Improving operating standards in sustainable forest management

The SFM continues to be multi-dimensional in nature because it is being viewed as a unique and developing concept that will maintain and enhance the economic, cultural and regulating values of all types of forest and tree- resources now and in the future (FAO, 2019). In this regard, the SFM remains central in addressing Sustainable Development Goal 15 and targets 15.1 and 15.2.

It is with this understanding that deliberate efforts are being laid towards improving the operating standards of the SFM to address the challenges and opportunities in different forest types. The following subsections therefore highlight some of the key operating standards that are expected to be taken up by different actors in the forestry sector to promote SFM in tropical forests in Africa.

4.1 Criteria and indicators

SFM indicators provide a constant method to obtain information, monitor and report progress on forest management to relevant stakeholders and institutions, including governments, private and public entities, communities and researchers (Geldenhuys, 2011). In many African countries, viewpoints to tackle the ongoing over exploitation and mismanagement of forest resources have progressed significantly since the Rio Earth Declaration in 1992. The criteria and indicators (C&l) are becoming useful tools especially in reporting on the level of implementation of SFM in the context of sustainable development goals since the Rio Earth Summit (1992).

On the one hand, criteria define the critical elements against which the progress of SFM is assessed, with regard to the provisioning, regulating, protective and cultural roles of forest ecosystem. On the other hand, indicators are parameters corresponding to specific criterion to help in monitoring the status and changes of forests in measurable and descriptive terms that represent forest values (Linser et al., 2018). The C&l developed are applicable to specific region or continent or forest type such as tropical forests. Since their development, some C8(l are still operating while others are non-existent.

The ones that are operating especially for tropical forests include: the criteria and indicators of the International Tropical Timber Organization's (ITTO), covering 75% of global tropical forests, and criteria and indicators of The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for SFM of tropical forests in Southeast Asia.

It is evident that these tools have continued to provide the required support among different actors in tropical forests with the aim of improving access and quality of forest-related information, national reference framework for the expansion and adaptation of forest projects and/or policies and dialogues among decision-makers on the future of forest resources in Africa and elsewhere. The feedback received has enabled the improvement of the C&l as a mechanism of ensuring proper standards are followed on SFM. This has been especially evidenced when some C&l use top-down and bottom-up approaches. For example, the ITTO has recently emphasized on the participation of local or national actors in developing a C&l that will be applicable at the regional level. This is a good case of bottom-up approach where there is increased participation of forest-related government representatives, forest inventory experts, research and academia, private sector actors among others increasingly getting engaged on C&l processes. Africa's union member states in developing SMFPA identified good examples of C&l that can be adopted and domesticated by members in reporting the level of implementation of SFM (see extract in Box 1 below). These indicators are expected to be annexed to the SFMPA once finalized in 2020. This shows how Africa is slowly getting into best practices and standards on implementing SFM.

Box 1. Examples of C&l discussed during the development of SFMPA

  • 1. Conservation and biological diversity enhancement
  • 1.1 Extent of forest reserves and conservation areas
  • 1.2 Area lost per annum of forest ecosystem and component species
  • 1.3 Population, diversity and distribution of forest species
  • 1.4 The status of forest species (rare, endangered, threatened or extinct) and the change in number of threatened and/or endangered species
  • 1.5 Population of forest species lost in distribution range
  • 2. Enhancement of forest ecosystems health and vitality
  • 2.1 Extent of forest areas affected by diseases, local pests, wildlife, competition from alien species
  • 2.2 Forest coverage affected by fire, storm, water and wind erosion, and drought
  • 2.3 Area and percentage of forest types affected by anthropogenic and/or human-induced factors
  • 3. Maintenance and improvement of protective functions (soil and water resources) in forest management and combating desertification
  • 3.1 Extent of forest area eroded with significant flooding and erosion
  • 3.2 Area and percentage of forest land managed primarily for soil and water resources
  • 3.3 Extent of cultivated land designated for enhancing soil and water resources according to government regulations at different scales
  • 3.4 Area and percentage of forest land with compact soils or change in soil physical properties due to human interference
  • 3.5 Percentage of land area designated for conservation of protective functions in silviculture in lieu of government regulations
  • 3.6 Extent of forest areas managed mainly for the production of water, protection of watersheds, water catchment areas, and for flood control
  • 4. Maintenance and improvement of provisioning functions of all forest types
  • 4.1. Forest areas under an integrated sustainable management plan
  • 4.2. Zoning of forest land and total area for timber harvesting
  • 4.3. Monitoring of forest areas for consistent balance between growth and removal of tree products
  • 4.4. Sustainable extraction of non-wood forest products (e.g. fodder, seed, fruits, mushrooms, herbs, consumptive wildlife utilization, etc.)

