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.
The authors compared the distribution of land ownership in 39 tropical countries, which represent 96% of global tropical forests.
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.
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.
The rate of deforestation in Africa is four times the world's average
The conference aims to kickstart new initiatives to establish forest tenure rights in west and central Africa, building on recent steps to decentralise governance.
Cameroon has begun by negotiating a legally binding bilateral pact, known as a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), with the European Union.
The VPA will help ensure that wood products exported from Cameroon to the EU contain no illegally harvested timber and are derived from managed forests that benefit local communities.
"The slowness of reform is suppressing a whole range of opportunities to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods," said Emmanuel Ze Meka, Executive Director of the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO), co-authors of the report.
"Africa's forest communities already generate millions of jobs and dollars in domestic and regional trade, and in indigenous livelihoods, but current laws keep some of these activities illegal and also undermine opportunities to improve forest management."