Africa’s Commitment To Policy, Process And People To Protect Forests And Livelihoods

By Abraham Baffoe, Global and Africa Director, Proforest

As we approach CoP27, African governments, as guardians of some of the most diverse tropical forests in the world, recognise their duty to the continent’s nature, its people, as well as the climate.  

The Tropical Forest Alliance African Palm Oil Initiative (APOI) regional agreement was the first of its kind in Africa for agricultural commodity production. The principles laid out in the Marrakesh Declaration on Responsible Palm Oil Development in Africa, signed at CoP22 (2016) acknowledge the role of agricultural commodity development as a driver of deforestation, and then commits governments to a set of shared principles for sustainable development of palm oil. 

Implementation of the commitments through APOI over the last six years has led to significant progress in ten countries in West and Central Africa that account for 25% of the world’s tropical forest and 75% of Africa’s forests including the Congo Basin, absolutely critical for regional and global climate stability. Marked at CoP26, to observe five years of the Marrakesh Declaration, these include establishing governance for international investment; inclusion of marginalised groups and protection of indigenous rights; and investment in smallholders to boost productivity.

The principles of the Marrakesh Declaration are applicable across other agricultural commodities including cocoa, rubber and timber. At CoP27, these ten countries will come together again to sign an expanded declaration for the Africa Sustainable Commodities Initiative (ASCI). 

ASCI puts producer countries in Africa at the forefront of defining principles for the sustainable development of cocoa, rubber, palm oil, coffee and other commodities, in a way that protects forests, good governance, and transparency, while ensuring social benefits for farmers, communities, marginalised peoples and their human rights.

ASCI shows once again that governments in West and Central Africa are committed to the principles of sustainable development in agricultural commodity production. The potential and the political will exist. However, technical and financial support is needed to make the shared vision of a prosperous agricultural commodities sector a reality, one that brings jobs and wealth to local communities, is environmentally and socially sustainable, and protects Africa’s rich tropical forests. 

Investment opportunities in Africa exist, providing companies with a way to deliver on their own global sustainability commitments. Countries need support in land use planning and sustainable production, through technical expertise, capacity building and financial support. 

As we look to CoP27 and to the Africa Sustainable Commodities Initiative, it is worth remembering some of the key milestones that have helped to create the enabling environment for success. 

Ghana has already brought multiple commodities under a single regulatory body, the Tree Crops Development Authority, which looks after six commodity supply chains – oil palm, coconut, mango, shea, rubber and cashew. Côte D’Ivoire, the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocoa, has also recognised the need to tackle the biggest social and environmental issues within the entire landscape, rather than one supply chain.

Alignment with other industry standards can be found in Sierra Leone with the approval of the national interpretation of RSPO, with strong engagement and commitment to the process from the private sector. Gabon and Edo State have also made it clear that all palm oil development must be RSPO certified. The Democratic Republic of Congo has aligned the work of APOI with its national REDD+ readiness planning and implementation.

Both the Central African Republic and Côte D’Ivoire have moved to bring in more formal capacity with the Inter-Professional Association of Palm Oil as secretariat for APOI so they can continue to bring associations, cooperatives and the private sector together in productive discussions.

Public-private-community partnership is essential and potential investors need to be aligned to this. In Edo State, Nigeria, for example the Produce-Protect-Rehabilitate programme mandates that agricultural companies operating in the state need to provide the resources to restore a degraded forest area equivalent to 25% of their land holding, thus making agriculture commodity development a driver of forest restoration rather than deforestation.

The inclusion of smallholders is going to be critical for the private sector. In the Republic of Congo APOI has supported plans for smallholder development and guidance for Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), which apply beyond the palm oil sector. Liberia has also established a regulatory framework, starting with the Land Rights Act of 2018, through which FPIC is now legally required for any and all land allocations.

Since CoP22 when the Marrakesh Declaration was signed in 2016, we have seen huge progress by every country demonstrating crucial milestones to achieve the sustainable development of palm oil. Many countries have recognised the need to work across multiple commodities so the launch of the Africa Sustainable Commodities Initiative at CoP27 is an important progression, as a truly multi-stakeholder initiative, with every country engaging at the regional, national and local level throughout the process. Embedding the principles of responsible production in laws and regulation will provide an enabling environment where we can continue to build capacity, readying the way for further investment and scale.

We now need to build on this momentum to safeguard the livelihoods of millions of farmers throughout the continent, strengthen the sustainability of our supplies of food from Africa to the rest of the world, and to keep global heating to a maximum of 1.5 degrees through the protection of Africa’s large remaining diverse tropical forests.

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