Africa could restore some 20 million hectares of forest as desert countries lead Africa in ramping up forest cover

CONRAD ONYANGO, BIRD

AS leaders make fresh commitments and look to raise more funds to boost tree cover at the COP 26 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, three Northern Africa countries are leading the continent in ramping up forest cover.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation in its latest report, the Review of forest and landscape restoration in Africa 2021, lists Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia among five countries that have sustained the highest annual increase in forest cover in Africa, over the last five years. The other two are Cape Verde and Djibouti.

“Algeria, Carbo Verde, Djibouti, Morocco and Tunisia also reported an annual expansion of forest cover through afforestation or natural expansion,” says the report.

Between 2015 and 2020, Morocco (11,560 ha per year) came out way on top, followed by Algeria (4,000 ha per year), Tunisia (2,100 ha per year), Carbo Verde (1,120 ha per year) and Djibouti (200 ha per year).

North Africa is dominated by the Sahara Desert, a region where 99 percent is dryland. Only 2 percent of some 725 million hectares is under forest.

Over a 10-year review period, Burundi (85,700 hectares), Morocco (67,920 ha) and Ghana (42,780 ha) topped a separate list – the 10 countries that replanted more overall acreage of destroyed forest ecosystems, between 2010 and 2020. Eswatini (12,130 ha), Rwanda (11,000 ha) and Mauritius (3,800 ha) joined that group, along with Algeria, Cape Verde and Djibouti.

A commitment to increase forest cover through the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) – a coalition of 31 African countries – has begun bearing fruits with the report estimating 625.25 million ha of forests were regenerating in Africa and 11.39 million ha had been planted each year by 2020.

“Agroforestry, woodlots and timber plantations each made up about a third of the increase in tree cover in sub-Saharan Africa (700 000 ha) in the 2011–2019 period,” says the report.

The impact of climate change made it difficult for the rising tree cover to offset the rate of forest loss that rose from 3.4 million ha per year in the previous decade, to 3.94 million ha per year.

Restoration efforts are however looking up, with Rwanda, Malawi and Nigeria beginning a new push to mobilise 2 billion dollars to increase forest cover ahead of COP27, which is scheduled to take place in Africa.

Last week, environment ministers of the three countries – Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya of Rwanda, Nancy Tembo of Malawi, and Mohammad Abubakar of Nigeria pledged to scale up the investments in land restoration projects – a move that is seen catalyzing some 15 billion US dollars of funding.

“That larger sum could begin the restoration of a potential 20 million hectares by 2026 and bring an estimated 135 billion US dollars in benefits to 40 million people,” said AFR100 in a statement.

Several donors, including the African Development Bank, the Government of Germany, the Global Environment Facility, the Bezos Earth Fund, the Global EverGreening Alliance, and the Green Climate Fund have backed the investment plan. Thirty-two countries have joined the project and pledged to restore nearly 128 million hectares since COP21 in 2015.

The report can be found at www.fao.org

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