ECOWAS new policy framework on West African Forests
A new policy framework from ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, encourages national and local policymakers to look toward forests as sites of community building and long-term planning, as opposed to the slash-and-burn, single-use approach which has lead to so much deforestation in the past centuries and especially the most recent decades:
"In general the document proposes the need to harness the potential of forests to improve food security, and a reduction in poverty based on the plethora use of forests, the appropriate commercialisation of forests as means of integrating them into the region's economic development, the need to contribute to environmental protection is also prominent in the policy. The document also advocates the use of the private sector in the management of forests: the relevant companies are expected to provide specialized professional knowledge, including periodic impact assessment, extension services and monitoring and evaluation of the forests.
"Also, the policy package looks to the future: to promote agriculture in the degraded woodlands, protect rich biodiversity, and astute management towards the overall socio-economic development of the region. There are plans to initiate local processing from larger agricultural plantations for food exports. Drought and desertification control through soil and water conservation, reforestation and development of natural forests and woodlands, animal grazing and forests fire control are prominent in proposals made to protect the Sahel forest region
"The policy also offers a variety of implementation strategies such as the harmonisation of forest and fiscal policies, forest resource assessment , sustainable management of forests and their bio-diversity, combating desertification and soil degradation, integration of forestry and land use planning with watershed management, forest industry and trade, forest research training and extension, mechanism for financing forestry and regional cooperation and partnerships.
"These policies, programs and strategies notwithstanding, the onus still fall not just on governments but also on the people and their communities to curtail exploitative activities that hugely compromise the eco-systems in the region."
This framework offers a strong rhetorical shift, however it remains to be seen how much of a real change it will bring. As was seen with ECOWAS' broad and ambitious decades-old vision of freedom of movement within its borders that has yet to materialize, it is unclear in this case how fast the prescribed changes will come into being. An enforcement mechanism is needed and broad popular buy-in is also necessary for this to be a success. Without a strong campaign for adoption, enforcement and public education to push forward this framework around the region, it will have little concrete impact.
Sources:Center for Democracy and Development, July 2010 pg. 11: