Africa perhaps isn’t the first place that springs to mind when you think about deforestation – we typically hear more dire warnings and gloomy predictions about the impact of tree clearing in regions like the Amazon basin or South-East Asia. (Not that it’s a contest, of course – it’s pretty terrible wherever it happens!)
However, there are definitely some key facts about deforestation in Africa that are just as noteworthy, but perhaps tend to slip under the radar a little more easily. There’s also plenty you can do to help from the comfort of your own home, just by being mindful and making a few simple changes to old habits. And the great news is, reducing your carbon footprint a little bit helps natural habitats everywhere!
Deforestation in Africa: a quick look
– Amazingly, the Congo basin contains around 20% of the world’s tropical forest, spanning six countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon) with a wildly diverse mix of swamps, savannah, freshwater river courses and flooded woodlands.
– Many species, some of them unique to the region, call these areas home – including elephants, bonobos, chimpanzees, lowland gorillas and okapi.
– These areas are particularly threatened by rapid population growth combined with excessive and often unregulated logging to meet increasing global demand, particularly from China and Europe.
– Eastern Africa (especially coastal and mountain regions) is another heavily forested area of hugely diverse habitats, notable particularly for its lowland and savannah woodlands as well as its coastal mangrove swamps and partially submerged reefs.
– Deforestation in Eastern Africa is made even more difficult to measure and curb, due in part to the extreme levels of poverty in this part of the continent; this in turn fuels the speed at which land is today being cleared for conversion, farming and resource-harvesting.
– Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia are thought to be suffering the greatest rate of deforestation in the East African region, with many conservationists estimating that only around 10% of the former coastal forests in Kenya and Tanzania remain standing today.
– Across all forested regions of Africa, unregulated and uncoordinated investment in commercial farming, oil, mining and gas industries is doing untold and unsustainable damage to these unique habitats, further destabilising the entire continent’s delicate balance of natural resources, and perpetuating and worsening the many problems it causes for future generations of humans and wildlife.
Here’s three tips for cutting back on deforestation at home:
1) Go paperless
Digital or recycled versions of almost every paper product we use are now widely available: toilet roll, books and magazines, greeting cards, copier paper, you name it. There’s no need to ever buy one of these products that isn’t either 100% recycled or consumable entirely online.
You can also block all paper spam mail by registering with a mail preference service in your country, and switch to email-only billing. And it’s fairly easy to avoid pointless consumption of many paper products every day – just look at this infographic on how many coffee cups America throws out every day, and consider taking a reusable flask next time you go for a (fair trade!) caffeine fix.
2) Look for FSC certification
If a product carries a stamp of approval from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), as many furniture brands and other consumable wood-derived goods do these days, then you know it originates from well-managed and sustainable forest sources. FSC-approved woods also originate from sources that provide local communities with genuine environmental and social benefits for helping to ensure responsible management of their resources.
The main product areas where you won’t find FSC certification are in certain exotic imported hardwoods – in these cases, it’s unlikely that the product came at anything less than significant cost to the natural habitat in region in which it was sourced.
The ‘three Rs’ of responsible consumption: essentially, these translate into a) not shopping excessively (buying only what we need when we need it); b) choosing recycled and low-packaging versions of all our consumable products, and taking care to feed them back into recycling when we’re done; and c) giving non-perishable goods a second lease of life when we’re finished using them, by both shopping in and donating to charity and second-hand shops rather than always ordering new.
You’d be amazed how much cheaper and more satisfying shopping and consuming your own day-to-day goods can become with these tips – and people very often really appreciate knowing that any gifts you give them are also ethically sourced, too.
Finally, it’s always worth joining an organisation that works to fight unregulated deforestation in Africa and instil locally run, effectively organised and long-term sustainable resource management in some of the continent’s most vulnerable areas of threatened natural habitat. Good places to start include The World Wide Fund for Nature, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.