February 2021 – Côte d'Ivoire enjoyed large areas of forest amounting to more than 16 million hectares of green in the early 1990s. But forest cover has been reduced in the country to just 3.4 million hectares in the last few years, according to the Bureau National d'Études Techniques et de Developpement (BNETD). And most of the deforestation -up to 62%- can be attributed to agriculture, with cocoa, rubber, and oil palm in the lead. The high rate of deforestation is even more alarming for two regions in the country: Cavally (West of Côte d'Ivoire) for recent deforestation and Bélier (Central Côte d'Ivoire) for history deforestation.
Deforestation leads to significant soil degradation and threatens water security, biodiversity, and food security in producer regions. Deforestation also affects areas of sensitive biodiversity such as national parks, reserves, and classified forests. In the context of global warming and rapidly changing climatic conditions, the increased disappearance of the last forest blocks risks compromising the goals of sustainable production, exposing crops to various diseases and constraints. This situation is likely to affect many small producers and has drastic consequences on the country's politics, economy, and population well-being.
As the leading cocoa producing and exporting country in the world, the cocoa and forest nexus remains the essence of the forest solutions in Côte d'Ivoire, and an essential avenue for a successful REDD+ implementation. The country is engaged in different partnerships to advance deforestation-free agriculture with a focus on cocoa, including the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, and the Sustainable Cocoa Initiative. More recently, the upcoming EU trade legislation to remove deforestation from value chains is giving way to the start of a policy dialogue process with the EU on deforestation-free cocoa trade.
Implementation of these commitments in a concrete way on the ground in regions of the country with different contexts is one of the most considerable challenges. In 2019, UNDP GCP was mobilized to support UNDP's Climate and Forest team for the implementation of the initiative of the Governors' Climate and Forest Task Force (GCF-TF). This project aims to support the country to successfully launch two jurisdictional approaches to deforestation-free agricultural production and rural development, in two different contexts. The two main objectives are protecting and managing the country's last forest reserves in the Cavally region, and deploying forest ecosystem restoration solutions in the Bélier region, in alignment with the national objectives of REDD+, the Cocoa & Forest Initiative and the Forest Protection, Restoration, and Extension National Strategy.
Building on UNDP GCP's Multistakeholder Platform Methodology, and adapting it to the local context of the different jurisdictions plus the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the UNDP GCP's National Advisor in Cote d'Ivoire facilitated a participatory and inclusive dialogue process which led to the successful validation of two Strategic Plans by the relevant authorities. The dialogue process conducted under the leadership of the two Regional Councils consisted of a mix of multistakeholder plenary meetings, technical working groups (focused on governance, social environment and economic considerations), diagnostic studies, and in-depth communities' dialogue. In addition to the design and facilitation of the dialogue, the UNDP GCP team provided targeted capacity building to stakeholders on topics such as Multistakeholder Collaboration, private sector engagement or strategic communications.
The results of this collective effort are one Regional Strategic Plan for Zero-Deforestation Agricultural Production in Cavally, and one Regional Strategic Plan for Restoration of the Forest Landscape in Belier. They are structured around four components:
· Protection, restoration of forests, and adaptation to climate change in each region.
· Improvement of the livelihoods of local communities.
· Development of economic opportunities for zero-deforestation agricultural production in Cavally, and restoration of forest landscapes in Bélier.
· Strengthening the governance of land use in each region.
Besides positive environmental implications, the Regional Strategic Plans for the Cavally and Belier regions also aim at improving the living conditions of women and men in the community by contributing to the strengthening of rural food security and land security support to reduce the risk of conflict. They propose to support the empowerment of women, young people's employability, and rural poverty reduction through the development of economic opportunities around protection activities, sustainable management, and the restoration of forest ecosystems. This is part of an inclusive participatory process that strengthens the technical capacity and leadership of regional councils in leading the process.
Both documents include detailed Strategic Directions to guide the action of all stakeholders and partners from 2021 to 2025. Read the full documents here: Regional Strategic Plan for Zero-Deforestation Agricultural Production in Cavally, and Restoration of the Forest Landscape in Belier.