Central Africa contains one of the last great forest areas on earth, second in size only to that of Amazonia and made up of a vast, almost uniform, closed tropical moist forest cover, spreading over most of the countries of the Congo basin. The region possesses an exceptional biological diversity and a high rate of endemism. Although Central Africa has only a low overall rate of deforestation compared with other parts of Africa, its forests are suffering a degree of degradation hard to assess. There is a wide range of causes of deforestation and degradation, including shifting and settled cultivation, logging, forest fires, mining and infrastructure building.
In regional terms, the issue of sustainable forest management is now being given a very high priority on the political agendas of the countries of Central Africa. There are growing numbers of efforts to bring about sustainable forest management, with the establishment of institutions, discussion and reflection fora and political decision-making structures such as the African Timber Organization (ATO), The Conference of the Central African Moist Forest Ecosystems (CEFDHAC), The Conference of Ministers in Charge of Forests in Central Africa (COMIFAC), and more recently the Congo Basin Forest Partnership. Ratification of agreements and conventions also shows the will of governments to manage their forests sustainably, as do the implementation of active regional programmes (the Conservation and Rational Use of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa [ECOFAC] Programme, the Regional Environment Information Management Programme, etc.) and the establishment of subregional networks.
In national terms, special institutional frameworks concerned with the environment are being set up, forest laws are being revised to adapt them to new international developments, national environmental NGOs are being promoted, etc.
In local terms, initiatives and activities focusing on sustainable forest resource management are growing in number and meeting with varying degrees of success: establishment of mechanisms for the decentralization of power, use of integrated, participatory approaches to the sustainable use of forest resources, taking account of the multiple uses and purposes of forests, etc.
In this context and under the new FAO/Netherlands Partnership Programme on Conservation and sustainable management of tropical moist forest ecosystems in Central Africa, FAO launched a new initiative entitled In Search of Excellence in May 2001, in close collaboration with regional and international organizations: The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), ATO, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the International Model Forest Network Secretariat (IMFNS) and the Inter-African Forest Industries Association (IFIA).
The In Search of Excellence initiative seeks to address the issue of forest conservation and sustainable management through support to current subregional and national initiatives. Its main goal is therefore to identify and record successful attempts at sustainable forest management in Central Africa and thus promote adoption of best forest management practices at the local level. FAO and its partners sought examples of sound forest management in the subregion in order to identify the features of these exemplary types of management. In other words, the general approach is that of preaching by example, especially by identifying, recognizing and encouraging organizations and individuals successfully pursuing sustainable management of the region’s forests. It also entails exploration of ways and means of replicating promising approaches elsewhere. All activities were carried out in close collaboration with the governments of the countries concerned and with non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The initial step in this initiative was that of identifying a variety of good examples of forest management in Central Africa, using an open, transparent and participatory approach. A call for nominations of forests was widely circulated by FAO and its partners between November 2001 and April 2002, being sent to more than 250 people involved in forest management in the 11 countries concerned (Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda, and Sao Tome and Principe) and elsewhere. Details of the initiative were also published in forestry magazines and trade journals, and distributed through forestry list-servers on the Internet and during seminars on related subjects. Twenty-four nominations from nine countries in the subregion were received, and the total area covered by all the nominated forests was more than 3 million ha.
An internal FAO selection committee prepared a list of criteria (objective, nature of the resource, type of manager, location, type of innovation, management standards, effective implementation, etc.) to assess the nominations. First, examples of forest management were identified that represented a whole spectrum of types of forest, management objectives, managers and geographic areas. Then new or innovative approaches were selected that have led to the establishment and maintenance of successful partnerships, as well as examples that could be replicated elsewhere and in which the management approach was neither too specialized nor too expensive. Following this consultation process, 14 nominations were selected as the subjects of case studies. In addition to the publication of these 14 case studies, FAO and its partners organized a workshop at Kribi, Cameroon, on 10–14 September 2002 in order to foster the exchange of the experience gained from these examples and promote the concepts of model and demonstration forests. FAO has also published the proceedings of this workshop.
