Forests & finance: A lawsuit, an import ban, and restoring Zambian forests
  • Campaigners sue Ghana’s government to block mining of Atewa Forest biodiversity hotspot.
  • Conservationists assist a forest reserve in Zambia to restore itself.
  • Forest certification is expanding rapidly across the Congo Basin.
  • EU bans imports of products linked to deforestation.

    Campaigners sue Ghana’s government to block mining of Atewa Forest biodiversity hotspot

    Twenty NGOs and individuals are taking legal action to prevent the Ghanaian government from mining bauxite in the Atewa Forest Reserve, a biodiversity hotspot that is also the source of water for some 5 million people. “Unfortunately, we have to fight our government to protect the environment,” they wrote in a press statement.

    Atewa covers 260 square kilometers (100 square miles) of mountainous terrain 95 km (59 mi) northeast of Ghana’s capital, Accra. Around 50,000 people live in communities around the reserve, growing cacao and food crops as well as entering the reserve to gather snails, honey, and wild fruit, as well as hunt for bushmeat.

    Daryl Bosu, deputy national director of A Rocha Ghana, one of the NGOs leading the defense of Atewa, said he and others opposed to mining in Atewa recognize the opportunity that substantial bauxite deposits beneath the forests and rivers of Atewa represent but this is far outweighed by the greater value of clean water for Accra, the livelihoods of communities living near the reserve, and the rich biodiversity of the reserve. There are more than 650 plant species in Atewa’s upland forest ecosystem, which is also home to 17 species of rare butterflies, including the African giant swallowtail (Papilio Antiochus) and one of the last known populations of the critically endangered Togo slippery frog (Conraua drool).

    “Securing the forest to harness its non-extractive and green development opportunities presents [more] net long-term benefits to the Ghanaians than if converted into a mine pit,” Bosu told Mongabay by email.

    He said A Rocha, EcoCare Ghana, the Ghana Youth Environmental Movement, and the other plaintiffs had turned to the courts because regulatory bodies responsible for protecting Atewa and other environmentally sensitive landscapes have failed to act to protect them.

    A graceful chameleon (Chamaeleo gracilis).

    A graceful chameleon (Chamaeleo gracilis) in Atewa Forest. The upland forest is home to hundreds of species of flora and fauna, including many found nowhere else in Ghana. Image by Nik Borrows via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

    In 2018, Oppon Sasu, the executive director of the Forest Services Division of Ghana’s Forestry Commission at the time, said that as the source of the Birim, Densu, and Ayensu rivers, Atewa’s upland forests must be protected. “The moment we destroy the hydrology of Atewa, we are bound to face water problems and we deprive the people of access to good drinking water,” he told the Daily Graphic newspaper.

    But the following year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Minerals Commission granted a prospecting license to the government-owned company seeking to mine the reserve, Ghana Integrated Aluminium Development Corporation. Under Ghanaian law, prospecting activity affecting more than 10 hectares (25 acres) requires an environmental impact assessment: GIADEC never conducted an EIA.

    “The biggest infraction of the law and operational guidelines was allowing exploration in the forest in the first place,” Bosu told Mongabay. “National guidelines on mining forbid exploration activities in protected forest reserves in Ghana.”

    The lawsuit will run throughout February.


    Conservationists assist a forest reserve in Zambia to regrow itself

    Conservationists are assisting a degraded forest reserve in Zambia to regrow itself and boost the livelihoods of the thousands of people who surround it.

    Sybryn Maes, a Belgian researcher working with WeForest, the NGO behind the restoration work, said the 5,600-ha (13,800-acre) Katanino Forest Reserve has suffered decades of illegal wood cutting due to its proximity to roads leading to the nearby city of Ndola and the capital, Lusaka, 258 km (160 miles) to the south.

    The forest reserve has lost more than 58% of its tree cover since 2001, according to figures published by WeForest, which has been working in the reserve since 2019. Katanino is located in Zambia’s Copperbelt province, where miombo woodlands have been badly degraded. Miombo is a Swahili term used to describe the broad-leaved deciduous trees that cover much of the region and account for 70% of Zambia’s forests.

    One defining characteristic of the miombo is its ability to coppice or produce shoots from tree stumps or severed branches. Maes refers to this as “vegetative resprouting capacity.”

    It is this botanical superpower that the conservationists are harnessing at Katanino.

    “Let’s say you see tree seedlings and you want to give them a benefit by removing the herbaceous species that are using resources around that seedling. You weed them out so that the seedling gets a better chance of surviving. Or you put exclosures [around some areas] so that animals don’t come in to graze the seedlings and kill them,” said Maes.

    Assisted natural regeneration (ANR) is an underrated system of ecosystem restoration, she said. “For the general public, it is much easier to talk about tree planting for restoration and to get them excited about that.”

