By Plingloh Emmanuel Munyeneh
March 21 is international day of forests and it is hot in Liberia. The air condition in our office is not working but the maintenance man says nothing is absolutely wrong with the machine. He wipes the sweat from his forehead and says “don’t you all know that the country has been extremely hot since this month”? We glanced at each other and agreed that the heat is on.
It has often been quoted that forest is not defined as the concentration of trees but rather the communities that live around the forested areas. The reason is that there is a mutual relationship between the trees and the people as this serves the basis for bringing man into harmony with nature. Not is that only the case, but as humans and especially those that reside around and rely on forest and forest-related product for sustainable livelihood, the onus is on them to serve as stewards and guardians of nature.
Forests play host to a variety of biodiversity and ecosystems sustainability. From the tiny insects that hovers around rotten carcasses to chimpanzees that are now going into extinction due to anthropogenic activities. Forests serve as a center of freshwater purification, supplying millions if not billions of rural poor that lack access to safe drinking or pipe borne water. Forests play an essential role in the production of food for humanity as well as other species that seek refuge under their covers.
But today, as the world stands, there is a serious threats to forest and its biodiversity and ecosystems services. Economic transformation, whether with equity or not is vastly responsible for the depletion of forests and other natural resources. The constructions of new homes as a result of increasing population, roads and other economic activities such as commercial logging and commercial agriculture are seriously undermining the integrity of forest worldwide, and this is especially visible in developing countries.
Statistics from 2000 show that 32.8% of Liberia’s landmark was covered with forest, with 4.1% accounting for pristine or primary forest, the real hub of biodiversity. The report suggests that since 1990 to 2005, Liberia has lost 22.3% of its forest basically from deforestation. The negative implications of losing forest cover are enormous within the framework of the environment. Deforestation could lead to biodiversity loss, extinction of species including plants that are used for medicinal purposes.
Additionally, loss of forest cover has a huge implications for climate change with all of the attending negative consequences that follow. Under the business as usual (BAU) scenario, the world is expected to face 40% of global water deficit. On average, Liberia may not be a likely victim in the short run simply because it is assumed that the country has 40-42% of the Equatorial Guinea Rain forest. However, if nothing is done, the long run implications could be severely harmful towards the achievement of the sustainable development goals.
Climate change vulnerability as a result of deforestation is also posing serious threats to the agriculture and health sectors. Farmers in Liberia – from Bong to Grand Gedeh are in a state of climatic uncertainty in relations to when and what to plant. Few adaptation interventions such as multi-cropping, integrated pest management, low land farming by the FAO in collaboration is Ministry of Agriculture are less likely to be sustainable as long as forests remain under threat.
As Braulio Ferreira De Souza Dias, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity puts it in her speech on International Day of Forests: “Forests play an important role in both adaptation and mitigation of climate change, as they provide local ecosystem services relevant for adaptation as well as the global ecosystem services of carbon sequestration, relevant for mitigation. They help protect against natural hazards such as landslides, help reduce soil erosion and provide short term relief efforts and long term recovery and prevention of future disasters”.
Conservation strategies to mitigate the negative impacts of deforestation need to be consolidated in a harmonized manner. Efforts by Conservation International, the World Bank and other international organizations to set aside an appreciable portion of Liberia’s forests through Protected Area Network (PAN) mechanisms need to be blended with the right policy approach that considers the participatory views and well being of indigenous groups, especially by mainstreaming gender.
Additional efforts by the European Union under the Forestry Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (F-LEGT) must be pro-poor sensitive so that indigenous groups can buy in and support such initiatives. Recent support by the Norwegian government under a Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Land Degradation (REDD+) framework is also laudable, except that the conditionalities set may see a slow pace implementation process- call for capacity upgrading.
At these global conferences on environment and development, developed countries have always called on developing countries to develop strategies to mitigate the impacts of green house gas emissions. Subsequently, developing countries including China have called for support towards adaptation activities for the agriculture sector as well as transfer of technology among other demands.
In this regard, developing countries have figuratively interpreted the position of developed countries as: “dried meat is sweet, but what will we be eating until the meat gets dried”. The ideal concept behind this quote is that developed nations want developing nations to reduce the level of stress on the forest so as to mitigate the impacts of global warming. But developing countries have contended that what will they be paid in return for keeping their forest standing since in fact developed nations have used their forest for infrastructure and other economic development centuries ago.
Overall, the indicators are changing and the numbers are dropping for Liberia and other developing countries. The notion that Liberia has 42% of the Equatorial Rainforest is fast becoming an chimera as the country is losing close to 1.72% of its forest cover annually. The weather pattern is changing and deforestation could be the chief reason next to shifting cultivation. So with all of these international interventions ,it is expected that responsible national actions will be taken to mitigate the alarming rate of deforestation. One that requires a successful forest dialogue which incorporates local and indigenous knowledge. And certainly, one that requires science based evidence and policy interface.
Plingloh Emmanuel Munyeneh can be reached at email@example.com