Source (Linser et al„ 2018)

Currently, the contribution of the C&l for SFM has again increased in concert with the sustainable development goals and evolving global challenges. Hence, the role of the C&l to monitor, assess and report on forest environments and trends is increasingly important. Within the C&l processes, government representatives, often in partnership with the public and international organisations (i.e. FAO), have formed a cooperative framework for experts and policymakers to develop, approve and implement specific sets of regional and international C&l to evaluate sustainability of forest management. This has led to C&l processes performing a pioneering role, creating an enabling environment for related activities such as forest certification.

The activities and modalities of C&l processes are important in their leading role for the promotion of SFM activities. For instance, The ITTO's C&l processes remain active, proactively coordinating and supporting member countries representing 75% of the world's tropical forests towards the sustainable management of tropical forests. Today, indicators for SFM are again high on the political agenda and are part of the core discussions at regional, national and international forest-related processes. Thus, the interest in forest-related indicators is widespread (Wolfslehner et al., 2016). For instance, the nationally adopted ITTO's C&l has been used in Ghana for auditing forest management and in Gabon to improve concession management. However, particularly in some developing countries, due to the lack of resources, national C&l processes may not be well-developed or applied. Furthermore, following the debate about forest sustainability issues at the 2015 Climate Conference in Paris, the forestry sector has the greatest opportunities for SFM through PFM in African countries, further strengthening the role of SFM and in parallel, monitoring for carbon.

4.2 Logging concessions and biodiversity conservation

Unsustainable forest use has continuously led to biodiversity decline in Africa. The international community, through the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD), suggests that in general, the demand from agriculture and fish farming and the illegal exploitation of forests resources are among the main pressures of biodiversity in Africa. Hence, many countries are seeking to address this. For instance, the use of logging concessions in the Congo region to discourage timber industries from unsustainable forest practices, while adopting a longterm concern for conserving the forests effectively (UNEP-WCMC, 2016a). Moreover, forest concessions, introduction of certification and payment for ecosystem services schemes, and improved forests policies are some of the ways the REDD+ financing mechanism of SFM has been adopted. In Gabon and the DRC, logging concessions account for the greater portion of the national forest cover and carbon stock, making them a key element in capturing opportunities offered by the REDD+ initiatives (Bodin etal.,2015). Concessions, when effectively monitored to reduce the impact of logging, can contribute to the protection of forest ecosystems and biodiversity. These efforts would help to enhance carbon offset projects, while contributing to Aichi Biodiversity Targets (UNEP-WCMC, 2016a).

Further actions highlighted in the CBD reports are the introduction of local conservation farming (eSwatini) and organic agriculture (Egypt), and the development of guiding principles for SFM practices (South Africa). Similarly, in Burundi, Uganda, Sierra Leone and the Seychelles, sustainable forestry policies are promoted and in Malawi, afforestation practices include national tree planting days (CBD, 2015b). A strategic plan for biodiversity 2011-2020 (a ten-year framework) was adopted globally in 2010 by the parties of the CBD. The strategic plan is a declaration of the anticipated national and regional collaboration in forest management, and it consists of goals and/or mission and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. It is a fundamental call for action by all countries and stakeholders for collective management of forest resources and enhanced benefits for people.

4.3 Operating standards for payment for ecosystem services

Forest and tree-resources are now known to provide key ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, storage, absorption resulting in mitigation of greenhouse gases, protection of water for urban and rural dwellers, protection of biodiversity, provision of hydro power and genetic resources among others. These services are slowly getting quantified, valued and monetized to enhance conservation, wise use and protection of forest and tree-resources. In order to provide accurate quantity, for example, of carbon sequestered or biodiversity services, standard methods and approaches have been developed that are internationally acceptable to allow, for instance, the trade of carbon from REDD+ initiative or afforestation and reforestation in clean development mechanisms (CDMs).

The three key payment for ecosystem services (PES) options in Africa are biodiversity conservation, watershed services and carbon sequestration and storage (AFF, 2019). The biodiversity conservation PES enhances the creation of biological corridors, creation of protected areas, replanting of degraded lands with native species, removal of invasive species, conservation of areas outside protected areas and protection of agricultural biodiversity. The watershed PES aims at maintaining forest cover through reforestation, creation, restoration or enhancement of wetlands and adoption of best land-use management practices. The carbon sequestration and storage PES aim at enhancing activities on afforestation, agroforestry, reforestation, preventing forest loss and land degradation and reducing emissions in surrounding forests.

The operation of the projects and/or programmes that constitute carbon sequestration PES, for example, are subjected to predefined standards according to the premium of the carbon benefits expected to be realized. Some of these standards include Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), Climate Community and Biodiversity Standard (CCBS), Social Carbon Standard, Gold Standard and Plan Vivo-Standard (AFF, 2019). These standards are under continuous development to meet the needs and expectations of the actors involved in PES activities. They all aim for sustainable use of the resource without depletion.

Many African countries have, over the years, begun establishing and developing REDD+ preparatory national strategies, building capacity and systems for monitoring and reporting, and social and environmental protections. Many of these pilot projects are built on community-based approaches using REDD+ financing to test the efficiency of carbon payments to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. For example, in Mozambique, a systematic review of PES schemes drew evidence from quantitative evaluations of PES programmes and concluded that PES schemes had a positive effect on deforestation (see IEG, 2015, Samii et al., 2014).

Community forestry is increasingly seen as a delivery mechanism at the local level for social, economic and environmental benefits from reduced deforestation. However, to date, there does not appear to be a strong evidence base, demonstrating that conservation and poverty-reduction goals can effectively be complementary in PES programmes (Samii et al„ 2014). Thus, the SDGs highlight the essence to balance goals and possible trade-offs between reducing poverty, development and sustainable management For instance, Goal 15: 'Manage forests in a sustainable manner, combat desertification, discourage land degradation, halt biodiversity loss' and Goal 13: 'Take urgent steps to address the issue of climate change and its impact' emphasize the need for management into the international SFM framework in general, and the relevance of these goals in African countries, in particular.

4.4 Policy and legal framework related to sustainable management of tropical forests

Involving indigenous people and local communities in forest management has become a major focus in Africa. For instance, the World Bank-supported PFM programmes in Liberia outlined some of the successes and positive outcomes:

'Participatory Forestry Management projects exhibit the most balanced goals as compared to other interventions in the forestry sector. World Bank support for PFM has yielded positive livelihood benefits, such as the generation of employment, increased incomes, and diversification of revenue streams. Where specifically targeted, these projects have also achieved positive environmental outcomes such as reduced deforestation rates, regeneration of degraded forests, reduced incidence of fires, and protection of biodiversity' (IEG, 2015; World Bank Group, 2014).

It is worth highlighting that these action plans have policy and legal support through, for instance, forestry policies at all levels, SFM plans and specifically the recent forestry law and/or regulation (Geldenhuys, 2011). Findings in the forestry sector suggest that deforestation and forest management programmes, that work from the conception stage with a wide range of local stakeholders to design programmes and approaches 'from the bottom-up' (FAO, 2015a), are essential to address and overcome local obstacles and barriers to behaviour change and to bridge capacity gaps while working to improve local governance. SFM programmes need to ensure the inclusive participation of civil society groups, local people, local government authorities, women, the rural poor and traditionally marginalized groups in decision-making processes. Additionally, policy makers should ensure that SFM programmes are designed from the onset that includes indicators on inclusiveness and substantive stakeholder involvement.

In most rural areas, indigenous people who live in proximity to the forests, especially households in poverty, would continue to exploit the forest resource despite the lack of legal permission to access or use the resources. Failure to include community participation in forest management has generally meant local people have a negative disposition towards community-based conservation initiatives and the enforcement of conservation-related decisions (Obua et al., 2008).

Consequently, following the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the pressure for SFM led to the review of policies and the recognition of the vital role indigenous people play in management of forest resources in various countries (UNEP- WCMC, 2016a). Drawing upon the existing theory, it is expected that the future of the forests will depend to a large extent on whether local communities are involved in developing and adapting suitable management strategies, for instance, monitoring and resolving the conflicts that arise from the management of forest resources (Geldenhuys, 2011). PFM, therefore, appears to be one of the ways towards achieving this goal (Phiri et al., 2012) and as such has become an integral part of forest management process in Africa. For instance, Winberg (2010) and Jirane et al. (2007) reviewed the impacts of PFM to date across 27 Joint Forest Management sites covering 211 000 ha in Ethiopia and concluded that management outcomes had improved under PFM - including higher natural regeneration, reduced levels of disturbance and illegal harvesting -than state-managed forests. In Tanzania, over 4 million ha of forests are under direct management and ownership of village councils, or under PFM agreements between government and local communities, in conformity with revisions to the forest policy and legislation introduced between 1999 and 2002 (United Republic of Tanzania, 2008).

The approach to PFM developed in Guinea has subsequently been replicated in Liberia and Sierra Leone following the years of war, which resulted in the plundering of forests and other natural resources to finance the fighting. The work to develop PFM has been central in the post-conflict period towards developing governance over resources and reducing conflict among the stakeholders (Baker et al., 2003). Additionally, in Malawi, community-based forest management initiatives were founded on traditional beliefs, values and systems with a high potential for the success of PFM, as rules and norms are crafted within a local context for specific internally identified needs (Blomley et al., 2011).

The PFM process is based on including the local users in the forest management, on the one hand, for their survival and, on the other, for the success of a forest management system (Alden, 2012). In addition, some initiatives including the Tropical Forest Action Plans (TFAPs), ECOWAS Policy Framework on Forests, National Forestry Programs (NFPs), the SADC Protocol on Forests, the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF), Africa

Law Enforcement and Governance, and the United Nations Framework on Forests (UNFF) have emerged to address issues of the unsustainable use of forests in development programmes (Geldenhuys, 2011). For instance, a PFM plan to со-manage forest-protected areas with the participation of nearby communities was initiated in accordance with the reviewed National Forestry Policy of Zambia. This was anticipated to reduce the running costs, protect the ecosystem services and improve the living standards of the local inhabitants over time (Phiri et al., 2012). In addition, some other countries, have revised their management decisions to encourage the contribution of indigenous people in the protection of forests and tree resources (Chirwa et al., 2015a). For instance, in Tanzania, the Forestry Act of 2012 used the Land Act and the Community Land Act of 2009 as the platform for creating various methods of local participation (Chirwa et al., 2015a). The Tanzania Forestry Act provides for local people to со-manage government-owned forest reserves through PFM arrangements, and to establish local forest reserves, which are managed by community leadership committees (Akida and Blomley, 2006).

  • 4.5 Participatory approaches in sustainable forest management
  • 4.5.1 Stakeholder mobilization

Stakeholder discussions and involvement are viewed globally as essential to SFM. Stakeholder mobilization is the initial process by which participants are introduced to participatory systems (FAO, 2016; DWAF, 2007; see Fig. 2). It is the process of initiating the stakeholder's interest in the participation system, including the details of the entire process. For instance, mobilization can include informing people, assessing the situation, getting to understand varying interests or concerns and facilitating a positive attitude with a common objective. During this stage, local user groups can also provide detailed information about the forest resource, past and current management practices, skills and human resources in management and carry out tasks for which they are uniquely suited among other things (FAO, 2016). Most importantly, common mobilization practices must involve gaining the confidence of the people and identifying key persons (e.g. the traditional chiefs) to ensure an effective participation process. This can be useful in monitoring and making inputs on how to best manage the forest ecosystems locally.

4.5.2 Stakeholder participation

This is a process where all members - including marginalized groups such as women and the youth - actively engage and play pivotal roles in management decisions, activities and projects of the PFM process (FAO, 2016; DWAF, 2007; see Figure 2). For instance, a community-based approach in afforestation

Strategic and policy framework for participatory forest management (FAO, 2016; DWAF, 2007)

Figure 2 Strategic and policy framework for participatory forest management (FAO, 2016; DWAF, 2007).

programmes and tree care, especially where there exist problems of poor engagement of indigenous people due to poor implementation of enabling policies, lack of involvement in initial planning and subsequent unclear benefitsharing mechanisms (Tshidzumba et al., 2018; Chirwa et al., 2015a,b). Some African countries like Liberia have initiated policies that give local stakeholders a say in the resources that affect them (IEG, 2015). The aim is to improve decisionmaking during planning, design, implementation and evaluation of the PFM process. This can result in improved forest management and sustainability of all operations, as well as reduced conflicts in a long-term (DWAF, 2007). Techniques applied include face-to-face discussions, focus groups, transect walks, participatory mapping inter alia, in combination with more scientific forest assessment methods such as aerial surveys, geographic information systems (GIS), forest inventory among others.

4.5.3 Implementation

During this phase, it is suggested that entering into partnerships and agreement may be appropriate to turn plans into actions and goals and outputs achieved

(FAO, 2016; DWAF, 2007; see Fig. 2). At this stage, various initiatives such as formulating and executing projects, fund raising, and joint forest monitoring and management activities may be carried out. It is noteworthy highlighting that local inhabitants may have varying capacities for participation. This is because some people may have inadequate means of contact, might be illiterate or may need support to understand the participatory process and all that it entails. Hence, it is important to identify and work with all stakeholders, especially those whose contributions are often undervalued, that is, the women, the youth and aged people, in the communities.This could assistto identify and engage other unnoticed or marginalized stakeholder groups who use the forests in different ways or forms or have some underlying interest, in the care and management of forest resources.

Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation indicators allow for the assessment of progress of the PFM system overtime. It provides room for adjustments and improvements where and/if necessary (FAO, 2016; DWAF, 2007; see Fig. 2). Through feedback mechanisms, the participants can indicate whether the objectives specified at the beginning of the PFM plan are being achieved and outputs completed. Such feedback should flow to and from stakeholders either directly during consultations or indirectly (i.e. use of representatives). Feedback is obtained through continuous monitoring and evaluation by stakeholders and thus, allows for updating plan(s) and documenting outcomes to ensure that all issues raised are incorporated in decision-making (DWAF, 2007). This enables early strategy changes and resolves situations that could otherwise have hindered the initiative.

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