SUB-REGIONAL OVERVIEW

CENTRAL AFRICA

OVERVIEW OF RESOURCES

Forests in Central Africa cover an estimated area of 240 million ha; these are mainly dense tropical rain forest (FAO 2005). The sub-region is dominated by the Congo basin forest ecosystem, which is the second largest forest in the world, second only to the Amazon forest. The ecosystem comprises 200 million ha, about 18 per cent of the world’s tropical forests, and hosts about 400 mammalian species and more than 10 000 plant species (Maathai 2005).

As shown in Table 3, most of the countries have considerable forest cover, with Gabon being most forested with 84.7 per cent of its total land area under forest cover. Chad is the least forested, with only 10 per cent of the land under forest. All the countries, with the exception of São Tomé and Príncipe, are experiencing a gradual decline in the area of their forest cover.

Table 3: Forest cover as percentage of total land area
Country Total land area
(’000 ha)
Total forest area in 2000
(’000 ha)
% of land area in
2000

Cameroon 46 540 23 858 51.0
Central African Republic 62 297 22 907 36.8
Chad 125 920 12 692 10.0
Congo 34 150 22 060 64.6
DRC 226 705 135 207 59.6
Equatorial Guinea 2 805 1 752 62.5
Gabon 25 767 21 826 84.7
São Tomé and Príncipe 95 27 28.3

Source: FAO 2005

ENDOWMENTS AND OPPORTUNITIES

Forests play a major role in the economies of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, and in the livelihoods of local people.

The forest sector contributes, on average, between 5 and 13 per cent of the GDP of these countries (FAO 2002). Up to 60 per cent of export earnings for Gabon are from timber products, while for the Central African Republic it is about 50 per cent (FAO 2002). Gabon is the biggest exporter of industrial roundwood, exporting nearly 97 per cent of its total production (FAO 2005). Export of medicinal plants is a major foreign exchange earner in Cameroon, with annual earnings of 2.9 million dollars (FAO 2002).

Forests and woodlands also play an important role in climate modification, catchment protection and regulation of hydrological networks, and biodiversity.

For the local communities, forests and woodlands have multiple uses, which vary extensively with the type of forest, and the community. These range from construction materials, foods, energy, medicines, catchment protection, soil protection, shade, habitat for wildlife and bees, grazing as well as cultural values (including sacred groves, shade, peace trees and plants, meeting places and training areas). Forests play a very important role as carbon sinks, and the Congo basin with its dense forest cover can benefit from carbon trading.

Table 4: Production and consumption of industrial roundwood in Central Africa 2002
Country Production
(’000 cubic metres)
Consumption
(’000 cubic metres)
Export
(’000 cubic metres)

Cameroon 1 270 1 051 219
Central African Republic 1 058 958 100
Chad 761 761 -
Congo 1 251 692 559
DRC 3 653 3 651 2
Equatorial Guinea 364 515 0
Gabon 2 584 84 2 500
São Tomé and Príncipe 9 9 0

Source: FAO 2005

CHALLENGES FACED IN REALIZING OPPORTUNITIES FOR DEVELOPMENT

Forests and woodlands are declining, mainly due to overharvesting and bush fires, agricultural expansion and overgrazing.

User rights in the forests are allocated by governments through administrative or competitive processes (FAO 2005). In Gabon, for example, there are 221 concessions over 11.9 million ha or 56 per cent of the forest area (Global Forest Watch 2000). Cameroon has allocated 81 per cent of its forests to concessions (White and Martin 2002). Although the allocation process takes advantage of market forces, sometimes monitoring and enforcement of regulations in the permit areas by the governments is inadequate, leading to illegal practices such as felling of protected species, wrong classification of logs, felling undersized trees and transportation or removal of more logs than permitted (UNEP 2004).

Central Africa has an estimated population of close to 80 million inhabitants, of which 65 million currently live in or near the forest (FAO 2003a). Local communities use bush fires as a technique for agriculture and hunting. Through monitoring, the Global Fire Monitoring Centre (GFMC) has detected an increasing number of fire events in Central Africa, which indicates fire is systematically being employed in land-use change (FAO 2005). Central Africa has experienced several prolonged conflicts, which has had various implications for the management of forest resources. Some of the challenges associated with conflict and forest management are discussed in Chapter 12: Environment for Peace and Regional Cooperation.

STRATEGIES TO IMPROVE OPPORTUNITIES

For sustainable forest harvesting to support livelihoods and human well-being, the Central African countries have put in place measures to ensure sustainability of the resource use. Among these are strengthening forest law and governance by:

  • Encouraging sharing of information on trade in illegally harvested forest products;
  • Participating in international fora and international agreements; and
  • Implementing measures to cut corruption.

Strengthening cooperation to harmonize forest legislation and harvesting are also important. The Central Africa Forestry Commission (COMIFAC) presents a good opportunity for all the countries to share experiences and lessons on effective resource management through:

  • Creating projects and programmes to evolve forest and environment management, with demonstrated results in the short run;
  • Creating monitoring and enforcement systems;
  • Providing support to the local forestry and environment NGO’s;
  • Sensitizing the local populations in the sustainable use of forest resources and employing them in all forest programmes; and
  • Enforcing partnerships at the international level.