ONE FOREST YOUTH FORUM! ONE FOREST SUMMIT: a resounding success for the youth of the Congo Basin

The "One Forest Youth Forum (OFYF)" was held from 27 to 28 February 2023 in Libreville (Gabon) as a prelude to the One Forest Summit. The event was organized spontaneously by the youth, members of AGRIDIS and the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA Gabon) in collaboration with the National Youth Councils of ECCAS, the Youth Network for Central African Forests (REJEFAC), and a hundred NGOs and youth associations involved in the tackling of environmental, climate and forestry issues.

Themed under "Youth facing the challenges of the development of forest ecosystems", the OFYF was an innovative forum for the youth, an occasion for them to make a plea for the sustainable management of tropical forests on the sidelines of the "One Forest Summit" from March 1 to 2, 2023, which was co-organized by Gabon and France, and held in Libreville.

Indeed, the African youths who took part, had the ambition to produce a manifesto marking their commitment and willingness to actively engage in addressing the sustainable forest management related challenges, in the fight against climate change and the preservation of biodiversity.

 

The main outcome of the One Forest Youth Forum (OFYF) was France's pledge to provide 1,000,000 euros in funding aimed at supporting the volunteer and cross-mobility program for sustainable forest management and climate change adaptation.

 

It should be noted that this involvement of youth at such a high level is also the result of many years of hard advocacy work, which has not always been easy for youth actors in the Congo Basin. From the 2005 France-Africa Summit in Bamako, through the structuring of youth and their participation in the establishment of the youth council, followed by the re-launch of the Panafrican Youth Union, the United Nations network of young leaders, without forgetting the establishment of the Rejefac network in the years 2008, present in the 10 countries of the sub-region where the country focal points are empowered, it was necessary to move forward step by step by innovating and making adjustment as necessary.

 

The major innovations were: the initiative of the Congo Basin Forest Volunteers; the structuring of CBFP volunteers (DRC, Cameroon, Rwanda and Gabon) under American, Belgian and German facilitation; the participation of the REJEFAC regional coordinator in the Montpellier summit of young Africans with more than 80 young people from Cameroon; the intervention of one of the members of REJEFAC - CADER during Macron's visit to Yaoundé where a strong plea was made during the meeting with civil society.

 

Indeed, for the past twenty years, the regional coordinator Marie Tamoifo Nkom, together with her association Jeunesse Verte du Cameroun, has been underlining in most major gatherings, the need to involve the youth of African countries and more particularly of the COMIFAC - ECCAS zone in these global challenges. Although it earned the institutional recognition of REJEFAC with the signature of an MoU by MINFOF, the supervisory body of COMIFAC, and despite the lack of funding for their daily activities, it has succeeded in creating a large network of young people in the ten countries of the COMIFAC area, while remaining voluntary, gradually mobilizing financial support to sustain the hundreds of young volunteers of the associations involved. The young volunteers that it supervises have often been called to participate in the summits of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP), such as recently in July 2022 in Gabon during the 19th Meeting of the Parties of the CBFP. Its national branch REJEFAC Gabon continued this initiative, mobilized by the organizers not only during the climate week but also during the One Forest Youth Forum and the One Forest Summit.

 

For 20 years, AJVC has been conducting activities in the field of advocacy with a bottom-up solutions approach, perfectly illustrated in a documentary that traces this atypical journey at the heart of this gathering of young people who have launched an appeal to States and Governments to change the paradigm and implement a strategy to support innovative solutions promoted by actors in the sub-region of the Congo Basin.

 

The youth forum, organized as a prelude to the One Forest Youth Forum by Gabonese youth, was intended to inspire young people. As part of the panel Research and innovation: what is contribution of the youth?  Marie Tamoifo Nkom made a plea for green jobs and innovation in Africa to be supported by a financial system, capacity building on green jobs to sustain environmental diplomacy of youth.

 

"It is important to accompany the institutional anchoring of youth through programs that support green jobs, and that a sustainable participation mechanism is taken into account. In Glasgow and Sharm El Cheick, 100 billion euros were promised to the states per year. The youth believe that if this is implemented, a share should be directly allocated to youth institutions in the Congo Basin to support their innovations in a sustainable way. Marie Tamoifo Nkom, regional coordinator, with her association Jeunesse Verte.”

 

National strategies to fight climate change must therefore consider the role of civil society actors, women and youth. These interest groups should not be the only ones affected by the implementation of climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. Every effort should be made to involve them in decision-making processes, even if their participation may increase the complexity and cost of projects and policies.

"Progressively, the voice of African youth is being heard in major international forums on sustainable management. We have had the support of the French Cooperation, WWF and other partners to organize the AJVC initiative for REJEFAC "COPS AT HOME"; the participation of youth at the Cop 27; and the participation of REJEFAC as a partner in the initiative of the Gabonese youth-led event One Forest Youth Forum. Our hope is that REJEFAC will be able to organize and find financial partners who can directly support the organization of the general assemblies and the local and national cops in the ten (10) countries of the Congo Basin”. Marie Tamoifo.

 

REJEFAC's pleas in collaboration with the member organizations of the organizing committee were heard at the OFYF and as another key outcome of One Forest Youth, the Gabonese government, through the Ministry of Youth, made a promise to host the permanent secretariat of One Forest Youth Initiative in Libreville, and especially to spare no effort to make this project effective as soon as possible.

"The One Forest Summit will be an annual event that is going to be held in different countries around the world, so we can imagine that the One Forest Youth Forum will be an annual event, and will become de facto one of the programs of the One Forest Youth Initiative.”

Several personalities and high-level actors are ready to accompany One Forest Youth Initiative in its strategy of mobilization of the common fund to support its volunteer program and cross mobility sponsored by France Voluntary.

 

All this mobilization requires the involvement not only of the regional and international youth of today, but especially those of tomorrow.

 

"The next generation is on the move and is gradually being structured. A sub-regional meeting to hand over to the younger generation of committed leaders is planned for late 2023 or early 2024, with the participation of partners who have put youth at the heart of their action. We will continue this advocacy work to make sure the areas of experimentation, innovation and progress are better identified, and especially to support the vulnerability of local communities and youth through decent jobs and opportunities: Investing in youth is investing in the future of the continent.” Marie Tamoifo

 

Betting on the youth of ECCAS and COMIFAC countries is even more important. The climate challenge, the conservation of biodiversity, the development of African countries and a lack of jobs for young people are issues we are currently facing and that it is urgent to address.  We hope that this One Forest Summit initiative will reach all youth organizations and structures in the sub-region and the world.

 

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