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Balancing tropical forest conservation, economic growth and community livelihoods

Proforest and the Meridian Institute last month convened a workshop on forests and sustainable agriculture attended by leading figures from African business, politics and conservation on behalf of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020).

Gabon’s Minister of Water and Forestry, Noel Nelson Messone, and Olam Gabon’s Head of Sustainability, Dr Christopher Stewart, jointly chaired the session, which took place at the New York Forum Africa (NYFA) in Gabon.

NYFA Gabon country leads

Approximately 80 participants listened to a high-level presentation on the status of forests and agriculture in West and Central Africa, before being introduced to TFA 2020 and its Signature Initiative on Oil Palm Development in Africa, which is being coordinated by Proforest.

The interactive session formed part of the Climate South Initiative element of the NYFA, which was described as being ‘led by the South for the benefit of the world’. Delegates were mainly engaged in roundtable discussions, facilitated by leading country representatives: Nigerian environmentalist and former chair of the Cross River State Forestry Commission, Odigha Odigha, Emmanuel Ngom, Cameroon's National Coordinator of Smallholder Oil Palm, Saah David, REDD+ Coordinator for the Forestry Development Authority of Liberia, Samuel Avaala, CEO of Benso Oil Palm Plantation (all pictured left to right above) and Sandra Ratiarison, Conservation Director of WWF Gabon.

The roundtable discussions explored a range of common issues including the challenges and barriers to developing forest-friendly agriculture, attracting investment in sustainable palm oil development and how to improve cross-sector and pan-African collaboration.

NYFA Lee WhiteProfessor Lee White, Director of the Gabonese National Parks Service (pictured right), arriving directly from a forest field trip dressed in paramilitary fatigues, provided an overview of Gabon’s new palm oil strategy. Dr. Christopher Stewart shared Olam’s sustainability vision for the country.

The following themes were explored during the roundtable discussions:

  1. How to achieve sustainable economic growth to improve the livelihoods of our people while also protecting our forests and natural resources.
  2. How to empower the youth of Africa to gain understanding and take action to address climate change. 
  3. The critical role of the private sector in integrating sustainability in their operations and being accountable for implementing their commitments. 
  4. The partnerships required between all sectors, through efforts such as the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 to accomplish our objectives. 
  5. The requirement for all these efforts to respect and reflect the needs of local communities so that they share in the benefits. 
  6. The necessity to achieve food security goals through intensification of production, rather than by using more land. 
  7. The need for land to be used in ways that are consistent with both environmental and economic priorities, though national land-use planning approaches such as that used in Gabon.

These issues will be explored further as Proforest and the Meridian Institute continue to coordinate the development of the TFA 2020 Africa Palm Oil Initiative. The Initiative aims to achieve a prosperous palm oil industry, which provides jobs and wealth to local communities in a way that is environmentally and socially sustainable and protects the rich tropical forests of the region.

Six leading palm oil producing countries in Africa including Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Liberia, Nigeria and Ghana are engaged in the initiative and other producer countries are expected to join in the near future.