East African countries said Thursday they have started developing a harmonized forest policy and strategy to increase forest cover and contain drought.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) countries who met in Nairobi said the initiative is aimed at improved contributions of forests resources to national economies for poverty reduction, environmental sustainability and development of the IGAD member states.
“The initiative will contribute to the increment of forest cover to help contain drought that has been a major problem in the Horn of Africa,” said Debalkew Berhe, IGAD’s Program Manager for Environmental Protection during a forum in Nairobi.
Berhe noted that the regional bloc was mandated with the responsibility of managing drought and desertification but over a period of time changed to sustainable development but drought continued to worsen productivity in the region.
“Our solution is to develop a harmonized forest policy and strategy to help increase forest cover to improve rainfall pattern, increase food security, address water problem and help address climate change,” he added.
Berhe said that once the forest policy and strategy becomes effective, it will help address issues on socio-economic benefits of the forestry.
According to Gabriel Rugalema, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Representative in Kenya, with the rising population in the region, there is need for forest policy and strategy to help reduce pressure on natural resources.
Rugalema said that given the livelihood opportunities provided by forests and woodlands, it is not surprising that over the past few decades they have been subjected to various pressures that are increasing the deforestation rate.
“Deforestation remains the most serious threat to sustainable forestry production in the sub-region,” he added.
Rugalema said that forests in the region are also under pressure due to the increased infrastructure and agricultural expansion demand that has been in the rise in the past few years.
“The regional population increase is worrying since it is projected to be 270 million in 2030 up from the current 245 million,” he warned.
“Preserving Africa’s surviving tropical forests and planting new trees to replace those lost to deforestation could help reduce the severity of climate change regulating local weather conditions,” Rugalema noted.
He said that IGAD region is lagging behind as it is the only region in Africa that does not have a forest policy and strategy since regional bodies such as the Economic Commission on West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have a functional forest policy and strategy.
Rugalema called on participants who are drawn from Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somali and Sudan to include needs of forestry stakeholders.
Rugalema noted that forest provide economic benefits and have tourism potential for alleviating poverty in the regional countries.
Fred Mwango, IGAD’s regional water expert, said forests in the region provide trade opportunities like the case with Sudan that is the leading world producer of gum Arabica.
He added that Sudan contributes between 70 and 90 per cent of the total world gum Arabica production.
“Kenya’s indigenous forests provide water catchment services with a value in excess of 25 million U.S. dollars million every year,” he added.
The delegates are exchanging knowledge and experience including legislative issues that can be capitalized on to improve the final policy and strategy document.
FAO is supporting the development of Forestry Policy and Strategy that is due to be launched officially in December 2019.