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Forests & Finance: A road project, food baskets, and unique wildlife

Gura Ferda expedition, Ethiopia, May-June 2022. Image courtesy Christophe Bernier.

Gura Ferda expedition, Ethiopia, May-June 2022. Image courtesy of Christophe Bernier.

  • An environmental impact study warns that a planned highway between the Senegal cities of Dakar and Saint Louis would lead to nearly 400,000 trees being cut down in two forest reserves along the route.
  • In Zambia, a study shows that households are heavily reliant on forest foods, which leaves them vulnerable to food insecurity as forest loss increases in the country.
  • Researchers hoping to create a new protected area for southwest Ethiopia’s Gura Ferda forest, have highlighted a rich and unique biodiversity following an expedition to the area.
  • Forests & Finance is Mongabay’s bi-weekly bulletin of briefs about Africa’s forests.

DAKAR — The construction of a highway linking the Senegalese capital, Dakar, to Saint Louis, the principal city in the north of the country, will encroach heavily on forest reserves, according to an environmental impact study.

Researchers from Leadership, Equity, Governance and Strategy for Africa (LEGS-Africa), a civil society group working on overlapping political, economic, and cultural issues, say the project poses a danger to the water table in several areas along its 200-kilometer (120-mile) route. The group says the road will also claim more than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of farmland and 3,500 hectares (8,600 acres) of residential land.

Nearly 400,000 trees will be cut down in the Rao and Pire Goureye forest reserves, according to the environmental impact study.

Communities that will be affected by the project held a general assembly at the end of September to condemn the approach adopted by the authorities and the amount of compensation they’ve been offered.

“Socially, the project will lead to the disappearance of several villages in the Saint-Louis department. Economically, thousands of people will lose their places of work because the highway runs through them,” said Ousmane Ndiaye, spokesman for 1,300 affected families.

“The project will certainly lead to a significant reduction of already limited local forest reserves in the affected areas concerned, so if it’s not possible to cancel it, the solution will be to reforest the areas with fast-growing tree species at the same time as construction,” said Mansour Ndiaye, president of the association Afrique Verte et Fertile au Sénégal.

Construction is scheduled to start by the end of this year, according to Senegal’s minister for infrastructure, Mansour Faye. Mor Gueye Gaye, director general of the national road agency, Ageroute, said he expected the highway will be completed in June 2025.

Pirogues in the water, with the sun setting over the city of Saint-Louis, Senegal in the background. Image by Gabriel de Castalaze via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND-2.0)
Saint-Louis, Senegal: a new highway linking this northern city to the capital, Dakar, will encroach on forest reserves and displace as many as 1,300 households from their farms. Image by Gabriel de Castalaze via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND-2.0)

Heavy reliance on forest foods leaves Zambians at risk as deforestation spreads

LUSAKA — Zambians collect at least 84,000 metric tons of wild food from the country’s forests each year — a key source of nutrition that’s under threat from the ongoing loss of forests, researchers say. They warn that deforestation, the loss of biodiversity caused by urbanization, expanding agriculture, and charcoal production will likely have a negative impact on households struggling against food insecurity.

Ashley Steel, of the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization, together with colleagues surveyed 209 households in five provinces across three different ecological regions of Zambia. They found all but one household collected wild food.

The survey team measured the size of the collecting containers used by each household. Based on the amounts collected in the study sites, the team estimated Zambians fill 12 million 20-liter (5.3-gallon) buckets with wild food gathered from forests each year — a total of at least 238,000 cubic meters (62.9 million gallons).

Mushrooms, green leafy vegetables and fruit from trees such as masuku (Uapaca kirkiana) and mobola plum (Parinari curatellifolia) are popular, but so are caterpillars, nuts, tubers and small mammals like mongooses and mice.

The study, published recently in People and Nature, found that collection of wild food isn’t only done by poor households; wealthy ones also depend on it. It enriches starch-based diets with vitamins and minerals.

“The high volumes of wild foods collected were not a surprise but the ubiquitousness of collection and the diversity of species and foods collected, even by individual households, was particularly interesting,” Steel said.

