By Philip Ayuen Dot, Juba, South Sudan
Friday 29, Jan 2021 (SS24NEWS)
South Sudan is one of the most endowed countries when it comes to its forest resources in relation to its size. While other countries such as Kenya have a forest cover of at least 6%, South Sudan boasts of at least 29% of its land being covered by forest and woodlands.
But this may not last for long if the current state of deforestation continues. We are in dire need of forests being managed sustainably.
As of now dense forests are located within the Greater Equatoria, Greater Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile Region. Large areas of the country exhibit low-density woodland savannah vegetation of mixed scrub and grassland, with a wide range of trees from rainforest species to temperate climate species, such as mahogany, teak and eucalyptus to pines and cypresses respectively. Furthermore, South Sudan has the largest teak plantation in Africa.
But this resource has been under dire distress due to a number of factors. The first one is the conflict that saw Armies finance themselves through natural resources such as selling wildlife parts and teak trees nicknamed ‘blood teak’ due to its role in the war. The neighboring Uganda is also guilty of having the teaks cut down and taken to Uganda to finance their wars as well.
The other local reasons for the alarmingly dwindling forest cover in South Sudan, is charcoal burning. Given that over 80% of the country relies on charcoal and firewood for their everyday energy requirement, this accounts for a large percentage of the deforested area. Due to the lack of other income generating activities as well, a lot of people have taken up burning of charcoal as a lucrative trade that doesn’t need much to start and carry out. This is made possible by the fact that most forests are found on community land.
A lot of questions have also been raised on the companies getting the tender for the teak plantations and even indigenous forests. This is where the government has allowed certain companies such as the Equatorial Teak Company Limited (ETC) that has obtained a 32 year old, renewable concession of five blocks of teak. Was the process done with other competitive bids? And even if it was fair, are these companies planting other trees as is expected in their mother countries when a company gets such a tender?
All these reasons coupled with the lack of clear forest legislation governing forest utilization and conservation in South Sudan have led to this natural resource becoming smaller each year. The lack of adequate funding to the ministry of environment also makes matters worse since there are no adequate personnel to engage the community on sustainable forest management practices.
But all is not doom. In fact, UNEP estimates that South Sudan could get up to US$100 million per year from teak and other trees being exported. This is money that could be used to plant many more trees and improve the economy.
And besides the economic value of selling trees in a transparent and open manner, forests also have intrinsic value just by existing. In a study in 2011, PRINS Engineering discovered that the forests of the Imatong Mountains in South Sudan were part of the Eastern Afro-montane ecosystem, rated by scientists as one of Africa’s biodiversity hot spots. These forests, it said, were home to many endemic and possibly unique species, but scientists have yet to study the region’s species. So it would be a loss to the world if we lost south Sudan’s forests without even knowing fully the treasure they have.
Forests are also extremely important in both mitigating Climate Change and adapting to climate change. South Sudan is among the top 5 most vulnerable nations to climate change effects such as frequent floods. The last few years have seen the country experience floods that have displaced hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed infrastructure. While forests won’t stop the rain, forests act as a sponge when it rains, enhancing the absorption of rainwater and thus reducing flooding incidences.
So sustainably using forests is a matter of life and death for the country. And this has to begin with the government taking stock or mapping out the forest resources in the country and the state they are in. Then they should pass laws and policies guiding the country at large and the states on how to sustainably use forests. And this can only happen when the ministry and departments in charge of forests are well funded.
The community has a role to play as well. This entails recognizing the need to conserve and protect forest resources. To sustainably do this, it doesn’t mean that they stop using firewood or charcoal, but to do so in a way that is sustainable. This can include planting way more trees than they cut down, using energy saving charcoal stoves and agroforestry. Agroforestry is where farmers plant trees as windbreakers in the farm.
This provides them with timber in the future while protecting their crops in the meantime.
Ultimately, sustainable forest management requires collaborative efforts from all sectors involved. The government could make use of the expertise in environmental organizations such as South Sudan Environmental Advocates (SSEA) to come up with legislative framework for sustainable forest management, and also long term strategies for forest management.
This means that everyone involved with forests, from the communities to the companies given concessions, to the ministry of environment, should be on the same page on how South Sudan’s forests should be utilized and managed.
South Sudan’s forests deserve to be sustainably used, protected and conserved by every single person, organization and company. Due to this, South Sudan Environmental Advocates (SSEA) is ready to work with any company whose Corporate Social Responsibility has anything to do with tree planting. The organization also can do environmental impact assessments for the companies given concessions as is required by international law. And it is also available to work with communities grappling with deforestation to map out strategies on how to restore the forests through reforestation and adopting energy saving stoves.
The author is the Founder and Executive director of South Sudan environmental Advocates (SSEA) and can be reach via his email: Philipdot57@gmail.com or Web: www.sseasouthsudan.org Tel: +211922104999.
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