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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.

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