West African countries chart a sustainable path forward with community-based forestry
The "Community-based Forestry in West Africa: The Way Forward" workshop held from October 17 to 19, 2023, in Somone, Senegal, brought together 77 experts, practitioners, and stakeholders to explore the potential of community-based forestry (CbF) in addressing climate challenges, supporting sustainable development, and preserving biodiversity in the West African subregion.
Community-based forestry had emerged as a pivotal and widely acknowledged approach in our collective efforts to attain climate objectives, with special reference to steps promoted in the framework of REDD+ process, all the while enhancing the well-being of local populations. This significance was emphatically underscored in numerous international events and declarations highlighting the indispensable role that local communities and indigenous peoples played in the grand endeavor to combat the far-reaching consequences of climate change. Their knowledge, practices, and stewardship of the environment were recognized as invaluable contributions, as they were often the first to experience the direct impacts of climate change and, simultaneously, held a deep reservoir of traditional wisdom in sustainable land and resource management.
The purpose of the workshop was to take these overarching principles and experiences as a solid foundation upon which to build. By doing so, the event aimed to further strengthen the resolve to empower and support local communities in their crucial role as environmental custodians and climate change mitigators. The workshop provided an arena for sharing best practices, fostering dialogue, and cultivating innovative solutions, all with the ultimate objective of reinforcing the collective commitment to community-based forestry as a key component in the global climate action agenda.
In West Africa, commendable efforts have been made to establish supportive legal and policy frameworks for CbF. However, these initiatives have yielded uneven results, with some countries and communities realizing the expected benefits while others are still working towards them.
Khady Fall Tall, President of West African Women Association (WAWA) / Association Des Femmes De L'afrique De L'ouest (AFAO)
Moussa Leko, Director of Environment and Natural Resources, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
In response to these disparities, it's essential to adapt and refine existing frameworks, provide targeted support to disadvantaged countries and communities, and foster collaboration among stakeholders. Achieving more equitable outcomes in CbF not only enhances local well-being but also aligns with global environmental and climate objectives. To address these challenges and fully unlock the potential of CbF, participants at the workshop outlined several key objectives:
Capitalizing on local knowledge: The workshop recognized the wealth of experience and knowledge in the subregion and emphasized the need to harness it effectively.
Identifying barriers and opportunities: Participants assessed barriers to CbF and identified opportunities for its expansion and enhancement.
Defining actionable steps: Specific actions were outlined to enable CbF to fulfill its potential, including negotiations with partners and the role of CbF in supporting protected areas.
Aligning with regional initiatives: The workshop highlighted the alignment of CbF with the ECOWAS Forest Convergence Plan (FCP) and its potential to contribute to multiple priority intervention areas within the plan.
Addressing gender equity and equality: The workshop also dedicated time to discuss and address gender-related issues within Community-based Forestry (CbF), recognizing the importance of inclusivity and equity in CbF initiatives.
Hortence NGONO Epouse NGA ONANA, African Women's Network for Community Management of Forests (REFACOF), Cameroon
Adolphe SAMA, Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Suisse, Togo
The workshop included a field visit to Popenguine natural reserve, providing a hands-on experience of community forestry practices. This visit involved a meeting with community members affiliated with the Economic Interest Group, underscoring the importance of community involvement in the initiative. Community-based ecoguards, guided the participants through the reserve, offering practical insights as well as highlighting environmental, historical, and spiritual landmarks and values of the territory.
During the visit, attendees explored key community forestry aspects, such as agroforestry, cooperative reserve management, and ecotourism. This direct exposure reinforced the workshop's discussions, making community-based forestry concepts more tangible and relatable, enhancing participants' understanding and commitment to the cause.
At the workshop's conclusion, participants engaged in an in-depth discussion on the constraints, opportunities, and priority actions concerning Community-based Forestry (CbF) in West Africa. Their deliberations were specifically focused on four key areas of work:
Policies, bureaucracy, regulatory frameworks, and tenure: Participants scrutinized the existing policies, bureaucratic hurdles, regulatory frameworks, and land tenure issues that impact CbF in the region, aiming to identify the necessary policy adjustments and legal reforms to facilitate CbF development.
Local governance and gender inclusivity: The workshop acknowledged the importance of local governance in CbF and the need to ensure gender inclusivity within these initiatives. Participants explored strategies to strengthen community-led decision-making processes and promote gender equality in CbF activities.
Technical capacities and data availability and sharing: Recognizing the significance of technical expertise and the availability of data and information, participants outlined the steps needed to enhance the technical capacities of local communities involved in CbF. They also discussed strategies for overcoming the challenges posed by a lack of data and information.
Local benefits and access to funding: To maximize the benefits accrued from CbF initiatives, participants delved into discussions on access to funding sources and mechanisms for local communities. They sought to identify ways to improve the distribution of economic gains at the local level.
The workshop brought together CbF practitioners from various parts of West Africa, including government bodies, international and national agencies, NGOs, research centers, and gender experts.
The workshop was organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), within the framework of the “Global Transformation of Forest for People and Climate: A focus on West Africa” project in collaboration with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the UN-REDD Programme, the USAID West Africa Biodiversity and Low Emissions Development (WABiLED) Program, and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
Project Officer (Programme, Advocacy and Outreach)
REDD+, Forests and Climate
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy