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Sustainable forest management in Africa

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According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), indigenous forests in Africa are being cut down at a rate of more than four million hectares per year — twice the world’s deforestation average. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

Sustainable forest management in Africa

The imperative for sustainable forest management in Africa has never been more pressing.

 By Marietjie Brown

Three centuries ago, German mining administrator Hans Carl von Carlowitz found himself deeply troubled by the rapid depletion of wood resources crucial for the silver mines under his watch.

His concern for  the overharvesting of forests  for short-term financial gains  led him to author ‘Sylvicultura Oeconomica’, a seminal work that introduced the term ‘Nachhaltigkeit’, or sustainability, into the vocabulary of environmental management.

Von Carlowitz’s advocacy for applying this principle to forestry aimed to transform forests into a renewable asset, ensuring continuous timber supply.

This visionary idea gradually took root across Central Europe and beyond, influencing forest management practices in India, the United States, and other regions.

It marked the inception of what we now recognise as sustainable forest management, a principle that has shaped our modern understanding of how to harmonise economic development with the preservation of our natural world.

Capturing carbon dioxide

By promoting practices that maintain forest health and productivity, sustainable forest management contributes significantly to carbon sequestration, capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in trees and soil.

This not only reduces the concentration of greenhouse gases but also enhances the resilience of forest ecosystems to climate change-induced stresses such as increased temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, and more frequent extreme weather events.

Today, the imperative for sustainable forest management has never been more pressing, not just as an environmental responsibility but as a strategic business imperative – especially for Africa.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), indigenous forests in Africa are being cut down at a rate of more than four million hectares per year — twice the world’s deforestation average.

The problem is exacerbated by poor forest management policies, including unrestricted logging, excessive harvesting of firewood and medicinal plants, and road construction.

The role of business

In this context, businesses have a pivotal role to play.

This is particularly important for companies within or dependent on the forestry sector, where embracing sustainable practices is essential for risk management and future-proofing supply chains.

Beyond compliance, there’s a growing recognition of the value in adopting a leadership stance on sustainability, driven by consumer demand for ethical and environmentally friendly products.

This shift towards sustainability can also spur innovation, opening new avenues for business development in areas such as eco-tourism, green technology, and sustainable forest products.

African businesses must view their role in forest conservation as a core aspect of their operational and strategic planning. The economic imperative for protecting forests extends beyond direct benefits to include enhancing community resilience, safeguarding biodiversity, and contributing to the global fight against climate change.

The role of CHEP

At CHEP we have pioneered a regenerative concept focused on restoring, replenishing, and then creating more value or capital for society and the environment than the business takes out.

CHEP Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) owns and manages 18 farms in South Africa that cover over 13,500ha, including 7,500ha of pine plantations. CHEP plantations are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) certified.

With timber being such an integral part of its operations, the company has embraced forest-positive goals as part of its 2025 Global Sustainability Targets, where the company enables the sustainable growth of two trees for each tree used in its business operations.

Being FSC or PEFC certificated confirms that CHEP’s timber plantations and sawmill are being managed to ensure the regeneration of trees is prioritised, efforts are taken to conserve biodiversity, and the rights of forestry workers and the surrounding communities are respected.

These plantations also contribute to holistic biodiversity outcomes, including filtering water and holding moisture, providing base inflows for wetlands and waterways.

Importantly, these serve the local farming communities surrounding each plantation. They offer employment, skills building, and sustainable livelihoods for communities and increase productivity of farmland through agroforestry.

Sustainable forestry practices like this help to ensure that the resources necessary for a circular economy are available both now and into the future. This requires a collaborative effort, encompassing governments, local communities, and international partners.

Policies that encourage sustainable land use, investment in forest conservation projects, and community-based management approaches are critical to this endeavour. Such collaborative frameworks can harness the economic potential of forests while safeguarding their ecological functions.

As we move forward, the integration of sustainable forestry into national and global economic frameworks stands as a testament to our shared responsibility and vision for a sustainable future. This commitment to stewardship, rooted in the principles of sustainability, paves the way for a legacy of resilient, vibrant forests that will sustain generations to come, underscoring the critical role of forests in the balance of our planet’s ecological and economic health.

Marietjie Brown is CHEP’s Sustainability and Government Affairs Lead for India, the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa (IMETA)

Sustainable forest management in Africa

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Sustainable forest management in Africa

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