By Ange Aboa
ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast will ask donors, timber firms and cocoa companies to help finance a reforestation strategy costing 616 billion CFA francs ($1 billion) over 10 years, the country's water and forests minister said on Friday.
The top cocoa grower is experiencing one of the world's fastest deforestation rates and has lost an average of 400,000 hectares (990,000 acres) of tropical forest a year since 1990, mainly due to agriculture.
Around 40 percent of Ivory Coast's cocoa production is grown illegally on protected land, the government estimates.
The strategy, approved during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, seeks to extend forest cover to 20 percent of national territory by 2030, from 11 percent now, by replanting around 170,000 hectares each year.
"This is a goal that depends on our capacity to obtain the planned financing," forests minister Alain-Richard Donwahi told reporters. "This policy was conceived with the participation of the private sector in mind, a public-private partnership."
Ivory Coast's cocoa regulator, the Coffee and Cocoa Council, has contributed 4 billion CFA francs in emergency funding in order to launch the strategy.
Cocoa and chocolate companies have already pledged their support, Donwahi said, and timber companies would also be called upon to contribute.
In addition to replanting, the plan also foresees the establishment of a special brigade, initially supported by army special forces, which will monitor the forests and protect them against incursions.
"The threats against our forests are permanent. We're informed of the massive arrival of populations inside our forests each week," Donwahi said.
Ivory Coast has carried out on again-off again campaigns to expel squatting farmers from national parks and forest reserves in recent years, often coming under criticism from rights groups decrying the authorities' heavy-handed tactics.
Donwahi said the government would restart evictions from the Goin-Debe forest reserve - Ivory Coast's largest - and destroy cocoa plantations there following a one-month census.
The invasion of Ivory Coast's protected forests was helped by a decade-long political crisis that included two civil wars and eroded state authority.
Despite a restoration of order in 2011, the continued degradation of parks and forest reserves has been facilitated by rampant corruption.
"It's not just forestry agents directly involved," Donwahi said. "Local governments as well as the tribal leadership and police are also responsible. These illegal squatters get escorted. That must stop."
($1 = 578.6400 CFA francs)
(Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Susan Fenton, Edmund Blair and David Stamp)
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Updated Date: May 26, 2018 00:07:22 IST