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FAO calls for urgent action to curb corruption and illicit exploitation of African forests

Africa needs urgent action at national, regional and global levels to curb the corruption and the illicit exploitation and trade of forest, wildlife and fisheries resources. In Africa, losses from these illegal activities adversely affect the lives of millions of people, slowing down development efforts in the region reports David Phiri, FAO Subregional Coordinator for Eastern Africa and Representative to the African Union (AU) and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

Africa needs urgent action at national, regional and global levels to curb the corruption and the illicit exploitation and trade of forest, wildlife and fisheries resources. In Africa, losses from these illegal activities adversely affect the lives of millions of people, slowing down development efforts in the region. Around US$13 billion in illicit trade stems from the forestry sector.

This was the message conveyed by the FAO Subregional Coordinator for Eastern Africa and Representative to the African Union (AU) and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), David Phiri, during a High level Event organized in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by the African Union Commission and partners including FAO, UN Environment, WWF and Stop Illegal fishing.

Speaking at this AU High Level Side Event “On Corruption and the Illicit Exploitation and Trade of Africa’s Natural Resources: the Case of Fisheries, Forestry, and Wildlife,” on the margins of the 32nd Ordinary Session of the African Union, David Phiri observed that natural resources are one of the biggest capitals for Africa.

We need a concerted action after recognizing this problem, its magnitude, impacts and root causes. FAO and partners now need to scale up their efforts towards supporting member countries in developing a system-wide intersectoral response mechanism to operate within the continent and between Africa and trading countries in other regions, Phiri said.

In his statement, Phiri remarked that without natural resources, Africa could not achieve its aspirations of being a hunger-free and prosperous continent as stipulated in Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Endowed with immense natural resources, Africa has 624 million hectares (ha) of forests and great number and variety of wildlife and fisheries. Experts say these resources, if well managed, can serve as leeway in alleviating the protracted issues in the region from hunger to malnutrition, poverty, energy, water scarcity to mention a few.

Speaking on behalf of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahmathe stated that winning the fight against corruption and exploitation of natural resources is a fundamental requirement for Africa to attain economic prosperity, peace, and stability for its people.

It is an indispensable ingredient to achieve the noble vision of Agenda 2063. Corruption, in all its various forms, has been responsible for holding back the continent, depriving Africans the basic fundamental human, social and economic rights to live decent and peaceful lives, Mahmat stressed.

Economic impact of illicit trade

Corruption and the illicit exploitation and trading of natural resources erode the socio-economic benefits in the region. Such illegal activities cost Africa billions of dollars not only from the direct revenue losses but also from the indirect losses in opportunities from the entire economy through multiplier effects.

Based on a report of the African Development Bank, an estimated US$120 billion per annum impact the economy from the illicit trade in natural resources; an equivalent of 5 percent of Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Around US$13 billion in illicit trade stems from the forestry sector.

The losses worth millions of dollars in revenue are an additional burden on top of the root causes of extreme poverty and social vulnerability. The wildlife sector suffers a similar fate with the estimated global value of illicit trade in the range of US$7 billion to US$23 billion.

Illicit activities also damage the environment, altering the climate, and destroying the biodiversity and other ecosystem services on which the rural and urban communities depend on for their livelihoods and well-being. Losses stem from under-invoicing, theft, inadequate regulatory capacity, inadequate law enforcement, etc.

Illicit wildlife trading activity is a global challenge, and Africa is receiving worldwide attention due to the dramatic decrease in the region’s iconic animal species.

FAO working with key stakeholders

FAO has been at the forefront to support the African Union and member countries. Additionally, FAO collaborates with partner organizations in the sustainable management of forests, wildlife and fisheries, and supporting mechanisms and incentives to contribute in addressing the illicit trade and overexploitation of Africa’s natural resources.

FAO has also been working with the African Union Commission and member states in improving policies and governance mechanisms of natural resources; resources assessment and monitoring; compilation and dissemination of good practices, knowledge, and information as well as supporting resources mobilization.

Among FAO’s support programmes and partnerships, which are currently well underway include the FAO-EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Programme (FAO-EU FLEGT Programme). The programme, implemented since in 2016 in 11 countries, provides technical and financial assistance to curb illegality in the timber sector.

Additionally, the EU-ACP Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme, launched in October 2017, has EUR 45 million funding from the EU. FAO in collaboration with partners assists selected countries to halt unsustainable hunting, conserving their natural heritage, and strengthening people’s livelihoods and food security.

Need to formalize forestry sector

Corruption and illegal exploitation of natural resources is more pervasive, transcontinental, systemic, and carried out in an alarming scale in forestry, fisheries, wildlife, sectors. Formalizing the forestry sector, building capacities, and developing sustainable value chains of timber and non-timber forest products will create lasting positive social, economic and environmental impacts on Africa’s resources and people.

Building a market information system is necessary to guide the monitoring and control of trade in natural resources to improve transparency and accountability. Cross-sectoral wide response and national, regional and international partnerships are key to mobilize the necessary technical and financial resources to conserve Africa’s resources for Africa’s future.

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