By Jonny Hogg
BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - The Republic of Congo will plant 1 million hectares of trees by 2020 to restore degraded forest and provide wood for paper and fuel, the president said on Friday.
President Denis Sassou N'Guesso made the announcement on the final day of a weeklong summit in the Congolese capital, aimed at tackling deforestation in the Amazon, Congo and Borneo-Mekong forest basins, the three largest in the world.
The Three Forest Basins Summit, organized by N'Guesso, aims to reduce forest destruction and thereby ease climate change.
"To reduce the pressure placed on our natural forests by logging and exploitation for wood fuel, the government has decided to put in place a plantation program on an area of one million hectares between now and 2020," N'Guesso said.
The program is likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars according to Lambert Imbalo, the director of the government's National Reforestation Service and would be funded by public private partnerships. He did not specify an amount.
"We already have the backing of the World Bank and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the first tree will be planted in November," he said.
The reforestation program, which will be carried out in various sites across the country, would provide wood for fuel, industrial logging for paper and also restore degraded forest, Imbalo said.
The Amazon, Congo and Borneo-Mekong regions make up 80 percent of the world's equatorial forests, are home to two thirds of the world's land based biodiversity and are seen as crucial in the fight against climate change.
However they are also home to some 300 million people, many of whom live in poverty and rely on forests to survive, according to a new report released by the FAO this week.
Deforestation rates across the three regions have slowed by 25 percent in the last decade but 5.4 million hectares are still being cut down each year, mainly to make way for farming, the FAO report said.
Guyana warned on Friday that developing nations could abandon their efforts to protect forests if Western countries do not provide promised conservation funding.
(Additional reporting by Christian Tsoumou, editing by Bate Felix and Lin Noueihed)