    Preparing indigenous seedlings for areas of Katanino that are too badly damaged to regenerate themselves. Image by Sybryn Maes.
    In areas of the reserve so severely degraded by charcoal burning or agriculture that ANR is not feasible, Maes and colleagues have been monitoring blocks to study survival rates of indigenous tree seedlings planted by hand. They are finding that some seedlings thought to have died from drought, have produced fresh shoots a year later. It’s another sign of some miombo species’ ability to regenerate.

    Community buy-in is seen as key to the success of the overall program. Community members help to co-govern the forest together with WeForest and the state forestry department through the Participatory Forest Resource Assessment Team.

    They also patrol the forest to protect it against wood poachers and are being supported with alternative sources of income from non-timber products, from honey to wild mushrooms.


    Forest certification expanding rapidly across the Congo Basin

    The Certification Commission of the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (known by its French acronym, ATIBT) Certification Commission has said that by 2025, 10 million ha (24.7 million acres) of forest concessions in the Congo Basin will be certified as sustainably managed. ATIBT, a timber industry association that promotes sustainable forestry with a focus on Africa, anticipates an additional 4.2 million ha (10.4 million acres) in Central Africa will be added to currently certified concessions.

    A February 2022 note said nearly 6 million ha in Central Africa were currently certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or under the regionally developed Pan-African Forest Certification (PAFC) standard: 2,989,168 ha (about 7.4 million acres) in Congo, 2,535,880 ha (6.3 million acres) in Gabon, and 341,708 ha (844,000 acres) in Cameroon.

    In 2018, Gabon committed to requiring all timber operators in the country to obtain FSC certification by 2022, and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 2020 forest law made forest certification mandatory.

    George Akwah Neba, Congo Basin coordinator for FSC, said certification strengthens governance, encourages sound forest management, and enhances the contribution of certified forests to addressing climate change and protecting biodiversity.

    “If governments continue to opt for forest certification,” he told Mongabay by email, “it is because evidence of studies show that forests managed under FSC certification offer better environmental protection and reduced deforestation while delivering sustainably sourced goods and services to people and the economy.”

    A Capella tree (Entandrophragma cylindricum) is being cut near Lieki in DRC. Image by Axel Fassio/CIFOR via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

    He cited a 2019 study of the Congo Basin by the French Development Agency that found that between 2000 and 2010 deforestation in concessions with forest management plans and FSC certification was 74% lower than in non-FSC concessions. Neba also pointed to research by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) that found that pay and working conditions were also better in FSC-certified forests in the region.

    But CIFOR’s project, monitoring the social impacts of FSC certification in Central Africa, also raised concerns about the protection of customary uses of forests. While farming, hunting, and collecting of non-timber products by local populations were broadly similar in both certified and noncertified forest management units that CIFOR studied, it found that communities living near or inside FSC-certified concessions said their access was constrained.

    A WWF assessment of the quality of standards in Gabon found that the PAFC, developed specifically for the Congo Basin, was strong on standards including protection of biodiversity, respect for labor and tenure rights, and rigorous chain of custody, but deficient with regards to certification and accreditation processes and entirely silent about pollution waste, and greenhouse gas emissions. Assessing FSC certification in the same country, WWF found it, too, set strong standards including environmental and forest management but was also flawed in the reduction of pollution and emissions.


    EU bans imports of products linked to deforestation

    The European Union — with 5% of the world’s population — is responsible for roughly 16% of global deforestation through its imports (mostly soy and palm oil), according to the WWF, ranking just behind China as the world’s largest destroyer of forests. But from 2023, the European Union will ban imports of products that contribute to deforestation.

    “We know that the EU is a major importer of timber and agricultural products. Legislation that involves ending the import of commodities at risk of deforestation can only be beneficial for the protection of our forests and the communities that depend on them,” said Ranece Jovial Ndjeudja, head of Greenpeace Africa’s Congo Basin Forest Campaign.

    Harvested cocoa in Cameroon.

    Cacao pods in Cameroon: cocoa is one of many forest-linked commodities African producers will now need to prove are not causing deforestation before they can be exported to the EU. Image by Bill Zimmerman via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

    The new legislation, passed in December, aims to prohibit companies from selling coffee, soy, beef, or other commodities linked to global deforestation in the European market. It will impose fines of up to 4% of the turnover of companies breaching the ban.

    For African countries, which export significant quantities of palm oil, cocoa, and rubber to the EU, the ban could represent a threat to revenue and income for those employed in the production of these forest-linked products. Ndjeudja said that African government leaders need to involve a broad range of actors, including grassroots communities who can ensure continuous monitoring on the ground and provide information necessary to meet the new requirements of the EU market.

    “The use of technology to trace the origin of commodities will be essential to ensure effective controls. Monitoring mechanisms will have to be developed and implemented for each commodity to ensure that the products to be processed are not from deforestation,” he told Mongabay by phone.

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