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The desire and concern of the governments of Central Africa to ensure sustainable management of their forest resources can be seen in the new forestry policies appearing in the subregion. Forest management has its place in a coordinated national framework, and the choice of a forest policy is a precondition for the activities of those managing forests. The State monopoly on forest management in the past did not, however, guarantee the conservation and sustainable use of forest resources. These new policies are thus revolutionizing forest management by offering new and alternative methods – collective assumption of responsibility, decentralization, etc. – with the emergence of such spheres of application as community forests, management for timber production with the participation of local population, and the creation of community reserves.

With the change in management strategies and these political reforms, new stakeholders have emerged – small farmers, local communities, NGOs, the private sector, government technical services, etc. Moreover, the new management methods are bringing with them a kind of “transformation” of forestry staff and the transfer of organizations responsibilities from State structures to private structures (NGOs, concession-holders, etc.). Communities are now aware of the very real opportunities offered by forest management, inasmuch as they envisage an indigenous system of wealth generation by using the natural resources of their forests to meet the practical needs and strategic interests of their communities. The revolution brought about by placing a forest under sustainable management is also seen within logging companies in the form of new know-how, new working methods, new relationships within the company and with outside partners, etc. Further, logging companies themselves are now seeking and implementing forest management on their concessions.


The appearance and involvement of new actors not only provides major support to the forestry sector, but also allows the formation of new partnerships among the actors. The second lesson is thus to be sought in the remarkable growth of dialogue among the partners in sustainable management in Central Africa in recent years. NGOs, people’s representatives, government officers, logging companies and researchers are meeting one another, exchanging ideas and moving forward together in the common interest. Forests are the focus of a variety of major interests, and sustainable forest management must be profitable to all the stakeholders.

The establishment and maintenance of effective strategic partnerships would therefore seem to be important factors in sustainable forest management, taking into consideration both the difference in levels of interests and the convergence of the interests of all the partners, so that they are able to achieve their respective goals. Partnership implies the same level of responsibility, with:

• identification of common goals;

• a negotiation cycle;

• the signing of a partnership agreement.

With a production forest, social relationships within the company, and more generally in the area, are important because of the involvement of workers and villagers in implementing the management plan. Within the company, the advantages lie mostly in the guarantee of a permanent supply of the resource, the planning of local sales, and exporting. Professional training and the involvement of other partners, such as NGOs and the local population, are thus important elements. In other words, it is a matter of institutionalizing an approach to natural resource management based on dialogue and communication.

The participation of some of the most vulnerable and traditionally marginalized users, such as Pygmies, should also be noted. The contribution of indigenous knowledge therefore seems to be an important element in participatory forest management. Another major lesson learned during this process is the effectiveness of strengthening the local population’s skills through on-the-job training. Concrete benefits are essential in order to provide the incentives needed for wholehearted participation, and the greatest challenge facing participatory management is that of generating income and devising mechanisms for distributing such returns to the communities.


The other trend in current forest management practices in the subregion is that they now take account of the protective and ecological functions of forests (biodiversity conservation, reduced-impact logging) and the social and cultural functions (safeguarding the forest heritage, for example), and not just the productive function. In other words, production goals are linked to other goals such as biodiversity conservation. The challenge, therefore, is to create multidisciplinary approaches that are viable in theory and practice and take account of the various dimensions of sustainability. Biodiversity is thus sometimes included in multiresource management inventories – although norms for such inventories still need to be developed and tested. Wildlife management activities are sometimes incorporated into forest concessions. Also noted is the spread of reduced-impact logging techniques, such as those described in Cameroon’s “Norms for forest intervention”, linking conservation and production. The social and cultural dimensions can also be addressed through the use of participatory methods. In a multiple-use, multipurpose forest, the success of management therefore depends on constant communication and collaboration among the various parties involved. It is also important to reconcile customary law and modern law and establish a consultation and discussion forum.

Production is becoming diversified and may include NWFPs, ecotourism, etc. These products are sometimes taken into account even in preparatory studies for management plans (observations on NWFPs during management inventories, and socio-economic surveys). There are also agroforestry systems on farmland that include multiple-use trees and which are still one of the main sources of income for the people, even if they have not yet received the same attention as community forestry.

