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Forests & finance: Protection and restoration in Cameroon and Senegal, fire threat in Angola

  • A new project aims to reform Cameroon’s domestic timber market and reduce unregulated felling of trees.
  • Scientists fear pockets of species-rich afromontane forest in Angola’s Namba Mountains will be lost if uncontrolled fires continue.
  • A Senegalese association is protecting and restoring southern Senegal’s tree cover by establishing community forests.
  • Forests & Finance is Mongabay’s bi-weekly bulletin of briefs about Africa’s forests.

‘New world’ in Angola’s relic forests threatened by fires: scientists

NAMBA MOUNTAINS, Angola — Remote pockets of species-rich afromontane forest in Angola’s Namba Mountains will be lost if nothing is done to stop uncontrolled fires that threaten to destroy them, scientists warn.

These forests are believed to be relics from a time when the habitat was more widespreadduring the earth’s glacial cycles, the last of which ended 10,000-12,000 years ago, said Martim Melo, a researcher at the University of Porto’s Research Center in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources.

Afromontane forests similar to those in the Namba range in the Cuanza Sul province of west-central Angola can also be found more than 2,000 kilometers away, on mountains in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, among others.

Swierstra's spurfowl. Image by Zieger M via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
The relic forests on Angola’s Namba Mountains are home to 90 bird species, including the threatened Swierstra’s francolin spurfowl. Scientists surveying the area recently discovered nine new animal species previously unknown to science. Image by Zieger M via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Nearly 90 different species of bird live in the Namba forests. These include a healthy population of the Swierstra’s francolin (Pternistis swierstrai), a partridge-sized bird with black and white plumage listed as endangered on the IUCN’s Red List of threatened species.
Over an 11-day expedition to the forests last May, the scientists found at least nine animals new to science, including two rodents, three bats, two pygmy toads, a frog and a dragonfly.

“There are new things still to be discovered,” said Melo. “It’s a whole new world in there.” But only total around 700 hectares (1,729 acres) of forest are left atop Namba and nearby Mount Moco. They are considered to be the most isolated in the region, and are currently unprotected. Melo and 12 colleagues recently wrote a letter to the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, describing the forests as “the most-threatened habitat in Angola”.

The fire threats have been compounded by human population growth, Melo told Mongabay. The Namba forests create cool, moist microhabitats and are essentially fireproof when intact, he explained. They are surrounded by a belt of plants that don’t burn easily during the periodic fires that sweep through surrounding grasslands.

What’s happening now, however, is that regular uncontrolled burning of those grasslands by a growing number of farmers means that these protective plants can’t recover. Their seed banks are being lost, and the plants are struggling to regenerate.

“What we are afraid of is getting to your typical tipping point where the forest is no longer fireproof,” he said. “They can disappear very quickly if there is no control of the fire frequency, and the fires get into the forest so often.”

Melo and colleagues are proposing that the Angolan government provide funds for the protection of the Namba forests, or allow for a private purchase of the land by a conservation charity with the support of surrounding communities.

“The priority, I’d say, is to create a protected area, where the community can be involved,” Melo said. “But it needs to be done now. If we wait 5-10 years, maybe the forests will no longer be there.”

Planting trees in Diouloulou, Ziguinchor region, Senegal. Image by Lawon Olalekan for Mongabay.
Forests in southern Senegal have been heavily damaged by illegal timber harvesting. A local association is re-planting valuable trees in ten community forests in the Ziguinchor region. Image by Lawon Olalekan for Mongabay.

Community forests support recovery of valuable woodlands in southern Senegal

BIGNOMA, Senegal – Residents of Diouloulou, in the Ziguinchor region of southern Senegal, have planted more than 150,000 trees since the beginning of this year, according to Paul Abib Sagna, coordinator of the Association for Support to Peace and Development Initiatives. Since its launch in 2007, the association has developed ten community forests to support recovery of tree species vital to the people of the region.

“The community forests are sites identified by local people and then protected by members of the association and partners in Senegal and abroad, » Abib Sagna said. “These sites are essential to work and quality of life for people in this region and our role is to provide each person with the necessary means to take care of them.”

In each community forest, scarce species are favored for reforestation, fruit trees or medicinal plants for example. “Rosewood is also promoted by the association. In each community forest, one can find hundreds of these trees and the association makes sure that it does not fall into the hands of mafiosi [illegal timber traders] who sell it to foreigners.”

Abib Sagna’s association was set up to help people affected by long-running conflict in the Casamance region. The region’s forests have suffered extensive degradation, and access to resources from remaining woodlands pits communities against each other and further endangers the environment.

In a recent press statement, Baïdy Ba, the director of Senegal’s Water and Forests Ministry, suggested that 9,146 ha of forest in the region was reforested in 2022. But former environment minister Haïdar El Ali says that despite numerous policy initiatives , the threats to forests in Casamance — the most forested area in the south of the country — remain very high, principally because of trade in timber.

El Ali, an ecologist and former head of the Great Green Wall project, says this Association for Support to Peace and Development Initiatives’s reforestation project should be copied throughout the country. “If you want people to invest in reforestation, you have to encourage them to plant species that allow them to live.”

Artisanal timber producers in Cameroon. Image by Mokhamad Eldiadi/CIFOR via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.o)
Much of the timber in Cameroon’s domestic market is felled without permits in the 2.6 million hectares of forest management units across the country that lack forest management plans. Image by Mokhamad Eldiadi/CIFOR via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

New project to support Cameroon produce legal and sustainable timber

A new project in Cameroon, ASP-Green Pact, aims to create local jobs and reform a domestic timber market currently dominated by unregulated and unsustainable untenable timber production.

According to monitoring by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), an intergovernmental body set up to sustainably exploit tropical forests, only 27% of timber sold in Cameroon’s domestic market comes from formally-recognized sources.

This means that every year over 600,000 cubic meters of timber is harvested and sold by tens of thousands of small operators with little or no regulation — much of this wood is cut down with no permits in the 2.6 million hectares of forest management units across the country that lack forest management plans. (Just 3.25 million of Cameroon’s 6.4 million hectares of forest management units are “legally certified”, meaning regarded as operating in compliance with forestry laws. Around 340,000 ha of forest is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.)

According to a press release, Green Pact, funded by the European Union, will help domestic timber companies formalise their operations, and help reorient the domestic timber market towards legal timber. The project will offer support to domestic producers to formalise their operations.

Bonaventure Nteukam, a technical assistant at the Groupement de la filiere bois du Cameroun, a timber industry association, says one reason the domestic market is dominated by timber from doubtful sources is because wood harvested in line with forestry laws is more expensive, subject to taxes at the same rate as timber destined for export.

He told Mongabay that the price of legal wood needs to be competitive with timber from dubious sources in the artisanal market.

Audio: Exploring a hidden rainforest on an isolated mountain in Mozambique

Leocadia Bongben, Lekan Olalekan, and Ryan Truscott contributed to this report.


Powell, L. L., Vaz Pinto, P., Mills, M. S., Baptista, N. L., Costa, K., Dijkstra, K. B., … Melo, M. (2023). The last Afromontane forests in Angola are threatened by fires. Nature Ecology & Evolution. doi:10.1038/s41559-023-02025-9

Banner image: Artisanal loggers in Cameroon. Image by Mokhamad Eldiadi/CIFOR via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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