Eric Marx looks at how initiatives such as AFR100 and the Cocoa & Forests Initiative in Ghana and Côte D’Ivoire are tackling land tenure issues, food insecurity and poverty to try to stop rampant deforestation

Africa lost about 34 million hectares of its forests between 2000 and 2010. Nearly a decade later the situation is worsening as the continent's last intact rainforests in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria become increasingly fragmented.

Africa’s forests are clearly under pressure from agricultural production: rubber and especially palm oil and cocoa. Yet experts say Africa’s reforestation efforts must be seen chiefly as a developmental challenge relating to food insecurity and, in turn, smallholder farming practices and overall good governance.

If you don't secure the farmer’s land rights, there’s no motivation for investing in long-term restoration

Patrick Kipalu, a co-ordinator for the Rights and Resources Initiative’s Africa programme, says at a minimum it’s necessary to give small farmers access to micro-finance and improved seed and cultivation techniques. Above all, if you don't secure the farmer’s land rights, there’s no motivation for investing in long-term restoration.

One trend now sees governments of many African countries putting in place legal and institutional frameworks to grant recognised land tenure. Liberia’s recently passed law recognising customary rights is held up as a model.

This kind of holistic approach undergirds the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), a pan-African effort that aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded forests, and the Bonn Challenge, a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. Likewise, a massive new public-private partnership called the Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI) in Ghana and Côte D’Ivoire is said to be taking a holistic approach to working with smallholders.

CFI takes a holistic approach working with Côte D’Ivoire farmers. (Credit: Boulanger Xavier/Shutterstock)

Both are structured around reforestation and agro-ecological practices, including intercropping and other tree-planting techniques. Consequently, they could possibly stand a better chance of succeeding than the climate policy mechanism known as REDD+ (for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), which tries to measure carbon saved.

“It’s unsurprising” to move in this direction, said Simon Counsell at Rainforest Foundation UK, given the difficulty of measuring avoided deforestation. The question, he added, is whether aid agencies, civil society and the private sector are able and willing to do the long-term heavy investment. In other words, can the proper financial incentives actually reach local communities?

The AFR100 initiative, which launced in 2015, builds on previous restoration projects – the best known being the Green Belt Movement, which was founded in 1977 and has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya, and the Great Green Wall in the Sahel, which was launched in 2007.

The concept of restoration goes beyond forests

Local communities in the Tigray Region in Ethiopia are said to have restored more than 1 million hectares, while in Niger, farmers have improved food security for 2.5 million people by increasing the number of on-farm trees across 5 million hectares of agricultural land. Backers of the AFR100 cite these and other successful restoration efforts – in Rwanda, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Tanzania – for the role farmers have played in reforesting rural landscapes.

All share a recognition of farmers’ rights to land and trees. They are community-led and incorporate some form of tree-based system of agriculture that sees trees or shrubs grown around or among crops or pastureland.

“The concept of restoration goes beyond forests,” explained Tim Christophersen, a REDD+ team leader at the United Nations Environment Programme, who also doubles as the chair of the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration (GPFLR).

Securing farmer’s land rights is key to helping halt deforestation. (Credit: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock)

It aims to build on existing climate pledges made by African countries, but also provide an engine for economic growth and development, said Christophersen.

AFR activities will target smallholders, but include large-scale timber plantations for the production of fuel wood, as well as massive tree-planting campaigns aimed at restoring degraded forests.

To date, 27 countries have committed 111 million hectares to restoration, with more than $1bn in development finance and $545m in private investment secured as of the third annual partners meeting in Nairobi this past August.

For the first time we’re seeing heads of state declare protection of the environment is a primary driver of economic growth

Wanjira Mathai, chairperson of the Green Belt Movement, described the AFR100 forest restoration project as unprecedented. “We never thought we would reach 111 million hectares so quickly,” said Mathai.

But will Africa’s leaders deliver on their bold commitments? To date, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, DRC, Congo and Madagascar are said to be most advanced in identifying opportunities and development strategies that operate at scale. This kind of “landscape” approach – connecting agriculture, forest and rangelands together with watersheds – is a new way of thinking, said Peter Ndunda of the World Resources Institute (WRI), a founding AFR100 partner organisation.

A tree-planting project in Rwanda by US NGO One Tree Planted with farming co-op ARCOS Network and WRI. (Credit: Arcos Network)

Kenya, for one, has carried this approach into the highest levels of government planning. “For the first time we’re seeing heads of state declare protection of the environment is a primary driver of economic growth,” said Mathai.

Governments should continue removing barriers to restoration by making sure farmers have clear legal rights to their land and trees, she added.

African countries are also stepping up their own financial commitments. Rwanda, for example, has tripled its restoration budget over the past few years, committing to restore two million hectares by 2020, while Malawi just announced a $7m allocation for youth-led restoration implementation.

The challenge has intensified in recent years as small cocoa farmers have pushed further into protected forestlands

As for monitoring, Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda are piloting the Collect Earth tool to set vegetation baselines against which they will track implementation progress and restoration impacts. Malawi has just launched a first-of-its-kind national restoration monitoring framework. One major obstacle will be accurately monitoring smallholder efforts, said James Anderson at the WRI. Technically, the data resolution is sharp enough using near real-time satellite monitoring together with crowdsourced data.

Entrepreneurs also have a role to play in all of this, added Anderson. Small and medium-size restoration enterprises have emerged, alongside a pipeline of bankable projects that the WRI will be showcasing at a four-day event in Nairobi in December dubbed the “Land Accelerator”. (See,Growing concerns: the companies innovating to cool the planet)


Another testing ground for working with smallholder farmers has emerged in Côte D’Ivoire and Ghana, the world’s two largest cocoa-producing countries. The struggle to put these supply chains on a sustainable footing is far from new. However, the challenge has intensified in recent years as small cocoa farmers have pushed further into protected forestlands.

Rwanda has committed to restore two million hectares by 2020. (Credit: ARCOS Network)

The Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI) was signed last November by Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and chocolate and cocoa companies representing two-thirds of the supply chain. Reports vary regarding whether or not farmer engagement in several pilot programmes is progressing, however several distinctive elements have emerged that bode well for the initiative, which was brokered by Dutch non-profit IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative.

Importantly, companies such as Mondelēz International, Olam Ghana, Touton SA and Mars Inc have been working directly with governments at national, regional and district levels.

Another key attribute is the attempt to holistically meld land tenure and farmer livelihood together with forest protection.

Third, is the possibility of aligning these private sector initiatives together with REDD+ finance. Both countries have this opportunity, though only Ghana has been accepted into the pipeline of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility's Carbon Fund, meaning up to $50m in performance-based payments are on the table if these supply-chain-based initiatives can be shown to reduce emissions.

The key message is we need to provide incentives if we want farmers to join us

“The key message is we need to provide incentives if we want farmers to join us,” said Cédric van Cutsem, global operations manager for Mondelēz International’s sustainable sourcing programme, Cocoa Life.

Mondelēz, the world’s third-biggest chocolate company, is now working with local communities to map land-use zones according to the high carbon stock (HCS) methodology. That first step enabled it to directly engage community members, said Van Cutsem. That led to a pilot programme in western Cote D'Ivoire that is facilitating direct payments to 5,000 farmers alongside a growing tree-registration campaign.

Yet the most obvious solution – intercropping shade-loving cocoa plants together with select trees – is stymied by a complex set of interlinked socio-economic barriers. Cocoa farmers are sometimes pushed into the forest as they are displaced by rubber plantations and illegal gold mines, explained Van Cutsem.

Most farmers are tenants on land owned by hereditary chiefs, and until recently had no rights to income from non-cacao trees on their farms. Yet another barrier concerns the poor state of Ghanian and Ivorian farmers, who are not in a financial position to replenish their farms by chopping older cacao trees and planting new ones. They would have to commit to multiple years without a cocoa-based income before the new trees became productive.

Payment for environmental services (PES) is something that has never been tried for cocoa, said Van Cutsem. For individual farmers there’s a €1 per tree payment, with the seedling given in-kind and payments staggered over three years. Upwards of 30 trees could be typically planted on an individual plot. Where communities commit to protect a forest over a five-year period, the cash incentive is €300 per hectare conserved. For restoration the payment increases to €450. The CFI can give momentum to these and other efforts, said Van Cutsem.

Still lacking, however, is an effective national framework for traceability. Participating companies have committed that 100% of the cocoa they buy will be traceable from the farm to the first purchase point by the end of December 2019, but the initiative has yet to get all traders in the supply chain to sign up.

There has to be a complete shift in mentality, and that has to do with regulations in the countries where companies operate, but also where products are sold

Julia Christian, a forest governance campaigner at FERN, an NGO that monitors the European Union's involvement in forests, says Ghana and Côte D’Ivoire still lack an overarching land-use planning process, although “we've seen some shifting of the paradigm in terms of the deforestation debate recognising tenure rights”.

Likewise, there’s been progress on mapping cocoa farms and farmers. What’s missing, she added, is a market-driven mechanism coming from consumer countries – as already exists on matters of illegal logging. Ghana’s timber sector, for example, has been under this kind of regulatory mandate since 2009. Known as the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade agreement (FLEGT), the EU programme operates as both an independent convener, and in terms of setting common definitions and standards.

This is where the main importing European countries – France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – could play a role, said Christian.

Market-driven mechanisms are in place to counter illegal logging. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

France’s draft Duty of Care law (Le Devoir de Vigilance) on human rights due diligence could possibly include a section on “imported deforestation” and cocoa. The European Commission also recently said it will publish a proposed action plan on deforestation by March.

In the case of FLEGT, the private sector was an important partner, said Fern's Christian. “There has to be a complete shift in mentality in how to do things,” she added. “And that has to do with regulations in the country where these companies operate, but also where the product is sold.”

Eric Marx is a Berlin-based journalist covering issues ranging from green energy to sustainable sourcing, climate change and transparency. He has served as a correspondent for
ClimateWire News and as an energy reporter with Montel newswire

Main picture credit: ARCOS Network
Land rights  deforestation  REDD+  WRI  IDH  Bonn Challenge  Mondelez  Kenya  Ghana  FLEGT  Cote D'Ivoire 

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