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March 31, 2018

Goodbye to the indigenous forests of Africa

Ilkka Norjamäki

Unless there is a drastic change in our actions, it is highly likely that in a few years we will be saying goodbye to the indigenous forests in many African countries. That is why there is a demand for sustainably managed planted forests and Finnish forest management skills, writes Ilkka Norjamäki, Forester and Investment Manager at Finnfund.

On land, deforestation is sometimes difficult to detect, but from the air it is obvious. A few years ago, I flew over the rain forests of Papua on a light aircraft. The harsh reality was clear below us: out of nowhere, there was a void of tens of thousands of hectares where a little while ago was one of the last virgin rain forests that continued almost as far as the eye could reach.

This is not just a local problem but an issue that concerns each and every one of us to an increasing extent. These forests work as the carbon sinks of the world and they are the key to controlling the climate change and provide a home to one of a kind animal and plant species as well as civilisations. The sad fate of the forests of Papua is rapidly repeating itself in the southern side of Sahara.

The bad news is that our time to save the climate and our whole planet is seriously running out. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), more than 2 million hectares of forest area disappear in Africa every year. Population growth and urbanisation as well as gentrification create more pressure to destroy the last indigenous forests standing. If farming does not become more efficient and the need for firewood is not reduced, forests will not be able to meet the needs of the ever-growing population.

Sustainable – for both environment and people – forestry is one way to combat deforestation and climate change.

For example in Africa, there are already signs showing that the harvesting of timber from sustainably managed planted forests can reduce the need to cut down indigenous forests. At the same time, the conservation principle of sustainable forestry ensures that forests and the diversity of nature are protected. For instance, protected forest area makes always at least 10%, often more, of forest areas that hold the international FSC certification for sustainable forest management.

Finland – a superpower of sustainable forestry in developing countries

In regard to sustainable forestry, Finland has a lot to give. The good news is that Finland is already a superpower of sustainable forestry in developing countries. Finland’s positive impact on the forests of developing countries exceeds the size of our country.

For example, if we consider commercial FSC certified forestry companies operating in the southern side of Sahara (excluding South Africa and Swaziland), Finnfund has funded more than 80% of them. The surface area of planted forest projects funded by us in Africa amounts to 84,000 hectares across six countries.

These forest projects plant forests for the production of timber, pylons and construction materials as well as protect valuable indigenous forests. The projects employ and train people and support remote rural communities that have fallen behind development and whose opportunities to find other work or professional training are very limited or even non-existent.

For instance, ten forestry companies directly funded by Finnfund employed 5,400 people in Africa, Latin America and Asia in 2016. 990 of these people, approximately one fifth, were women. These forestry companies typically also boost other businesses operating around them: for example, in 2016, the companies purchased local services and products worth of more than 60 million euros. Furthermore, they paid nearly 10 million euros in taxes and invested 1.2 million euros in the development of local communities. Supporting communities usually involves various development projects, such as, building water wells, organising training on farming or health care, donating seeds and seedlings, and building schools or health care centres. It all depends on the needs of the communities.

The trick in sustainable forestry is that it benefits both environment and people in the long term.

Forest management skills have had an important role also in traditional development co-operation. Through bilateral co-operation, Finland has supported small farmers, for example, in planting thousands of hectares of forest in Tanzania.

So, does this mean that Finland has done its part? Absolutely not. In fact, we need to take on an even bigger role in the sustainable forestry in developing countries. At the turn of the year, Yleisradio published a survey that said that more than 70% of Finns want Finland to take action to control the climate change even if other countries would not do so. There is a demand for Finnish forest management skills – we just have to learn to share them.

Ilkka Norjamäki
Forester and Investment Manager

To read more:
Support to smallholder tree farming relieves the pressure on natural forests in Africa
Planting seedlings is only the first stage of growing a forest

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