It is important to stress that the In Search of Excellence initiative is not a competition and that the examples selected by FAO and its partners are simply those that best meet the proposed selection criteria. Furthermore, the choice of these forests should not be seen as some kind of seal of approval or certification of the forest management by FAO or its partners.
The selection of managed forests in Central Africa took into account a wide range of objectives and contexts (geographical and ecological zones, type of ownership, size, management objectives, etc.). Each objective of forest management is thus represented: sustainable timber production, biodiversity conservation, wildlife management, protection of fragile ecosystems, tourism, etc. Seven countries (Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon) are also represented. Certain facts and observations should be highlighted among the many elements gathered in the analysis of the case studies of the selected forests and during the Kribi workshop:
l The forest sector in Central Africa is in the process of radical change. There are a growing and very real awareness and a will to manage forest resources sustainably on the part of all the actors and stakeholders in political, economic and social life, with an unprecedented mobilization and a change in mindsets. The forest management models of the past are thus becoming more complex. The imposed, centralized system of yesteryear, dominated by the State and excluding the local population from decisions concerning forest management and its implementation, is giving way to a negotiated, decentralized system. Whereas interventions in the forest sector previously focused on timber production and income generation, they now encompass a whole range of products and services, providing economic opportunities for communities and individuals, and seeking to contribute to poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation. The analytical and reductionist forest management of an earlier technical approach is changing, moving towards participatory management and trying to use an integrated, multidisciplinary approach involving farmers, local communities, NGOs, private-sector operators, government technical services and political leaders. Production and management goals are being diversified over a longer term to cover the many benefits to be obtained from forests, including environmental goods and services.
• In general terms, although the various actions and initiatives now under way are promising, they often come up against constraints of various types:
- political constraints, with sometimes very violent
civil strife and unrest experienced by some countries in the subregion;
- financial constraints, with very little forest revenue being injected back into the sector;
- commercial constraints, with companies preferring to confine themselves to a few commercial species in order to reduce risks;
- institutional and regulatory constraints, with modern and customary laws that are often in conflict, and very little intersectoral dialogue;
- socio-economic constraints, with poverty as the basic problem, leading directly to indiscriminate extraction of forest resources;
- technical constraints, with a lack of knowledge on the nature of forest resources, and also the impossibility of reconstituting them exactly as they were;
- moreover, knowledge is inadequate, scattered and poorly disseminated in many of the spheres involved in sustainable forest resource management.
The success of forest management will thus depend on the establishment of such preconditions as poverty reduction, improvement in the well-being of the local population and involvement of the various stakeholders at the local, national, regional and international levels. Forest management requires not only financial resources, but also a political will, social investments and, most important of all, the active involvement of local stakeholders such as communities and logging companies. It also requires greater attention to sustainable financing through the creation and transparent management of funding mechanisms. Investments are also needed in order to build up human and institutional capacities and disseminate knowledge.
The In Search of Excellence initiative selected current examples of forest management in which local stakeholders have come to play an important role and progressive approaches have been adopted. These are the initial stages in a longer-term process of sharing information and experience concerning sustainable management in Central Africa. There are plans to form a subregional network linking local-level initiatives involved with this subject, in order to foster the exchange of ideas on best practices and approaches among those responsible for forest management and other interested parties. If this is to take place, however, more of these examples from Central Africa are needed, ranging from promising political reforms at the national level to significant, innovative activities at the local level. It is important to continue to keep up and broaden the contacts established in the course of this project. And it will be important in the future to provide follow-up and support to these exchanges of experience and information by setting up networks and collaborating with already existing networks, while ensuring the continuation or inception of activities at national or forest management unit level, with a view to improving present practices.
THE IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE INITIATIVE
Central Africa contains one of the last large forest areas on the planet, second in size only to that of the Amazon basin. This vast, near-uniform, closed tropical moist forest covers most of the countries in the Congo basin. It is a region of exceptional biodiversity with large numbers of endemic species. Although Central Africa has a low rate of deforestation compared with other parts of Africa, its forests are undergoing a degradation hard to assess. The wide variety of causes of deforestation and degradation include shifting cultivation, settled agriculture, logging, forest fires, mining and the building of infrastructures.
