Abidjan-Côte d'Ivoire - Despite years of intensive deforestation and a consequent loss of biodiversity in the Guinean Moist Forests Ecoregion, the tropical moist forests in West Africa still rank among the biodiversity hot spots of the planet - announces a panel of experts at a WWF's press conference on tropical forests in West Africa.
The recent political and social unrest in the sub-region has led some people to believe that there was little or no more biological diversity left to preserve in West Africa, and that conservation efforts were useless.
Yet numerous organisations, including WWF, have remained active alongside other partners in striving to maintain, and where possible restore the forests of the region, so that they can meet a wide range of human and non-human needs. "We should not sacrifice our natural heritage on the altar of short-term gains" said Souleymane Zeba, WWF's Regional Representative, "our forest management should be environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable."
The contribution of tropical moist forests to the economic, social and cultural life in West Africa is far from being negligible. According to the ITTO (International Tropical Timber Organisation), Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire alone earned a total of 379,805,000 USD in 1998 from timber sales, representing 32% of the total African timber revenue for that year. It is also widely known that some non timber forest products constitute an important part of the national dishes in the countries of the ecoregion, while others are renowned household items. "Forests condition not only our climate but also our social and economic life. If we do harm to our forests, it will come home to roost." warned Martin Nganje, WWF's Forest Officer for West Africa.
In terms of their environmental and biological importance, these forests constitute a carbon sink in a region of more than 250 million people and the only significant check against the southward spread of the Sahara desert. Besides, the level of endemism of mammals, birds, vertebrates, reptiles/amphibians and plants is considered by experts as exceptional. For example in more than 700 species of butterflies, one in eight is endemic in the high Volta region alone.
New species are also being discovered (for example a tree frog, Hyperolius nienokouensis, in the Ta National Park ), while others have been rediscovered after an alleged period of extinction, such as the Sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei).
"If conservation efforts are scoring numerous successes, this is to the credit of the various stakeholders who are working tirelessly for this lofty cause." added WWF's Forest Officer. As a matter of fact, to push the conservation train forward, WWF is working in close cooperation with local as well as national governments and communities, while including regional and international organisations. Yet a global challenge demands a global response, and more support is expected from everyone including the private sector, the civil society and media practitioners.
In his final remarks, Souleymane Zeba expressed his concern that the UN Security Council did not carry out any Environmental Impact Assessment prior to their sanctions on Liberia. He then stressed that such a situation could trigger off a race for the the overexploitation of the Liberian forests by foreign timber companies, which could have far reaching consequences on the ecology of West Africa and the phenomenon of global warming.
For further information:
WWF-West Africa Regional Programme Office
tel: + 225 22 44 87 86
WWF-West Africa Regional Programme Office,
tel: +225 05 70 65 77