Africa: Only 2% of tropical forests not yet stolen from traditional peoples

Less than 2 percent of Africa’s tropical forests are under community control, hindering efforts to slow deforestation and alleviate rural poverty, reports a new assessment from the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a global coalition of non-governmental and community organizations.

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Deforestation rates in tropical Africa are among the highest on the planet while the region’s people are among the world’s poorest. Forest communities are highly dependent on natural resources for subsistence but without title to the lands they traditionally use, they face loss of forests to developers, including loggers and agroindustrial interests. The report urges land reform to give forest dwellers better control over their land. At less than 2 percent, the proportion of land owned by or designated for use by the African forest communities and indigenous groups is but a fraction of the nearly one-third of all forests in Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific controlled by such groups. “The slowness of reform is suppressing a whole range of opportunities to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods,” said Emmanuel Ze Meka, ITTO’s Executive Director. “Africa’s forest communities already generate millions of jobs and dollars in domestic and regional trade, and in indigenous livelihoods, but current laws keep some of these activities illegal and also undermine opportunities to improve forest management.”


The report says the legal recognition of community land will facilitate sustainable development activities under proposed systems to compensate tropical countries for reducing deforestation rates. The concept — known as REDD for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation — is a climate change mitigation mechanism currently under discussion for the global climate framework to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. Deforestation and degradation accounts for at least one-third of emissions in most sub-Saharan African countries but without secure title to land, forest people could miss out on the potential benefits of a the carbon finance scheme.

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