News / Africa

African Rainforests Continue to Face Challenges

Joe DeCapua

The African continent contains about 30 percent of the world’s global rainforests, second only to the Amazon. Scientists and conservationists met at Oxford University to discuss changes the forests are expected to undergo in the 21st Century.

Africa’s tropical forests face challenges from deforestation, hunting, logging and mining, as well as climate change.

“Climate change is a major issue for much of the world, but for Africa, in particular. And there’s much interest and concern around Africa’s forests, which is the second largest area of tropical forest in the world after the Amazon forest. And yet there’s been very little synthesis of the research that’s there. There’s much less known about both climate and forest and people and there interaction in Africa compared to many other regions of the world,” said Yadvinder Malhi is a professor of ecosystems science at Oxford University and director of Oxford’s Center for Tropical Forests.

He said the conference brought together experts in climate change, ecology, social sciences, economics, anthropology and archeology to discuss Africa’s rainforests.

“They’re important at an international level for many reasons. They hold a large amount of carbon. They seem to be absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, which is slightly slowing down the rate of climate change. In the case of Africa, the recycling of water. So water that falls in the Congo region gets taken up in the roots of trees and evaporated back into the atmosphere where it forms clouds and new rain,” he said.

The clouds that form over the Congo Basin actually have long range effects on water supplies and weather patterns in parts of Asia and even North America.

West and Central Africa

There’s a big difference between the forests of the Congo Basin and West Africa. Malhi says there’s been extensive deforestation in West Africa. Much of the land has been cleared for agriculture over the last 20 to 30 years.

“When we look at the Congo Basin we see a very different situation. That’s an area that is at the moment almost all intact forest and has had relatively low rates of deforestation. And the reasons why those rates have been low are varied from country to country. But in the largest area, the Democratic Republic, it’s been political instability and poor infrastructure linked to that instability that has meant that this large forest reserve has not currently really faced very heavy pressure, at least compared to forests of Asia or the Amazon,” Malhi said.

However, he said that could change with new investment and infrastructure and expansion of industrial scale plantations.

About 3,000 years ago, the Congo forests were affected by natural climate drying. Forests retreated and were replaced by grasslands.

“At the same time, around two and a half thousand years ago, Iron Age humans settled in much of the forest, cleared it with axes, with iron axes. And then they had a population collapse around a thousand years ago and the forest regrew. And this is quite a different history from the history we see in the Amazon rainforest, where there’s been pretty continuous forest over human history and earlier. And also where there was human impact it was not with iron instruments. There was no Iron Age in the Amazon,” he said.

The combination of natural climate drying and the wide scale felling of trees resulted in fewer species of trees compared to other tropical forests. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“The species that are left seem to be relatively resilient to a large extent. They can recolonize disturbed areas quite quickly. They can spread quite quickly, regrow quite quickly. So if one area gets deforested, you can still find the species elsewhere,” he said.

Food Security

Modern day deforestation is often done to make room for agriculture. The U.N. says by 2050 the world population is expected to rise to nine billion. That means a much greater demand for food. But the Oxford professor says there are ways of meeting that demand that do not require widespread deforestation. One of them is making current agricultural land much more productive.

“Much of agriculture in Africa is of very low productivity. Very low inputs of fertilizers and nutrients. You could have the current agricultural output of the Africa tropical forest region in 40 percent of its current agricultural land, leaving 60 percent of the land available for forests if the agriculture was intensified. So, it’s not a simple tradeoff between more food means more land and therefore less forests,” he said.

Malhi says once all the information from the conference is analyzed, recommendations will be made to governments, U.N. agencies and others. They’re expected to include proposals for protecting remaining rainforests, better land management for agriculture and new research into the effects of climate change.

The conference ran from January 4-6.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs