The value of researching the past for crafting sustainable African mountain futures

Robert Marchant*, Jessica P. Thorn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mountains are among Africa’s most dramatic landscapes. Comprising 20% of the continental surface area (Nsem-giyumva, 2019; Plattset al., 2011), mountains are vital to the lives of the 1.1 billion people across Africa who depend either directly or indirectly on the many benefits that they provide. For the over 250 million people that live on mountains in Africa (FAO,2015) this dependency is direct:montane environments are particularly attractive areas due to their high diversity of natural resources and biodiversity (Capitani et al., 2019b), high agricultural productivity, reliable water supply, cooler climate (Ashagre et al., 2018; Cormier-Salemet al., 2018), and supply of fuel. Mountains supply eco-system services on which the continent relies, not least as all major rivers have headwaters in the highlands. Mountainslargely determine Africa’s sustainable development potential by underpinning food production, energy security, biocultural diversity and tourism income, and they supply timber and non-timber forest products (Capitani et al., 2019b; Green et al., 2018; Cuni-Sanchez et al., 2021). Additionally, highland areas will be the focus of afforestation projects, important for current carbon emission targets (see Glasgow Leaders’Declaration on Forests and Land Use2021). As a result, high-lands are the focus of many ecosystem“restoration”initiatives aiming to both sequester carbon and conserve biodiversity, and they are where historical degradation has been acute(Marchant2021). Whilst recent studies of reforestation potential focus on ecological viability (Bastinet al., 2019; Brancalion et al., 2019), the feasibility of such projects under local and regional socio-economic settings and their impacts on local communities and biodiversity have yet to be adequately assessed. Understanding such socio-economic settings and impacts on communities is important for achieving the laud-able aims of the“Bonn Challenge”of“restoring”350 million ha of forest by 2030, while Africa100 aims to“restore”100 million ha by 2030. Alongside this, in 2019 the UnitedNations (UN) launched the“Decade on Ecosystem Restoration”(2021–2030), aiming to massively scale up the restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems as a measure for communities to mitigate and adapt to the increasing frequency and magnitude of climate extremes (Plattset al.,2015; Langeet al., 2020;Adleret al., 2021), and to enhance food and water security and biodiversity (UN,2021).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-107
Number of pages5
JournalTransactions of the Royal Society of South Africa
Issue number1-2
Early online date4 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2023


Dive into the research topics of 'The value of researching the past for crafting sustainable African mountain futures'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this