Essay | Forest Resilience in the 21st Century: what is it and why is it important?
Tuesday 9 June | By Buba Bojang, Bangor University, Wales, UK
There is no single explanation of deforestation and the causes of forest, degradation around the globe. The rush for land mainly for agriculture, clearing of wood and non-wood forest products, the destruction of timber for construction, overgrazing of animals, fire, pest and disease outbreak are typical examples. However, these drivers varied from one region of the world to another. Poor government policies, climate change, extreme poverty, and food insecurity are all posing to the unprecedented challenges to the existing stresses and disturbances on forest (FAO, 2011 p.44).
In many parts of the world, climate change has significantly affected the productivity of trees in the form of drought and extreme temperatures. Other changes include sea-level rise, water erosion, flood, wind among others (FAO, 2006 p.10)
Contemporary, climate change is not only damaging to the world’s forest but threatening the delivery of forest goods for the livelihoods of people such as wood and non-wood. It is estimated that 1.6 billion people globally depend on environmental services of the forest for a living and other crucial roles forest play are the provision of water supply and the protection against water and wind erosion, enhancing habitats for local people and other species. Forest provide employment opportunities for people and a great source of income for governments plus a range of products such as fuel, protection, income, medicine for forest-dependent household (World Bank, 2002 p.3)
World bank 2002 estimated that there are more than 1.2 billion living under the poverty threshold earning less than 1.5 dollars a day. The posing challenges of climate change impacts on forest significantly affect the poorest of the poor. Therefore, it is imperative to address the negative impact on the forest and the people who depend on it for a living. This
essay argues that any attempt to achieve forest resilience through restoration would first attempt to specify a working definition of the concept.
Therefore, the first section of this essay will attempt to define and critically examine the controversial definition of the term resilience and how it is measured. The second section of this essay will focus on the two concepts of ecological and engineering resilience and how forests ecosystems might be achieved in practice. The third section will look at the importance of forest resilience after disturbance and why it is important? The final section
will critically argue that if resilience is incorporated in environmental policies, restoration of forest resilience is an achievable goal.
Forest Resilience, what is it and why is it important?
There is considerable uncertainty about how resilience should be defined and measured in practice, this essay will review the definition that has been proposed including ecological and engineering resilience and why it is fundamentally important. First, resilience has been defined by many authors and some of these authors defined resilience as ‘the ability of the system to return to the original state after a disturbance( Scheffer et al, 2002), the capacity of a system to experience shocks while retaining essentially the same function (Walker et al, 2004), the length of time taken to return to the pre-disturbance state (Donohue et al, 2013) and the ability of a system to maintain its identity in the face of internal change and external shocks and disturbances (Cumming et al, 2005). Resilience is important because it brings a destroyed forest back to its natural state and continues to provide provision, supporting, cultural, and regulating ecosystem services. This is important as millions of people depend on their livelihood on the forest for survival and income generation. Fundamentally, the word resilience can be divided into two concepts. First, is the time required for a forest to return to its equilibrium state after a disturbance commonly known as engineering resilience (Pimm 1991) and the second ecological or ecosystem resilience is a situation a system can
absorb before changing to another stable state (Brand and Jax, 2007, p.71).
To adequately build resilience in the forest sector, policymakers, government, and stakeholders must ensure that adequate technical know-how, legal frameworks, and good governance mechanisms must be adopted at both local and national levels as the case of The Gambia. The role of sustainable forest management in building climate change is important because forest plays an important economic, environmental, social, and cultural value in any country. It is important to adopt key strategies in increasing forest resilience and trees to climate change through maintaining a healthy forest, restoring degrading forests and conserving, enhancing and using biodiversity.
In the case of The Gambia, The Nyambai forest park was burnt to ashes following a bush fire in May 2019. This greatly affected not only income generation for the government but the local people in terms of collecting firewood for fuel and other forest use.
Critics claimed that the forest can never return to its natural state after experiencing a fire outbreak. However, proponents claimed that the forest will return to its natural state. The latter was the case, the tree species planted in this forest plantation is the first to be introduced in The Gambia in 1952 as a trial specie called Gmelina. The trial ended in 1960 and it was highly recommended for its resilience to pests, bush fire and other tree
diseases such as dieback which is a common tree killer in the country.
Importantly Gmelina has short term rotation of 25 years. In sums, the whole forest returned to its natural state late this in the rainy season. Therefore, it is important to grow trees that are resistant to shocks.
Change is inherent in every society, especially extreme weather events
associated with human threats to survival. However, people living in such
hostile and unpredictable environments survive by adapting, employing,
and understanding coping strategies and measures necessary to reduce
the risk of losing their livelihoods. Also, the role of local institutions and
financial capital in change inherent societies tends to help adapt to climate
This essay argues that forest resilience is an achievable target if sustainable management resilience practices are put in place on the impact of change. These management practices require importantly all efforts such as appropriate knowledge, good policy framework, effective governance, and functioning institutions that support swift and timely interventions.
Some of the management measures include key strategies of human interventions such as (Braatz, 2012, p.18)
Enabling a healthy ecosystem for resilience. Any healthy ecosystem subjected to stress and disturbances from the effect of fire, pest and diseases are better able to cope and swiftly recover from damage. A healthy ecosystem employs sound forest management policies and a good monitoring system and sustainable forest management that will
reduce the impact of fire and or harsh weather conditions.
The rebuilding of degraded forests. Restoring destroyed forests to its natural state is a fundamental strategy for sustainable forest resilience. There is a vast amount of degraded land globally that with collective efforts both locally, regionally and internationally have the potential to be returned in its pre-existing state. This restoration practices include strategies such as effective management and conservation in a bid to support resilience.
Conserving, enhancing and appropriate use of biodiversity. Appropriate use of biodiversity in a conservative and enhanced manner is of enormous importance to resilience. Accordingly, Thompson et al (2009) argue that the necessary measures to increase resilience using biodiversity include building proper coping strategies and capacity in the event of shocks and disturbance.
Dealing with uncertainty. Climate change is happening all over the globe, therefore, best practices for forest management and implementation must always be put in place (Robledo and Forner, 2005). This should be in the form of monitoring, analyzing and deducing practical lessons from outcomes.
People’s livelihood resilience. There are millions of people who depend on their livelihood on forests and forest products for food and other purposes. In the event of extreme weather conditions, the forest serves as a source of safety nets during these times, they also serve as a source of food, income for households and rural families.
And fundamentally, a forest can be a source of employment opportunities in areas where rural livelihoods are not viable.
Finally, and most importantly is the role of governance and institution mechanisms to support resilience (FAO, 2011). There must be a political will especially local effective functioning institutions that support change and good governance that create level playing
grounds for stakeholders is essential. These institutions and social networks will help and provide measures to support and reduce the effects of climate change on our forests and in an appropriate and timely manner without causing severe and irreparable manage. When
all these measures are holistically employed forest-dependent people will not suffer from the adverse effects of climate change.
The author, Buba Bojang, commonly known as Buba Kaddy Faal Bojang, is currently living and studying in the UK at Bangor University in Wales. He was the former Plantation Section Head of Brikama Nyambai Forest Department prior to moving to the UK in September of last year to pursue further studies. Mr Bojang has just completed his first-year undergraduate studies in forestry. He was born and bred in Brikama Town and a keen follower of GunjurOnline.