Current examples of forest management also show the considerable progress achieved in the knowledge of ecosystems and forest resources. Management is now based on detailed knowledge of the initial status of the forest, its various resources and its social context. The forest management inventory is thus the key element in long-term planning of activities in a forest and represents the prime opportunity to gather the maximum amount of information on the area to be managed. However, a dynamic, all-encompassing view of natural resources and the ecosystem is still needed. Experimental procedures have been implemented in an effort to address some of these issues, and collaboration with research institutes is vital in this task.


In this emerging model of decentralized, negotiated forest management, in which responsibility is transferred to the local stakeholders, the various dimensions of sustainability are taken into account with varying degrees of success. Apart from its long-term or time-linked dimension, the economic, technical, sociocultural and ecological dimensions of sustainability are being addressed, using an integrated approach to the conceptualisation and implementation of forest management. The aim is thus to integrate and manage a forest area and resource sustainably over the long term, using certain production tools and in agreement with the various stakeholders. Rules of access to the resource are clarified and management procedures defined. Production and processing capacities (both industrial and small-scale) are adapted and the resource is renewed and maintained. Considerable efforts have been made to provide the technical guidelines needed for field-level adoption of sustainable management practices. Efforts are also being made to develop criteria and indicators for evaluating the sustainability of forest management. However, the process of forest certification is still not fully under way, although it is now receiving considerable attention.

The problem of the time scale used in forest management arises from the fact that trees are slow-growing perennial plants. This creates difficulties particularly in evaluating silvicultural practices in terms of their long-term effects on forest dynamics and the ecosystem in general, with a view to defining a silvicultural system that ensures conservation and sustainable forest production. The adoption of sustainable management practices is easier in a long-term management framework, with concessions, for example, so that the logging company has guaranteed access to the resource.


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. The sometimes very violent civil strife and unrest experienced by some countries in the subregion lead to mass movements of people, aggravating their often already precarious situation.

• Financial constraints. Very little forest revenue is injected back into the sector. Forest management is expensive in financial, human and material terms. National forest funds must be established or reactivated and guarantee mechanisms introduced to allow the financing of management plans. An objective and fair review of the forest taxation system should be able to offer a solution.

• Commercial constraints. Companies prefer to confine themselves to a few commercial species in order to reduce risks. The international timber market is thus a major factor – and one hard to control – in the success of management projects. Marketing is an essential aspect of forest management, as is the local processing of products, and both these elements should be taken into account. Industrialization will also increase locally added value, diversify production and reduce risks.

• Institutional and regulatory constraints. Modern law and customary law are often in conflict, and there is very little dialogue among the various sectors and among the main stakeholders. Poor capacities and institutional instability, especially with regard to the planning and monitoring of management plans, hamper sustainable forest management at the national level, as does the lack of technical skills of the human resources assigned to forest activities. Recent regulations are either convoluted or hard to implement.

• Socio-economic constraints. The basic problem is poverty, which leads directly to indiscriminate use of forest resources. Their poverty lays communities open to the systematic cut-price exploitation of all their forest resources by economic partners. One of the greatest constraints on forest management is therefore the clash of interests between those working for sustainable forest management and those seeking immediate economic gains. Insufficient attention is still paid to the social dimension in the preparation of management plans, although there has been significant progress in recent years. Moreover, donors’ interventions often take no account of the regional or cross-border character of natural resources, although many communities were split by the boundaries imposed in colonial times.

• Technical constraints. The lack of knowledge on the nature of forest resources and the impossibility of reconstituting them exactly as they were are major constraints. Forest resource assessment methods must be appropriate in order to avoid expensive and poorly targeted inventories. Although harvesting and silviculture regulations do exist, they are hard to apply. A better grasp of management parameters is needed if un-sustainable harvesting is to be avoided.

• Knowledge is inadequate, scattered and poorly disseminated in many of the spheres of sustainable forest resource management. Research is still the key to understanding the ecological and sociocultural environment, improving the institutional and legislative framework, understanding production systems and developing appropriate forest management techniques. However, research cannot make an effective contribution to sustainable management unless priority research issues are clearly defined, financial, material and human means are made available, research institutes coordinate actions and results are disseminated in a language accessible to all. In addition, trainers and training institutes must design programmes to meet the changing needs of actors and stakeholders in the forest sector.

5 This chapter and the conclusions are taken from an article shortly to be published on the In Search of Excellence initiative and its results: I. Amsallem, M. Løyche Wilkie, P. Koné & M. Ngandji, Gestion forestière en Afrique centrale: à la recherche de l’excellence. Un programme de partenariat FAO/Pays-Bas. Bois et forêts des Tropiques. CIRAD, Montpellier, France.

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