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Study finds slow progress in restoring degraded lands in Africa

By Victor Gbonegun
11 October 2021   |   4:17 am
The first-ever appraisal on restoring Africa’s forests and landscapes, launched during the Africa Climate Week 2021, has revealed that more needs to be done to fully tap the enormous opportunity...

The first-ever appraisal on restoring Africa’s forests and landscapes, launched during the Africa Climate Week 2021, has revealed that more needs to be done to fully tap the enormous opportunity for the continent to return land to sustainable production, protect biodiversity and shield livelihoods in the battle against climate change.

Investigations show that 65 per cent of productive land in Africa is degraded, while desertification affects 45 per cent of Africa’s land area.

While the overall trend is moving downward, net loss of forests is still increasing with four million hectares of forest disappearing yearly. Africa’s drylands are vulnerable to climate change and their restoration is a priority for adaptation and building resilient and sustainable food systems.

The continent has one billion hectares of drylands and 393 million hectares of these need restoration in Africa’s Great Green Wall areas, including 33 million hectares that are restorable in Northern Africa, 162 million hectares in the Sahara-Sahel countries and 198 million hectares in the Kalahari-Namib countries.

An estimated additional 132 million hectares of degraded cropland – combined with climate change that increases the vulnerability of millions of people.

The Review of Forest and Landscape Restoration in Africa 2021 is a joint analysis carried out by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations and the African Union Development Agency-NEPAD.

It presents the successes so far, remaining difficulties and opportunities across the continent in restoring land degraded by conversion, forest clearance, overuse of natural resources, urbanisation, drought and other factors. The review forms important baseline to assess urgently needed progress during the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030.

FAO’s Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa in the Review’s Foreword, Abebe Haile-Gabriel said: “Despite our efforts, every year more forest disappears, costing the continent a three percent loss of Gross Domestic Product.

Degraded forest landscapes intensify the effects of climate change and are a barrier to building resilient and prosperous communities when 60 per cent of Africans depend on their land and their forests. The urgent need to reverse these negative and devastating trends has prompted African leaders to commit to the restoration of the continent’s ecosystems.”

The Chief Executive Officer, African Union Development Agency-NEPAD, Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki in his foreword explained: “Through its roadmap for development, Agenda 2063, the African continent commits to ecosystems restoration by protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably managing forests, and combating desertification.”

He said the review of current approaches and exploration of emerging opportunities is key to accelerating restoration efforts.

Most of the projects assessed in the review have a strong climate change dimension, aiming at not only sequestering carbon, but also creating jobs, reducing the vulnerabilities of rural people to food insecurity and helping them adapt to climate changes.

The review identifies local ownership and stakeholder engagement as fundamental factors for success adding, that high-level political support and access to finance are also crucial.

Difficulties with longer-term finance, land tenure and property rights are major challenges along with insecurity and conflict, lack of technical capacity and restricted access due to poor infrastructure.

The Senior Forestry Officer, FAO Regional Office for Africa and one of the Review’s lead authors, Nora Berrahmouni said: “Extending well beyond tree-planting, forest and landscape restoration is an all-encompassing approach to returning trees and forests to landscapes where they have been lost and is of great benefit to sustainable food production, building resilience and disaster risk reduction.