In East Africa, boosting monitoring to help curb climate challenges

Regional observatory helps mobilize effective, collaborative action
Vue aérienne d’une zone de bassin versant d’une rivière, le bassin de Sondu, au Kenya, en Afrique de l’Est. Photo par Patrick Sheperd/CIFOR-ICRAF.

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East Africa’s multitude of forested ecosystems – which include woodlands, savannah, coastal areas, mangroves, and more – hold important global reserves of biodiversity, and play critical roles for local communities, too. But climate change impacts such as prolonged drought, unpredictable rain, food insecurity, and health hazards are all taking their toll on its ecosystems and people.

Following Kenya’s hosting of the 2023 Africa Climate Summit and Africa Climate Week in early September, the region’s policymakers, practitioners, businesses, and civil society are attuned to finding solutions to climate change-related challenges on the continent – and the roles that Africa and its institutions can play in proactive climate action.

One of the region’s flagship programmes for climate action is the East and Southern Africa Forest Observatory (OFESA), which was launched in 2018 and is jointly led by the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) and the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD), with funding from the European Union.

OFESA is a regional initiative focused on providing accurate data about the region’s forests to support the development of strategies for better forest protection, in a context of increasing threats from logging, forest-to-farm conversion, and deforestation. Its main aim is to improve forest monitoring and management in the region by sharing, exchanging, and accessing data and information to produce comprehensive and harmonized regional datasets on the latest trends and threats to forests. It also seeks to make information useful and easily accessible to policymakers, funders, forestry practitioners, and citizens in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda and support them to meet their climate and environment targets.

Since its inception, OFESA has provided reliable country-specific and regional datasets with details on forest reserves, soil maps, forest types, forest priority areas, land cover, forest cover percentage, forest cover change trends, and forest ownership. By doing so, OFESA is helping national forest institutions in partner countries to share, use, and analyze data to define and consolidate effective strategies for sustainable forest management and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

OFESA is also working on its first State of the Forests report for East Africa – a publication presenting comparable multi-country information on priority themes to provide an overview of the current situation of forests in the region. The report, developed in collaboration with partner countries, will discuss priority themes such as forest restoration, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), forest governance, biodiversity conservation, and forest monitoring. The collaboration process includes working with partner countries to identify and assess their needs and challenges in the selected thematic areas and provide relevant data to enable comparisons and inform decision making.

The REDD+ theme is particularly relevant to the development of climate resilient and green economy policies in the region. Implementing REDD+ activities requires national forest monitoring systems – such as those developed by OFESA – that establish country reference levels on deforestation and forest degradation trends, and update changes on forest degradation maps and other datasets. Governance dynamics such as forest tenure systems also inform REDD+ initiatives and subsequent climate action.

As multiple attendees at the Nairobi events affirmed, effective stakeholder engagement is necessary to step up climate action in East Africa. Through platforms like OFESA, national and local forest institutions come together to collaborate for potent change, and the capacities of national representatives and community monitors are strengthened in the process. Climate change is a pressing priority – and regional solidarity is the backbone on which East African states rely to fortify themselves against its devastating impacts.

About OFESA: OFESA provides a platform for sharing, exchanging, and accessing data and information related to East and Southern Africa’s forests. The initiative is implemented by CIFOR and RCMRD, with financial support from the European Union.

For more information on this topic, please contact Paolo Cerutti at
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