First World Forestry Congress for Africa


4 May 2011

For the first time in its 85-year history, the World Forestry Congress will come to Africa. The congress’s next gathering, held under the auspices of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), will take place in Durban in 2015.

The announcement was made just before the February launch of 2011 as the International Year of Forests, a declaration of the UN General Assembly.

“What we need during the International Year of Forests is to emphasise the connection between people and forests,” said the FAO’s assistant director-general for forestry Eduardo Rojas, “and the benefits that can accrue when forests are managed by local people in sustainable and innovative ways.”

During its 140th session, held in December 2010, the FAO decided that Durban’s International Convention Centre (ICC) would be the ideal venue for the upcoming 14th congress, a week-long event.

The ICC is fast growing in status as an international convention venue and is also scheduled to host the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) later in 2011.

South Africa’s national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Daff) will host the world’s forestry experts in 2015. With 7 000 participants from 160 countries flocking to the previous event, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2009, an estimated 10 000 delegates will make their way to Durban for the next event.

The local economy is expected to benefit from the congress to the tune of R100-million (US$13.7-million).

South African experts presented scientific papers and participated actively in South America, an experience that stood them in good stead when bidding for hosting rights for 2015. The city of Durban was easily able to snatch the prestigious event from its closest rival, Hyderabad in India.

“We are extremely excited that we have won the bid to host this large conference at which many important discussions will take place regarding global forestry issues,” said the ICC’s acting CEO, Jeremy Hurter.

According to Daff, South Africa’s involvement in the global dialogue on sustainable forest development has led to its vital contribution to the International Arrangements on Forests, a device of the UN Forum on Forests.

The upcoming World Forestry Congress will also boost the country’s contribution to the conservation of the Congo Basin forests, through the Congo Basin Forest Partnership which was set up in September 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

Looking after our forests

The World Forestry Congress was launched in Rome in 1926 and takes place every six years. The event addresses a range of current silvicultural issues such as forest policy, biodiversity, international dialogue and socio-economic implications.

In its 2008 publication titled Practical Guidance for Sustaining Forests in Development Cooperation, the World Bank reported that over 1.6-billion people depend on forests to survive, and a further 100-million have found employment in forestry-related industries.

The organisation also said that 80% of the world’s remaining terrestrial biodiversity is found in forests, and about 66% of the entire world’s species live in forest areas.

In addition, the leafy regions play a vital role in the regulation of the earth’s climate because trees trap carbon dioxide. FAO data suggests that trees and their surrounding soil hold as much as 1-trillion tons of carbon – double the amount found in the atmosphere. It’s not hard to see why trees are so important to the continued survival of the planet.

The UN plans to use 2011 as the opportunity to raise awareness among policy makers and the public of the need to conserve, protect and manage forests in a sustainable way.

According to the FAO, about 130 000 square kilometres of forest – and a tragic 100 animal and plant species – are lost every year to deforestation, whether because of conversion of forests to arable land, unsustainable logging, human encroachment, or bad land management practice. The World Bank estimates that these activities are responsible for up to 20% of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Green South Africa

South Africa is home to one of the largest human-made forests on earth – the city of Johannesburg. A report on the city’s website states that although there are some 10-million trees growing in Johannesburg, it is classed as an urban forest rather than a rain forest because it doesn’t get enough annual rainfall to qualify as the latter – albeit human-made.

Elsewhere in the country, about 1.3-million hectares of South Africa’s surface area are covered by lush green planted forests, used for commercial purposes. The forestry sector employs almost 170 000 people, and adds R16-billlion ($2.2-billion) to the national economy.

South Africa also has rich indigenous forests, which have been inventoried by Daff and are now closely monitored and protected. Some 530 000 hectares of dense growth occur mainly along the coastal areas and the eastern and southern escarpments, as well as in isolated valleys and ravines.

A number of these natural forest regions, such as the Tsitsikamma National Park – now encompassed in the Garden Route National Park – are important tourist attractions.

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