Forests are the life blood of Equatorial Guinea. They cover roughly 98 percent of the total national land area, providing services and sustenance to hundreds of thousands of Equatoguineans. But despite the critical role of forests, the country lacked a comprehensive information system to support monitoring and responsible management of these ecosystems.
Until now, that is. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) of Equatorial Guinea in partnership with WRI recently released the Interactive Forest Atlas of Equatorial Guinea Version 1.0, which tracks land use in the country over the past 15 years. As the first source of open data for the country’s forest sector, the Forest Atlas reveals some encouraging findings: Equatorial Guinea’s forest management has improved in recent years, with protected areas significantly increasing and forest concessions decreasing.
The Interactive Forest Atlas of Equatorial Guinea
The Forest Atlas is a living information system combining the use of remote sensing, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and ground-truthing to monitor and manage Equatorial Guinea’s forests. Through a combination of interactive mapping applications, data visualizations, analytical reports, training, and outreach, the Forest Atlas provides users with access to timely, accurate, and harmonized information on the state of Equatorial Guinea’s forests. The Forest Atlas displays the major official forest land use categories--forest concessions, protected areas, community forests, and forest plots--on one platform, including where these uses overlap. With a more complete picture of Equatorial Guinea’s forest sector, government officials and other decision-makers will be better equipped to foster responsible forest management.
3 Major Findings from the Equatorial Guinea Forest Atlas
The first version of the Atlas encompasses 15 years of land use allocation data. The data reveals three major findings, some of which represent important progress when it comes to sustainable management of forests.
- Protected Areas Increased, while Forest Concessions Area Decreased: Between 1997 and 2013, the total area of protected areas increased by 392,023 hectares (63 percent), while forest concessions—those areas allocated for timber exploitation—decreased by 930,000 hectares (56 percent). Part of this change is due to the country’s recent oil boom, causing the economy to shift away from logging activities and subsistence forestry. But it also reflects official changes in policy – notably implementation of the 1997 Forest Law and 2000 Protected Area Law – that move forest management away from a timber-only focus, towards one that is more holistic and sustainable.
- Overlap Between Forest Concessions and Protected Areas Decreased: Areas where legally protected forest and concessions overlap significantly decreased over the past decade. Between 2002 and 2013, the total overlap area decreased from 129,816 hectares to 11,234 hectares, mostly due to the conversion of these overlapping areas into protected areas. These protected areas, when actively managed, help secure valuable forests for future generations.
- Foreign Companies Operate the Majority of Larger Forest Concessions: As of July 2013, there were 11 logging companies operating in 48 forest concessions in Equatorial Guinea. Companies from Malaysia, Lebanon, Korea, and China represented the largest shares, with Equatorial Guinea nationals positioned as higher-level partners, as required by the law. Only smaller logging permits are exclusively held by Equatorial Guinea nationals.
Making Important Progress Toward Transparent Data
A look into the Interactive Forest Atlas of Equatorial Guinea reveals that land officially allocated to logging decreased over the last 15 years—encouraging progress toward safeguarding forests for future generations. However, the production of the Forest Atlas itself is also a major step forward. The Forest Atlas is the first open data platform for Equatorial Guinea’s forest sector, representing a huge stride toward transparency, coordination, and access to information for all concerned actors.
MAF and WRI plan to regularly update the Forest Atlas, as well as strengthen capacity-building to better apply this information and produce positive action on the ground. With transparent and consistently updated data, Equatorial Guinea can build on its progress and better manage its forests.