Page last updated at 06:57 GMT, Tuesday, 26 May 2009 07:57 UK

Deforestation 'faster in Africa'

Logging, Cameroon
Establishing community land rights could help slow deforestation

Africa's forests are disappearing faster than those in other parts of the world because of a lack of land ownership, a report says.

Less than 2% of Africa's forests are under community control, compared to a third in Latin America and Asia, say the Rights and Resources Initiative.

The deforestation rate in Africa is four times the world's average.

At the current rate, it will take Congo Basin countries 260 years to reach the level of reform achieved in the Amazon.

Action on land tenure could help to halt deforestation, slow climate change and alleviate poverty, says the report, entitled Tropical Forest Tenure Assessment: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities.

The study was presented in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, at a meeting of forest community representatives from Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Slow progress

The authors compared the distribution of land ownership in 39 tropical countries, which represent 96% of global tropical forests.

The slowness of reform is suppressing opportunities to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods
ITTO's Emmanuel Ze Meka

They found that African citizens have far less control over the forests they inhabit than do the peoples of other tropical regions.

Several countries have introduced or amended laws to strengthen community land rights - including Angola, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Sudan and Tanzania.

However, the report calls for these nations to "quickly scale up" the process.

"Recognising local land rights alone doesn't solve all the problems," said Andy White, coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative.

"Governments need to follow up by supporting local management and enterprises.

"There are some countries that have recognised local land rights, but the government still controls the forest, and hands out concessions to industrial loggers - leading to more degradation and corruption."

Failure to ensure land rights for indigenous peoples and particularly women, will impede efforts to stop deforestation and mitigate climate change, say the authors.

Clearing of land for agriculture, logging, and other extractive industries accounts for as much as one third of some countries' total carbon emissions.

Carbon payments

Payments for reducing deforestation could be a potential source of income in the region. But without tenure reform, the authors argue, these potential benefits will remain unreachable.