional Office for Africa, Abebe Haile-Gabriel, said, “Forests and biodiversity remain high on the global agenda, and sustainable forest management and the conservation and use of forest biodiversity play an important role in achieving relevant Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Forests and their genetic diversity are key for building resilience of landscapes and livelihoods in Africa.”

“At the global level, it is encouraging to learn that several countries have taken action since 2013 by establishing a national inventory of forest genetic resources or a coordination mechanism for their work on these resources,” said Jarkko Koskela, Forestry Officer at FAO. He continued that, “Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are also making progress in implementing the Global Plan of Action but unfortunately their efforts remain largely unreported“.

Nora Berrahmouni, Senior Forestry Officer for Africa added that “Such efforts may hold the key to achieving the regional restoration goals. For example, in Africa, 28 countries have pledged to restore over 100 million hectares of forest landscapes through the AFR100 Initiative coordinated by NEPAD with support from partners such as FAO. The achievement of such ambitious targets requires well-functioning national tree seed systems and taking into account genetic aspects in practical forest restoration work. Capacity development of and collaboration between seed centres, communities, government agencies and NGOs is crucial.”

She further added that, “Communities are part of the solution, developing their capacity is necessary to support countries’ seed centres to respond to restoration needs as showcased by FAO’s Action Against Desertification programme in support of the Great Green Wall”.

At the end of the meeting, participants agreed upon a road map to strengthen regional cooperation on forest genetic resources, and to improve their sustainable use. The workshop reviewed the progress made since 2016 in implementing the SAFORGEN regional strategy, and discussed possible needs for updating and reviewing it.
The event discussed the challenges in implementing the regional strategy and identify ways to promote it. Other strategic issues highlighted include the need for enhancing fundraising and capacity development efforts.

Haile-Gabriel concluded his message by saying that, the implementation of the Global Plan of Action in Africa and the work of SAFORGEN is even more important to support the implementation of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) adopted in March 2019 and for which FAO and UNEP are leading implementation, as well as the Pan African Agenda on Ecosystem restoration for building resilience in Africa adopted by the Ministerial conference at CP CBD 14 in October 2018. These two initiatives will indeed offer a great opportunity to boosting the conservation, sustainable use and development of forest genetic resources, a unique and irreplaceable resource for the future and for sustainable development of Africa and its people”.