With its 2.8 million km2 of tropical moist forest, the Congo basin is the second largest expanse of tropical rain forest in the world and is of special importance in local, national and international terms, in view of both its intact forests and the immense diversity of its biological resources. The products obtained encompass timber, mushrooms, honey, leaves, bark, roots, fruit and bushmeat, hides, trophies and other animal products. The environmental functions of the forest (conservation of soil fertility in local terms and carbon sequestration and regulation of hydrological cycles and climatic conditions in global terms) are also well known.
Management of the forest heritage has usually been seen as the almost exclusive sphere of the State, while commercial companies have simply obeyed the administrative and financial conditions imposed on them. Unfortunately, the State has been prevented from playing its role to the full by the lack of financial resources and technical and institutional capacities of public forest administrations.
Even so, various planning or management initiatives and activities with regard to forest resources have been undertaken in Central Africa in the past 25 years, among which the following are particularly noteworthy:
• at the national level, the establishment of proper institutional frameworks for the environmental sector, the revision of forest laws to adapt them to new international developments, the promotion of national environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs), etc.;
• at the regional level, an unprecedented commitment on the part of States and mobilization of all those involved in political, economic and social life, has translated into the establishment of institutions and discussion and reflection fora as well as the setting up of political decision-making bodies such as the African Timber Organization (ATO), the Conference on Central African Moist Forest Ecosystems (CEFDHAC), The Conference of Ministers in Charge of Forests in Central Africa (COMIFAC) and many programmes supported by international partners;
• at the international level, the active part played by the countries of Central Africa in all international initiatives and conventions, particularly the Tropical Forest Action Plan, the Environmental Strategy and Action Plan, and the three conventions resulting from the Rio de Janeiro Summit (the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification); more recently, an international Congo Basin Forest Partnership has been launched with a view to supporting present efforts.
In this context, with funding from the Netherlands and in collaboration with ATO, CEFDHAC, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Inter-African Forest Industries Association (IFIA), the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and the International Model Forest Network Secretariat (IMFNS), FAO launched a programme to assess sustainable forest management practices in Central Africa and made a call for nominations in order to identify forests in the region that had been the object of management practices and efforts to achieve sustainable forest management.
While thanking all those who responded to the call for nominations, FAO wishes to stress that this exercise should not be seen as providing some kind of "seal of approval". Rather, it is hoped that the selected examples will be useful and replicable, leading to improved forest management practices in the various countries.
El Hadji Sène
Forest Resources Division
FAO Forestry Department