Brazzaville/Rome -- Governments from Africa's main timber producing countries, together with timber industry representatives and civil society organizations agreed to jointly combat illegal timber trade in the Congo Basin, FAO said today following an international wood industry meeting in Brazzaville.
Covering an area of 300 million hectares, the Congo Basin harbours the world's second largest tropical forest. It is also a major supplier of illegal timber, part of a global trade that cost governments some US $10 billion per year in lost tax revenues worldwide.
At an international forum held in Congo's capital Brazzaville from 21-22 October, representatives of six African countries - the Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire and Gabon - adopted the Brazzaville Declaration, marking an unprecedented commitment towards the sustainable and legal development of the wood industry in the region.
The Declaration was adopted jointly with timber industry representatives and civil society organizations. It engages partners to implement measures that improve timber tracking, transparency and forest governance.
'We must ensure that our forest resources contribute to the development of the countries in this region,' said Raymond Mbitikon, Executive Secretary of the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC). 'This is what the Brazzaville Declaration sets out to achieve.'
Changing consumer demands
The Declaration is the outcome of a long term debate among key stakeholders in the forest and wood industry, as well as regional and international partners, including the Association Technique International des Bois Tropicaux (ATIBT), the European Forest Institute (EFI), the European Union (EU) and FAO, in particular through their joint efforts to advance the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) process.
'FLEGT meets growing consumer demand for environmentally and socially benign timber products through collaboration between producing and consuming countries,' explained Robert Simpson, EU-FAO FLEGT programme manager. 'Ultimately, it aims to assure that forests remain productive, yet intact.'
In 2003, the EU adopted a FLEGT Action Plan, promoting concrete measures to stem the illegal timber trade. These include technologies to trace the origin of timber, the creation of forest enforcement teams and community forest monitors to observe logging activities, as well as legally binding agreements - known as Voluntary Partnership Agreements - between the EU and timber-producing countries, that establish mechanisms to distinguish between legally and illegally harvested timber.
A key resource
'The Brazzaville Declaration could help slow down the pace of deforestation in the region,' said Olman Serrano, an FAO forestry officer, explaining that FAO estimates the net loss of forest in the Congo Basin at some 700 000 hectares per year from 2000-2010.
The Congo Basin is not only home to the world's second largest rainforest after Amazonia. It is also a key resource for stabilizing the global climate.
Recent research shows that Congo Basin tree species are larger in stature on average than their Amazon counterparts, suggesting the African rainforest may be a larger carbon storehouse and a crucial resource for productive and sustainable forest management.