- An agroforestry initiative in a cocoa-growing community on Cameroon aims to prevent the expansion of cocoa farms into the nearby forest while also providing additional income to farmers.
- A community effort in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province is restoring the region’s mistbelt forest that’s home to the iconic Cape parrot, and since 2011 has planted 52,000 trees while allowing participants, mostly women, to earn a living.
- A program meant to ensure the legality of timber in Gabon’s supply chain was briefly suspended between March and April over what the government says was missing paperwork — a justification that proponents have called into question.
- Forests & Finance is Mongabay’s bi-weekly bulletin of briefs about Africa’s forests.
Cameroon cocoa growers plant fruit trees to slow forest conversion
Cocoa farmers in part of Cameroon’s Centre region have begun planting fruit trees alongside their cocoa trees. Agroforestry promoters hope additional income from the sale of this supplementary harvest will help protect the nearby Ntui Community Forest from further expansion of cocoa plantations.
Divine Foundjem Tita, a researcher with the International Center for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) which is a partner in this agroforestry project, told Mongabay that following a recent inventory in 2023, cocoa farmers had taken over 60-65% of this community forest established in 2008.
“Survival instincts and pressure from the migrant population settling in the area are the reasons farmers have pushed forward for expanding into the forest,” Tita said.
In April 2022, Netherlands-based IDH, which works to promote and leverage finance for more sustainable production and trade of commodities like cocoa, along with ICRAF and Telcar, the local presence of agriculture commodity giant Cargill, launched a project to encourage farmers here to plant trees that could produce other valuable fruit on their existing cocoa plantations, instead of expanding into new areas of the forest.
The agroforestry initiative is only one component of a wider effort that will also try to improve sustainable cocoa-growing practices and productivity, map high-conservation-value areas in what remains of the community forest, and monitor carbon storage with a view to eventually earning income from carbon credits for both forest and plantations.
“The whole idea of promoting agroforestry around the Ntui Community Forest area is to intensify — increase the production of cocoa — so that farmers would no longer encroach into the community forest … [to] use agroforestry to limit the expansion of cocoa into the existing community forest,” Tita said.
The project provides farmers with seedlings and helps them to nurse, transfer and plant fruit trees, including avocado, orange, njansang (Ricinodendron heudelotti) and wild mango (Irvingia gabonesis).
“Farmers make more money from the hectare when the tree are integrated rather than expand to have more land for cocoa,” Tita said. Working alongside IDH Cameroon’s staff, ICRAF technicians have held meetings on the importance of conserving the forest with farmers organized into the Kombé Yallongo and Bikong Community Association. ICRAF is also helping farmers at Ntui develop nurseries so the association’s members can continue to plant fruit trees after the project ends in 2024.
Cape parrot raises profile of South Africa’s threatened mistbelt forests
A South African conservation group is enlisting local community members to grow trees to restore high-altitude mistbelt forests that are home to the threatened Cape parrot (Poicephalus robustus).
Since 2011, residents of three rural communities in and around the Hogsback area have raised more than 52,000 trees — including outeniqua yellowwoods (Afrocarpus falcatus), red currants (Searsia chirindensis) and white stinkwoods (Celtis africana) — in nurseries supported by the Cape Parrot Project (CPP) and its partners.
More than a century of selective logging for valuable hardwood timber has depleted the Eastern Cape’s Amathole Mountains of mature yellowwood trees with the natural cavities in which the parrots like to nest. The forests remain susceptible. A study published last year by CPP scientists found that 32% of trees considered potential nest trees were also potential candidates for harvesting.
The CPP planted at least 5,000 trees last year at sites in the Hogsback area in Eastern Cape province; another 10,000 will be planted this year. In addition to tree planting, the project also promotes management of non-native vegetation. CPP teams have planted seedlings in degraded areas of forest, including places overrun by invasive species like the black wattle (Acacia mearnsii).
“When our planted trees get strong enough and can handle the sun, then we’ll ringbark [girdle] the big [invasives] and take them down,” said Susan Wishart, project coordinator for the CPP.
Income earned by 48 community members working on the project has helped them sustain their families in this economically deprived area.
After months of work collecting seeds and raising seedlings, participants at the Isikhululweni nursery, on the outskirts of Hogsback, saw the fruits of their labor toward the end of last year when they earned their first payments.
It was a significant moment for the team, almost all of them women. “They are now the breadwinners in their homes,” Wishart said.
Mistbelt forests, which span much of eastern South Africa, are vital water catchment areas and carbon sinks. Cape parrots, handsome green birds with vivid orange wing patches, can serve as a flagship species for their conservation.
BirdLife South Africa’s decision to designate the parrot as its bird of the year raised the profile of the species, whose numbers have dwindled to fewer than 1,800 in the wild, while encouraging investment in the conservation of their mistbelt forest ecosystem, said Clare Padfield, research assistant with the CPP.
“It’s much better to have a very charismatic species and have that stand for the protection of the whole habitat,” she said. “It’s a big win, from my perspective.”
Certification of timber in Gabon wobbles
The government of Gabon briefly suspended a program meant to ensure the legality of the timber supply chain in the country, citing missing paperwork. The program has since been restored, but proponents of the program have questioned the justification for the suspension.
“Every day, about 30 logging trucks enter the Nkok [Special Economic Zone], but because of the suspension of our program, we are not able to know whether the origin of the timber is certified and less illegal,” said Marc Ona Essangui, executive secretary of Brainforest, an NGO which is part of the team implementing TRACER, shortly after the timber tracing and verification program was suspended.
TRACER has since been restored, but the reasons for the brief suspension of this important program, which ensures that timber entering the zone is properly documented as having come from sustainable operations in the forest, remains unclear.
On March 7, Gabon’s forestry ministry announced it was missing required administrative documents for TRACER. But in an interview with Mongabay, Essangui said claims of missing paperwork were unfounded.
“If this were the case,” he told Mongabay, “it would mean that it took them five years to notice these irregularities, even though we are located in the same building as the Water and Forestry Department.”
He added that the Gabon Special Economic Zone, which manages the Nkok SEZ, took the lead in discussions with the ministry and the suspension was eventually lifted on April 21. The ministry did not make the reason for the lifting public.
The Nkok SEZ, a partnership between the Gabonese government and private timber companies not far from the capital Libreville, was set up in 2010 to support domestic processing of timber for export, following a ban on the export of unprocessed logs. The zone’s administration decided to entrust tracing of timber to an independent body.
Since TRACER began its work in 2018, the number of operators bringing raw logs into the zone has fallen from 100 to around 40, as many timber companies failed to meet the standards for traceability.
Tracing of timber entering the zone is necessary to prevent the processing of illegally harvested wood in the Nkok SEZ. TRACER’s work guarantees that all timber processed here can be traced to its origins in forests in the hinterland, Essangui said.
Leocadia Bongben, Lawon Olalekan, and Ryan Truscott contributed to this bulletin.
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