Africa’s youth have been challenged to look at forests as a productive area for job and wealth creation even as they get involved in raising the continent’s tree cover.
At a consultation workshop for youth leaders that took place between November 7-9 in Voi, Kenya, forestry experts underscored the importance of engaging youth in achieving the various forest restoration initiatives happening across the continent, including the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) – through which Africa seeks to restore 100 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2030.
The workshop explored the roles of forests in young people’s lives and in their communities, exposing the youth to information about Africa’s forests and encouraging them to explore creative approaches for sustainable forest use.
Godwin Kowero, director African Forest Forum (AFF), encouraged the youth to look at different value chains, products and ecosystem services in the forestry sector that they can be involved.
“There are many opportunities in this sector. Now with the restoration programmes across the continent there’s high demand for seedling production. You must think like entrepreneurs. You must look at these opportunities and see where you can fit depending on your interest, experience and the resources you have. Use the resources sustainably and improve our lives,” he urged, advising them to look at innovations and new technologies that can be applied in the sector.
According to the International Labour Organisation the youth unemployment rate currently stands at 12.7 percent in Africa.
UN projections show that by 2030, young Africans are expected to make up 42 percent of the world’s youth and to account for 75 percent of those under the age of 35.
AFF’s Senior Communications Officer Daphine Gitonga says this population bulge could become either a dividend or liability for the continent – especially in the context of the current stress on natural resources.
Manage Africa’s forest resources
“The scientific community can help prepare young people in Africa to sustainably govern and manage the continents’ forest resources,” she said stating that their enthusiasm, creativity and technology savviness could help address the crises of forest degradation and climate change even as they create jobs and wealth for the continent, and create synergies across borders for knowledge exchange.
AFF, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (Kefri) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) have partnered to engage young people in sustainable forestry in Kenya, in a pilot project dubbed, “AfricanYouth4Forests,” which will be rolled out to other countries on the continent.
Prof Anders Roos from SLU’s Department of Forest Economics said communities could still enjoy benefits of protected forests as long as they do so sustainably.
Kefri Director Joshua Cheboiwo said in response to the new presidential decree to ramp up Kenya’s current tree cover from 12.3 percent to 30 percent by 2032, the agecy was establishing 18 seed centres across the country to produce up to 1000 metric tonnes of seeds in the next 10 years.
But the government needed to mobilise Ksh600 billion ($4.9 billion) to reforest and restore 10.6 million hectares of forest in an initiative that will employ two million youth.
“We want you the youth to position yourselves to play a role in helping the country achieve this new ambition, in the sustainable management and conservation of forests by enhancing their capacity, in the various ways such as tree nursery establishment, rehabilitation and restoration technologies.
“Delivery of quality and diverse planting material is a major constraint for restoration, this is an opportunity for you. But then there are also opportunities in entrepreneurship in product development, branding, marketing among others,” he said.
Collins Martin, a youth participant and founder of the One Voice Affinity Centre Project, noted that young people care about ecosystem restoration and protection of forests and trees but lack information and experience to focus their efforts correctly on restoration, but also on economic development.