Aware of the dangers threatening their forest resources and with support from the international community, the countries of Central Africa have been stepping up their efforts to promote sustainable management of these forests. The conservation and sustainable management of forest ecosystems, especially biodiversity conservation, are essential in maintaining the productive capacity of forests and protecting the health and vitality of ecosystems, thereby maintaining their productive, protective and environmental functions as well as their social and cultural values. The issue of sustainable forest management therefore has a very high priority on the political agenda in Central Africa today, and there is an urgent need to translate this concept into practical action at field level. Moreover, long-term political commitment at both national and local levels is a sine qua non for implementing sustainable forest management programmes. It is essential that national organizations and local communities work together within each country, while cooperation between countries is also needed. The following initiatives indicate the present political support for this issue:
l The fourth session of CEFDHAC was held in Kinshasa on 10–13 June 2002 in accordance with the resolution on CEFDHAC follow-up procedures adopted by the inaugural session held in Brazzaville in 1996 (also referred to as the Brazzaville Process). CEFDHAC is a very broad discussion forum intended to foster collaboration over the conservation and sustainable use of the ecosystems of Central Africa’s closed moist forests. The subject of the fourth CEFDHAC session was the integration of management of Central Africa’s forest ecosystems and poverty reduction.
l The Summit of Central African Heads of State on the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Tropical Forests, held in Yaounde on 17 March 1999, entrusted ministers in charge of the subregion’s forests with the task of coordinating and supervising implementation of the Yaounde Declaration through a regional Plan of Convergence. The Conference of Ministers in Charge of Forests in Central Africa (COMIFAC) was thus instituted, with its first meeting being held in Yaounde in December 2002. This organization is an authority and instrument for subregional cooperation on sustainable forest management, bringing together the ministers in charge of forests of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon.
l More recently, during the Johannesburg Summit in September 2002, a formal declaration was made regarding a new partnership involving the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the European Union (EU), the World Bank, ITTO, etc. The objective of this initiative, known as the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, is to provide support to efforts to conserve and develop the Congo basin forests.
In May 2001, under the new FAO/Netherlands Partnership Programme on Conservation and sustainable management of tropical moist forest ecosystems in Central Africa, and in close collaboration with regional and international bodies – ITTO, ATO, IUCN, WWF, IMFNS and IFIA – FAO launched a new initiative entitled In Search of Excellence.
The In Search of Excellence initiative seeks to address the issue of forest conservation and sustainable management through support to current subregional and national initiatives. Its main goal is therefore to identify and record successful attempts at sustainable forest management in Central Africa and thus promote adoption of best forest management practices at the local level. Its action falls within the framework established by CEFDHAC and COMIFAC, and involves the following 11 countries: Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda, and Sao Tome and Principe. All these countries are members of CEFDHAC and/or COMIFAC, except for Angola, which has observer status.
The initiative is based on the approach described by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their very popular 1982 work on company management entitled In Search of Excellence. The authors had studied a selection of successful businesses and tried to identify the factors leading to their success. Along similar lines, FAO and its partners sought examples of sound forest management in Central Africa in order to identify the features of such cases and thus lend field-level support to implementation of the concept of sustainable management of tropical moist forests in that region. The general approach is thus that of preaching by example, especially by identifying, recognizing and encouraging organizations and individuals successfully pursuing sustainable management of the region’s forests. It also entails exploration of ways and means of replicating promising approaches elsewhere.
The project’s activities were and are carried out in close collaboration with the governments of the countries concerned and with non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The main results include:
• a set of case studies highlighting successful examples of sustainable management in Central Africa (Autumn 2002) in order to identify indicators of successful forest management;
• a subregional workshop to foster the sharing of experience resulting from these examples and promote the concepts of model and demonstration forests (Kribi, Cameroon, 10–14 September 2002);
• establishment of a subregional network for the sharing of information and experience among initiatives such as model and demonstration forests and other field-level initiatives concerning sustainable forest management, and facilitation of the exchange of ideas on best practices and approaches among those in charge of forest management and other interested parties.