The first meeting of the 2022 Forest Industry Commission was held last Thursday, February 24. Companies and professional associations from Cameroon, Congo and Gabon participated in this meeting.
The commission's discussions focused on forest management and industry development. After a summary presentation of the current situation by Nicolas BAYOL, president of the commission, each member expressed his recent experiences on the two subjects, and presented their concerns and suggestions.
Regarding forest management, four concerns and suggestions emerged:
Concern about securing the surface area of concessions in the context of land allocation (revision of zoning plans at national levels), but also of FSC certification (maximum 5% of the surface area can be converted). This problem of insecurity for sustainable investments affects all countries, whether because of the population growth or because of the priorities given to agricultural development. There is a need for reflection on greater security of forest titles.
The reconstitution and regeneration of certain species (such as Sapelli) are not sufficient. Solutions must be sought to compensate for the inevitable decline in the availability of these species and ensure better regeneration. Actions are being studied to develop silviculture or agroforestry in savannahs and highly degraded forest areas.
There are no specific regulatory guidelines for the renewal of management plans for the second logging rotation in forest concessions. Two companies in Gabon (CEB and Rougier) have begun work on renewing their management plans, as the implementation period for the first management plans is coming to an end. They are doing so in close collaboration with the government and through a pilot project financed by the PPECF and in collaboration with the University of Gembloux and CIRAD. The objective of the project is to test the extent to which inventory and harvesting data, as well as biodiversity and regeneration monitoring data, and local development assistance data collected during the first rotation, could be used to develop new management plans and reduce the need for new management inventories. The reflections will also be shared with the other operators soon to be involved and with the consulting firms.
The benefits of management plans, and through them the sustainable management of large areas of forest, are not sufficiently known by the general public, nor by local administrations. It is important to communicate more about the benefits of forest management plans.
With regard to the development of the timber industry, six concerns and suggestions were made by foresters and industrialists:
Concerning Special Economic Zones: it is important to attract industries that transform other species than the existing ones or that do 2nd and 3rd transformation; it is also necessary to take care not to disadvantage the investments of existing companies that wish to invest.
The principle of production sharing, as proposed in the Congo, is of concern to forestry companies who have expressed their concerns (analyses of the proposals made by Congolese institutions are underway): the increase in forest harvesting can only be done within the limits of the management plans and for species and qualities that the companies do not already process themselves; investments in human resources, their housing, and in machines and logging trucks can only be made if the purchase of production complements is guaranteed over a long period of time; guarantees concerning the payment of shared logs are essential so as not to negatively impact the cash flow of the companies for their own operations and investment plans.
Domestic SMEs can play a role in the development of secondary and tertiary processing, and should have access to SEZs as foreign investors, even if they are producing for the local or regional market. Measures to promote further processing are needed: for example, in Cameroon the government exempts companies from paying customs duties on imports of 2nd and 3rd processing materials.
In the context of climate change, some companies, such as CEB, are investing to reduce their carbon emissions, to optimize efficiency through the use of waste for energy (cogeneration) and for the production of coal and pellets.
Already today, companies have difficulty in finding trained personnel for essential jobs such as sawyers and sharpeners. The development of vocational training centers (not to be confused with technical schools, which are also necessary) to train company workers is a real emergency for any industry development policy.
The forest industry would like to be part of a reflection on the modalities of the log export ban, envisaged by the States (except Gabon) on 1 January 2023.
On the basis of the above elements and many others, the Forest-Industry Commission will develop communication notes. These publications will be developed by commission members over the next few months and will be available before the ATIBT Forum to be held from May 31 to June 3, 2022 in Nantes.
The next meeting is scheduled for April 28 and we hope that representatives from DRC and Ivory Coast will also attend. The committee also remains open to new members, especially experts in the field of industries.