Carbon sink management is vital for humanity. The Amazon and the Congo Basins, the world’s two largest forested areas, usually come to mind as the single biggest carbon sinks on the planet today. The Amazon Basin is already receiving considerable attention from the international community; many projects and funds are directed towards preventing deforestation in this area for mitigation purposes. We need to focus on the second, but no less important, forest basin and carbon sink of the planet: the Congo basin, the management of which faces two main threats:
– A climatic threat. The Congo basin is surrounded by two deserts: the Sahara to the North and the Kalahari to the South. Currents traveling the globe from temperate regions and from southern regions lose their moisture when they reach this area and they carry fine sands from the Zambezi/Kalahari, the Sahara and the Namib deserts and the Sahel region. While desert encroachment begun centuries ago, global warming is exacerbating this process and threatening our continental carbon sink. No programme to combat desertification has had any impact on this phenomenon. Global warming accentuates violent winds that leave the soils bare, which increases evaporation and deprives them of vegetation protection against the sun, adverse weather conditions. Severe and repeated droughts worsen the situation, making the soils unfit for crops, which also offers favourable conditions for desertification. The Sahara is a perfect example of this phenomenon. According to the hieroglyphs, the Nile Basin used to be a verdant forest….
– An internal threat. While desert encroachment threatens the Congo Basin’s forests from the outside, internal pressure is exerted as a result of poverty and the quest for survival of the local population.
Some of these causes are to be found in unsustainable cultural practices that cause farmers to constantly move in search for “fresh” land. Slash-and-burn agriculture is still very common in this area. This practice depletes the soils, exacerbates erosion and drives farmers to abandon their land quickly because of insufficient yields. Other factors of forest loss include the harvest of non-timber forest products, which drives some local communities to cut down trees; the use of firewood for lack of other sources of energy; or the hunting for rare game species that contribute to fertilizing the plants.
Large-scale unregulated and uncontrolled logging is another major element of internal pressure on the forests in these areas.
The combination of these factors causes deforestation of large forest areas, a phenomenon that will not stop until we address poverty adequately.