Around 60% of Zambia is still forested. But the Southern African country lost more than 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) of forest from 2000-2020, according to Global Forest Watch. As forests are degraded, the yield of wild foods drops and people are forced to spend longer searching for them.

“We asked community members about observed trends in wild food availability; most people reported that wild food abundance has been declining,” Steel told Mongabay. “Whether there is a threat of disappearance altogether is unclear but there are certainly already concerns about low availability currently of some foods and about future supply.”

She and her co-authors are calling for wild foods to be considered integral to the protection, restoration and use of Zambia’s forests. “In this way, we can ensure both the availability of these foods into the future and access to these foods by local communities,” Steel said.

Two cracked yellow containers balanced on a large basket, all full of matobo, a spherical brown-skinned forest fruit that is popular with Zambians. Image courtesy Ashley Steel.
Azanza garckeana, known locally as matobo, is an indigenous fruit popular with Zambians. Image courtesy Ashley Steel.

In a separate paper, the authors show how important wild fruits are for Zambians’ diets: they accounted for 80% of total fruit intake.

“If forests in Zambia were to disappear, the impacts on diets could be devastating,” the research team notes in the paper published by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). “Forest management that promotes reforestation and restoration, including food trees or land access provisions, could improve diets particularly for rural people.”

Bid to protect Ethiopian forest points to region’s unique biodiversity

GURA FERDA, Ethiopia — An expedition aiming to win protected status for one of the most important forests in East Africa has revealed an ecological haven that’s home to species found nowhere else.

Ecologist and protected area specialist Julian Bayliss, who has spent more than three decades working in forest environments across Africa, said the 40,000-hectare (99,000-acre) Gura Ferda forest in southwest Ethiopia stands out.

“It is the most important forest in Ethiopia, if not the East African region, as it is a rare example of such a forest in its size and condition,” Bayliss said, following his return from the recent expedition to the forest near the border with South Sudan. “It’s one of the most intact Afromontane forests I have visited.”

By some estimates, wet forests contain up to 80% of terrestrial biodiversity. Afromontane forests, which are part of this group, are also very old, which gives rise to speciation, endemic species, and unique sites of biodiversity.

“We already know it is home to a suite of Ethiopian endemic species of birds, amphibians, and reptiles,” Bayliss said. “A small mammal survey should reveal more endemic species once undertaken. These Afromontane habitats are known to be rich in biodiversity and endemic species, and an area as large as this one will be no exception.”

The forest lies midway between Gambella and Omo national parks, providing a corridor for animals to move between the protected areas. Despite its unique characteristics, biodiversity, and importance for local wildlife, Gura Ferda itself is not formally protected.

Working in collaboration with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA), Bayliss led an expedition there in May and June to collect data in the hope of creating a new protected area. During and after the trip, he said, he came to think that the correct model here would be a community conservation area based on the strong stewardship and sustainable livelihoods gained by the local community of and from the forest.

Giving the forest formal protection as a community conservation area would ensure that local communities, especially the Indigenous Sheko who are the majority in the area, would be able to continue to protect it.

Gura Ferda expedition, Ethiopia, May-June 2022. Image courtesy Christophe Bernier.
Read more about the recent survey of Ethiopia’s Gura Ferda forest. Image courtesy of Christophe Bernier.

Lawon Olalekan, Ryan Truscott, and Ed Holt contributed to this bulletin.


Steel, E. A., Bwembelo, L., Mulani, A., Siamutondo, A. L., Banda, P., Gumbo, D., … Ickowitz, A. (2022). Wild foods from forests: Quantities collected across Zambia. People and Nature, 4(5), 1159-1175. doi:10.1002/pan3.10367

Ickowitz, A., Bwembelo, L., Mulani, A., Siamutondo, A. L., Banda, P., Gumbo, D., … Steel, E. A. (2021). Collection and consumption of wild forest fruits in rural Zambia. CIFOR Infobriefs, 324. doi:10.17528/cifor/008086

Banner image: Gura Ferda expedition, Ethiopia, May-June 2022. Image courtesy Christophe Bernier.

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