FAO-EU FLEGT Programme

FAO launches new publication to help African countries trace timber


Publication part of global efforts to crack down on illegal logging

23 November 2016, Kigali, Rwanda – The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today launched a new publication that will help countries in Africa and elsewhere trace timber from forest to consumer as part of wider efforts to crack down on illegal logging and promote the legal timber trade.

The publication, Traceability: A management tool for enterprises and governments, was launched today in Kigali at the 16th Meeting of Partners of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership.

“Setting up a solid traceability system is one of the founding elements to ensure timber is responsibly sourced,” said Robert Simpson of FAO’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Programme. “Combined with demonstrated legal production, this opens up greater access to markets such as the European Union, one of the world’s largest single importer of wood, which requires proof that timber and timber products are not from illegal sources.

The new publication highlights vital factors to be taken into account when designing a successful traceability system.

Traceability systems work by individually locating trees to be felled and giving each one a unique identifier – from painted numbers and plastic tags to bar codes, microchips and even DNA checks. This identifier links the tree to its origin throughout the entire processing chain, passing through storage and transport, and depending on the use, it can follow timber up to finished products.

“Establishing effective traceability systems makes life increasingly difficult for those who practice illegal logging, which has a devastating effect on forests and the people who depend on them,” Simpson said.

Case studies from five African countries

Traceability is not simply a means to meet legal requirements but can also have positive impacts on yields, working conditions and production efficiency, while enabling better monitoring of national statistics.

The report presents examples of the advantages of traceability for governments, logging companies and community forests, with case studies from five African countries that have set up systems with support from FAO’s FLEGT Programme.

In Benin, the National Timber Office has established a cost-effective bar-code-based system for its teak plantations that allows workers to enter information using smartphones, removing the need for labour-intensive paperwork or high cost specialized equipment previously used.

The national traceability system set up in Liberia helps give companies a clearer picture of their stock and enables the government to ensure it receives revenue from the sector while also working towards FLEGT licensing for Liberian timber, which will open up a ‘green lane’ to European markets.

In Cameroon, a private logging company has found that centralizing information via their online traceability system has the added benefit of functioning as a decision-making tool by providing an accurate overview of processes.

A GPS-based surveillance system in the Democratic Republic of the Congo provides real-time information about the movements of machinery in the forest, helping to combat illicit harvesting and reducing the need for time-consuming monitoring missions.

And Gabon has been testing different traceability systems specially adapted to the context of small-scale forestry in order to inform government decisions on a regulatory framework on traceability in community forests.

The publication is the first in a technical series building on FAO FLEGT Programme experience of projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Increasing private sector cooperation in the Congo Basin

Today’s launch at the Congo Basin Forest Partnership meeting was part of a thematic stream on sustainable economic development and the private sector organized by FAO and Association Technique Internationale des Bois Tropicaux. The stream focuses on private certification of forest operators, market challenges in the timber trade, and integrating national political strategies with viable forestry economies, among other topics.

More than 500 representatives from governments, donor bodies, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, and the private sector are attending the week-long meeting in Kigali.

FAO’s FLEGT Programme has been working since 2008 to improve forest governance by supporting the European Union’s FLEGT Action Plan to promote the legal consumption and production of timber.


Read the publication

Traceability: A management tool for enterprises and governments
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