Past, present and future perspectives

Towards sustainable management and conservation of forests and woodlands in Western Africa

European settlers built the foundation for modern management of forests in almost all of the countries of the sub-region. When these countries gained their independence (about 40 years ago), they inherited forest and wildlife resource management systems institutionalized in the form of state-owned protected areas. Forest in protected areas ranges from 77 per cent in Niger to 1 per cent in Guinea-Bissau and Liberia (FAO 2001a). Conservation International has been largely instrumental in developing and implementing management programmes aimed at conserving the fragmented Upper Guinea Forest hotspot. Activities have included environmental assessments and prioritization of conservation needs, building capacity in natural resources management agencies, employment creation for local communities in ranger activities, and tourism development (Conservation International 2001). Other responses include large-scale reforestation programmes, although these have encountered difficulties in implementation. New approaches built around 'grass-roots projects' have been introduced in some countries, putting more emphasis on community-level enterprises (Compaoré, Issaka & Yacouba 2000). Re-introduction and mainstreaming of indigenous forest conservation practices have also been successful in some parts of Western Africa (see Box 2d.8).

Box 2d.8 Indigenous forestry practices of farmers in Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone, farmers normally leave tree cover at a distance of 3-5m from footpaths in order to maintain a continuum of shade for those using the paths during the peak of the hot season from March to April. Also, the clearing of a farm site normally excludes forest fringe vegetation in order to encourage wildlife and fish reproduction, and also to define a boundary between common property and farmers' fields. These practices could form the basis for the use of traditional knowledge in forestry in development modern strategies for conservation.

Source: E.K.Alieu,Director of Forests Ministry of Agricaulture, Forestry and Marine Resources, Sierra Leone

From the 1980s, the sub-region saw the appearance of projects related to the management of natural forests through the preparation and implementation of Forest Management Plans and Strategies. Also, in response to the Tropical Forest Action Plan, many Western African countries have initiated major forestry sector reviews in the past 10 years. Criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management are being developed and implemented in all Western African countries with the exceptions of Benin, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, coordinated by the ATO. Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, and Togo have some of their forests under management plans (FAO 2001a). In October 2000, the ATO announced its intentions to coordinate a common system of certification for timber and forest products, to ensure customers that the timber has come from sustainably managed forests.

Policy measures to reduce the pressures on forests and woodlands from fuelwood collection and charcoal production include the development and expansion of energy generation from renewable resources (such as hydropower and solar power), as well as through centralized power generation from fossil fuels using cleaner technologies. Under the Kyoto Protocol, developing countries in Africa will receive funds for development and adoption of cleaner technologies as well as for tree-planting and afforestation programmes.