Forests in Africa support the livelihoods of millions of people through provision of timber and non-timber forest products, food and nutrition, energy and payment of environmental services. However, mismanagement of forests has resulted in deforestation and forest degradation, thereby contributing to the increased emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This special issue highlights some of the research outcomes presented at a pre-congress workshop organised by the African Forest Forum and partners at the 2015 World Forestry Congress. In this issue, the main drivers of land degradation are highlighted vis-à-vis population growth, agricultural expansion, climate variability, drought and energy needs. Promising traditional management practices are identified including age-old farmer-managed natural regeneration and exclosures. In addition, research presented indicates that age-old systems such as native non-browse shrubs in Ethiopia are important in that they facilitate regeneration of late-successional tree species. Furthermore, opportunities for using forests to mitigate climate change are highlighted with a case study on the economics associated with carbon markets. The issue also highlights the methodological challenges of quantifying carbon in African forests. The effect of climate change on threatened forest species and biodiversity in general is discussed, and the associated human disturbances impacting on the population structure of a threatened species, e.g. Afzelia africana in West Africa, is presented. The important role of non-timber forest products in income generation for the rural communities and the associated challenges of commercialisation is emphasised with examples from two important tree species: shea (Vitellaria paradoxa) and baobab (Adansonia digitata). Finally, the issue covers a people-centred approach in tree planting and management where studies demonstrated that there are still problems of poor participation of local communities due to poor implementation of enabling policies, lack of involvement in initial planning and subsequent lack of clear benefit-sharing mechanisms.
This is a peer-reviewed overview for the special issue 'Forests, People and Environment: papers from the African Forest Forum workshop held on 4–5 September 2015 preceding the XIV World Forestry Congress in Durban, South Africa', edited by PW Chirwa, M Larwanou and G Kowero.