Date: Tue, 20 Oct 98 14:13:18 CDT
/** headlines: 160.0 **/
Copyright 1998 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Central Africa Moves to Look After its Forest
By Lyne Mikangou, IPS, 13 October 1998
BRAZZAVILLE, Oct 13 (IPS) - The countries that share the world's second largest tropical rainforest have decided to come together to protect its biodiversity and face up to the challenges posed by economic globalisation.
Decision-makers and nature conservation specialists from six of the nine countries have decided to draw up a common legal framework to protect the ecosystems of Central Africa's dense, tropical rainforest. Their decision came at the first Conference on the Ecosystems of Dense Tropical Rainforests of Central Africa (CEFDHAC), held here last week.
The six - Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of Congo (DRC) - agreed to make the CEFDHAC (in French 'Confrence sur les ecosystemes des forets denses et humides d'Afrique centrale') a permanent conference, meeting every two years.
The other countries that share the Central African rainforest - second only to the Amazon - are Burundi, Rwanda and Sao Tome and Principe.
The legal framework, which gives consideration to states' sovereignty in managing their forests will aim essentially to protect the forest environment and achieve sustainable management of forest resources.
The institutionalisation of the CEFDHAC stems from the "will of the states of Central Africa to harmonise their forestry legislation given the stakes of the globalisation of trade," said Henri Djombo, Minister of Forestry in Congo.
The Central African rainforest covers close to 220 million hectares (ha) - roughly the size of Western Europe. Relatively intact, it has an extremely high degree of biodiversity, including a wide variety of medicinal plants, many animal species and a host of trees prized for their lumber.
More than half of the forest (120 million ha) is in the DRC, while the CAR has 31 million ha. Cameroon and the Republic of Congo have 21 million ha and 20 million ha respectively, and Gabon 19 million. The four smaller countries share a total of around two million ha.
A partial inventory has shown that the forest has 300 commercially valuable types of trees with a potential of about 1.5 billion cubic metres (m3) of logs. The area is valued for its main woods, such as ebony and okoume, "so it's normal for ... forest resources to have strategic importance for the sub-region," said Felix Essame, Director of Forestry in Cameroon.
The demand for the wood in Central Africa's forest could lead to the partial destruction of its natural wealth. Under the guise of globalisation and its principle of free enterprise, many foreign logging companies have invaded the area, thus endangering it. However, they have usually done this with the blessing of the governents concerned.
Given the disastrous experiences other regions have had, the Central African nations want to havelogging strictly regulated by associating non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local communities in the conservation and sustainable use of these ecosystems. The main idea is to make sure the forests do not reach the irreversible-damage stage.
CEFDHAC also aims to build capacity in the region's countries to face up to the vagaries of the international market, such as the Asian crisis, which has had a telling effect on the area's wood sector.
African wood faces strong competition from Southeast Asia, where costs are now very low because of the devaluation of national currencies as a result of the economic and financial crisis affecting that region. Countries such as Cameroon, which had significant stocks of wood destined for the Asian market have suffered.
However, the situation is not bleak, says Essame. "Naturally the Asian crisis has caused the demand for our products to fall, but that in itself has not really had an impact on us since our legislative framework enables us to sell our products to other destinations, not just Asia," he says. "In relative terms, we think we may incur a loss of about 0.5 percent."
Gabon, too, has not been spared.
"With the Asian crisis, which has affected us a bit, we have been trying to tighten up the situation so as not to auction off our product," said Gabon's Director of Forests Mboulou Jean, whose country still has 80 percent of its virgin forests.
The Republic of Congo said it had not been affected by the Asian crisis but by a general fall in prices over the past three years. Sapelli, a Congolese wood, now fetches about 22 percent less than it did three years ago, according to Djombo.
"Prices have tumbled and that has had big repercussions on our economy...," he said. "Otherwise we have not been hit structurally ... We think we should learn from this temporary situation so that we can restructure our economy."
The new conference will enable Central African nations to bring their forestry strategies in line with one another's. "We'll be able to speak the same language to the users of our products," said Celestine Ntsameokwo, who was part of Gabon's delegation to the conference.
The idea of a CEFDHAC was launched by the nine countries at a meeting in May 1996 in Brazzaville.
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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