THEY inhabit a polluted part of Ivory Coastâ€™s main city with few jobs and a swelling population, but residents of Abidjanâ€™s slums have a rare respite: a stretch of pristine rainforest.
From their wooden shacks and unpainted concrete houses by motorways on the edge of Banco National Park, the millions who live in north Abidjan need no lesson on its worth.
â€œThis forest is a great thing,â€ said textile worker Sebastien Coulibaly, 35, in front of the sky-scraping green mass of vines and broccoli-shaped trees.
â€œIt helps us to breathe better -- we live at ease because of it.
â€œSometimes we walk our children there. We must protect it, because our planet will be nothing without forests.â€
Logging, farming and armed conflict still threaten Africaâ€™s jungles, which include the Congo Basin, the worldâ€™s second largest after the Amazon, but analysts are hopeful.
A new global study on illegal logging by Londonâ€™s Chatham House think-tank on Wednesday found that it had halved in Cameroon, once one of the worst sources of illicit timber, since 2002, a decline of twice the global average.
Earlier this year the European Union signed deals with Ghana, Cameroon and Congo Republic to tighten restrictions on logging, ahead of an EU ban on illegally harvested timber that was passed this month and takes effect in 2012.
â€œWeâ€™ve dared to sanction firms, from withdrawing permits to big fines,â€ said Cameroon Forest Minister Elvis Ngolle.
Logging bans donâ€™t directly address forest loss from other threats such as agriculture, but officials are hoping that a potential money spinner -- carbon offsets -- will.
A UN scheme to reduce emissions from deforestation or degradation (REDD) has enabled Indonesia, which houses the worldâ€™s third biggest forest but is being deforested by palm oil and timber firms, to get $1b from Norway in May to revoke those firmsâ€™ forestry licenses.
Deforestation makes up a fifth of world CO2 emissions and the REDD fund is worth a total of $4b so far.
Unlike Asia, African states have been slow to capitalise on climate aid -- they account for 2% of developing nation carbon projects.
But many hope to change that.
An African Development Bank fund was established in 2008 for the Congo basin, a forest of half a billion acres (200 million hectares) spanning nine countries and storing, the bank says, 25-30 billion tonnes of carbon, which currently trades at 14 euros per tonne in Europe.
The fund aims to harmonise forest tax, share ecological data, cooperate on policing and sponsor community projects that encourage forest protection, like honey-making.
â€œExpectations are extremely high that this will allow us to preserve the forest, restore whatâ€™s been degraded and pay these countries for their ecological services,â€ Patrice Wadja, the fundâ€™s operations officer, said.
Gabonâ€™s President Ali Bongo seeks to be first in line. He has banned raw wood exports and in May set up a climate council that must come up with a REDD plan for the 80 percent of its original forest that remains before Decemberâ€™s climate talks in Cancun.
Despite the challenges, experts think Africaâ€™s forests have at least as good a chance as Brazil or Indonesia.
The rate of forest destruction is generally slower: 0.16 percent a year in the Congo Basin, compared with 11 percent in Indonesia, Wadja said, because Central Africa has been largely spared large-scale clearing for agriculture.
West Africaâ€™s deforestation is much higher, driven by logging and clearing to plant cash crops, especially cocoa, a topic so sensitive that Reuters could not get permission to visit some forests in top grower Ivory Coast.
â€œAt independence, we had 16 million hectares of forest. We today have 6 million -- the lost area is now all farms,â€ said Ivorian forest and water technician Yamani Soro.
Improving yields with fertiliser and pesticides is key, although reforms have been blocked by Ivory Coastâ€™s post-civil war political crisis.
Drier nations in the semi-desert Sahel belt with scant forest are meanwhile planning to plant trees. Presidents from Senegal to Djibouti agreed in Chad last month to build a â€œgreen wallâ€ thousands of miles long with IMF funds.
But even as Africa curbs illicit logging and plants trees, another threat looms: Asian palm oil companies are eying Africaâ€™s forests to feed their growing populations.
Liberia has signed deals with two and China on Thursday proposed a vast project in Democratic Republic of Congo.
â€œThe big unknown are the Chinese,â€ said conservationist Terese Hart who has worked in DRC for decades.
â€œThey are looking at the interior for exploitation, including palm.â€
Africaâ€™s forests have been until recently gone to waste as several populations across the continent burn them for charcoal or cut the tress for firewoods.
Other forests have been reclaimed for farm land, while others were used for constructing houses.
Africa takes to forests for carbon credit