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The forest sector in Africa is in the process of radical change. The simple, rigid forest management models of the past are 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.

The success of forest management will, however, 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 definition used in Africa for managed forest areas is “the area of forest which is managed for various purposes (conservation, production, other) in accordance with a formal, nationally approved, management plan over a sufficiently long period (five years or more)”.6 In terms of this definition, it is hard to find countries in Central Africa that provide full information on forest areas covered by a forest management plan that is both formal and approved at the national level. However, each of the countries of the subregion has adopted a strategy and an action plan that take account of their specific features. As it has been seen in the examples of forest management summarized in the present document, management rules have been proposed for each type of forest, such as the obligation to make an inventory of the resource and submit a management plan prior to any commercial logging in Gabon. In the Congo and Cameroon, State-owned forests have been divided into forest management units with guidelines for the use and development of resources. Simple management plans have also been drawn up for village and community forests, etc. Considerable efforts have been devoted to providing the technical guidelines needed for field-level adoption of sustainable management practices in the subregion. 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 in most countries, although it is now receiving considerable attention.

Under the In Search of Excellence initiative for identification of some of the best managed forests in Central Africa, more than a year’s hard work led to 24 nominations, although more than 250 individuals, organizations and networks had been contacted. Even so, the 14 case studies then made (a list of which is given in Annex 1) do allow us to appreciate the quality of the nominations and the selected examples. In addition to the publication of these 14 case studies, the proceedings of the workshop on sustainable management practices in the tropical forests of Central Africa, organized by FAO and its partners (Kribi, Cameroon, 10–14 September 2002) within the framework of the In Search of Excellence initiative, were recently published by FAO,7 as well as a study on the present status and trends, including country status reports for the 11 countries of the subregion.8

The selection of forests in Central Africa managed for a wide range of purposes and in different contexts gives an idea of their experience of sustainable forest management and of practices that can be replicated elsewhere, and the whole issue of sustainable management of Central African forests in its various aspects is presented through these examples. It is important to continue to keep up the contacts established in the course of this initiative and extend them to include other partners. And it will be important in the future to follow up and support such exchanges of experience and information on the continuation or inception of specific activities either throughout a country’s forests or in individual forests with a view to improving present practices, by forming new networks and collaborating with already existing networks.

The In Search of Excellence initiative reflects the clear will and concern of Central African governments to ensure the sustainable management of their forest resources. Although the socio-political unrest and indeed civil war that have riven the countries of the subregion have hampered the implementation of any sustainable forest management programme for some years, it is encouraging to see the present commitment in favour of the forests of the Congo basin on the part of both governments and the international community. The conjunction of the interventions now being made under the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Environmental Plan of Action, the COMIFAC Plan of Convergence and the Congo Basin Forest Partnership could very shortly bring about a favourable context for the development of sustainable management of the subregion’s forests.

6 FAO. 2001. Status and trends in forest management worldwide. 1980-2000. By Mette Løyche Wilkie. Unpublished.
7 FAO. 2003. Conservation and sustainable management of tropical moist forest ecosystems in Central Africa: Proceedings of the regional workshop on sustainable forest management practices in Central Africa, Kribi, Cameroon, 10-14 September 2002, Isabelle Amsallem (ed.).
8 FAO. 2002. Status and trends in forest management in Central Africa. By Isabelle Amsallem.

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