Forest and woodland resources in Central Africa are an important environmental resource that can play a central role in economic development. Owing to its vastness, the protection of this resource is not only significant to the countries within the sub-region, but also to the rest of Africa and the world (WWF 2005). Central African forests and woodlands play a crucial role in carbon sequestration. The full costs of deforestation for the sub-region are not completely understood. Deforestation has multiple negative impacts: it threatens biodiversity, water and energy resources, and contributes to trace-gas emissions. It may contribute to changes in ecosystem function including biogeochemical cycles and climate patterns through altering local rainfall and hydrological processes, and desertification. The degradation of vegetation cover has caused some parts of Central African countries that were previously under forest to change to savannah grasslands and degraded savannah (WCMC 1992). It will also have direct economic costs including the loss of future wood for forest industry and loss of biological diversity. The current and future state of the Congo basin forest reserves will reflect the overall environmental health in the sub-region, and will affect the development opportunities available.

This resource, however, is under threat from a variety of socioeconomic factors. Deforestation in the sub-region is closely tied to demographic conditions; the highest levels of deforestation have occurred in countries with higher population growth rates and higher population densities (FAO 2005b). Human settlement and economic activities result in infrastructural development (roads), increased agriculture, bush fires, overharvesting of timber and NTFPs; all these activities impact on environmental change. Chapter 6: Forests and Woodlands presents an overview of how forest cover is changing in Central Africa, and the most important drivers of this change. As discussed in Chapter 12: Environment for Peace and Regional Cooperation, conflict and poor governance have exacerbated environmental change, and improved cooperation offers important opportunities for environmental sustainability and expanding the range of available opportunities.

Figure 14: Priority areas for conservation Since AEO-1, there have been several conservation-focused initiatives that have significantly contributed to forging a new vision within the Congo basin on development and implementation of transboundary conservation programmes. Some of these initiatives give snapshots of scenarios presented at the time. The main milestones have been:

  • A strategic plan called the “Plan de Convergence” for the implementation of the Yaoundé Declaration was finalized and endorsed by the Central Africa Forests Commission (COMIFAC). This involved the compilation of the different action plans identified by the member states. Priority activities were later identified from the Plan de Convergence.
  • Sustainable financing of conservation work has become a priority for Central African governments and partners.
  • The Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) was launched to help conserve 29 protected areas, and promote sustainable forestry and community-based conservation in 11 priority landscapes spanning the Congo basin. Figure 14 shows areas of conservation importance.

The following scenario exercises help make an assessment of how future trends may be affected by policy choices.