Forest Management

Forest management and the timber sector in Central Africa

The formal forestry sector is still playing an important economic role in 6 of the 10 COMIFAC countries, despite its low contribution to national GDP.

The formal forestry sector is still playing an important economic role in 6 of the 10 COMIFAC countries, despite its low contribution to national GDP. The sector has undergone significant change during the last two decades as it has gradually adopted sustainable resource management methods. It is still central to international concerns over sustainable management and the fight against climate change and will need to adapt to changing market requirements and the growing demand for greater attention to the social and environmental aspects of forest management.

Alongside the formal export-oriented timber sector, the informal and mainly small-scale artisanal sector is the main supplier of national markets.

National indicators

Each year OFAC conducts an exercise to gather reference data or “monitoring indicators" in the ten COMIFAC countries.

Challenges to the Central Africa forestry sector in the coming years

There are challenges to be met in the coming years to:

  • Provide for the development of forest countries and regions and promote the well-being of the resident populations by enabling them to benefit more from the forest lands and their resources;
  • Maintain the contribution of forest ecosystems to the preservation of the global environment and pay for the work done to achieve this goal.
Concerning forestry management:
  • Help governments build capacity to implement their forest policies, especially by introducing suitable supervision procedures and structures and ensuring financial sustainability;
  • Extend sustainable forestry management to all production forest areas by adapting to the new situations with smaller concessions, new operators and also the small-scale artisanal operators;
  • Incorporate production forest management policy within general development policy.
As regards the timber sector:
  • Ensure permanent application of the economic model for sustainable use of forest resources (which is too extensive at present) by harvesting more species, diversifying products, reaching new markets including domestic markets, – in short, making more and better use of forest resources;
  • Communicate more on the advantages of tropical wood and on sustainable management of the forests it comes from, and meet demand from international markets that the legality of imported timber be verified, including by certification, starting or successfully completing processes like VPA FLEGT, EUTR and Lacey Act compliance.

State of the Forests 2010

The 2010 State of the Forests report is drawn up using indicators collectively defined by some sixty contributors.

Regional overview of forest management and the timber sector

Industrial logging in the Congo Basin

In Central Africa the industrial forestry sector operates mainly through forest concessions.

After a period of slow growth, Central Africa's industrial forestry sector produced about 8 million m3 of logs annually between 1997 and 2007.

Log production (1000 m3/yr)

The figure dropped in 2008 when the international crisis affected the tropical timber market. Since then it has been under 700 million m3/yr. The average harvesting rate for the concessions of the region combined is a very low 0.14 m3/ha/yr, with wide differences between countries, e.g. DRC with 0.02 m3/ha/yr and Equatorial Guinea with 0.63 m3/ha/yr.

This level of production put Central Africa in only third place among the largest tropical timber producing forest regions since it only accounts for 5% of the world's tropical timber output.

The drop in production after 2008 is partly due to a sharp drop in timber harvested in Gabon, where a ban on raw log exports brought the harvesting rate down from over 3 million m3 in 2006 to 1.6 million m3 in 2013 and 2014.

Production in Cameroon and Congo has remained relatively stable during the last decade while that of DRC, where it was already very low considering its vast forested area, is still falling. The harvesting rate in CAR seems to have risen to the level it enjoyed before the 2013 armed conflict.

Annual log production by country (2014)

Species harvested

Most production comes from a small number of species, with the three most harvested species representing 54% of the formal sector’s production figures.

With 1.7 million m3 of logs produced in 2014, Okoumé remains the leading species harvested in Central Africa. Second is Sapelli (1 million m3), which is produced throughout Central Africa (Congo and Cameroon are the main producers). Ayous is the third most harvested species, with about 800,000 m3, mainly from Cameroon.

For various reasons, the overall share of other species has not increased in recent years: some species like Sipo and Iroko have limited potential, which is already fully exploited because they are thinly scattered, although they are present on a significant portion of the region's forest area. Other species have a local presence (or abundance), such as Wengé, which is mainly present in the DRC and the Congo. Other species are not fully exploited, due to a niche market and/or prices that do not guarantee profitability, particularly for concessions that are far from the ports, since transport costs have a major effect on cost price.

However, some hardwood species have seen an increase in their harvesting rates. This is the case with Tali and Azobe (since 2008), and with Okan (prior to 2008).

Annual production assessed by species in 2008 and 2014 in the Congo Basin
Source: OFAC

Industrial production

With good reason, countries are increasingly requiring logging operators to process the raw logs from local forests locally. At present, the minimum legal processing rates for each forestry operator are as follows:

  • In Congo, 85%, logs exported beyond the 15% quota for unprocessed log exports have been subjected to additional duties since 2016;
  • In Gabon, 100% since the end of 2009;
  • In Cameroon, 100% with possible exemptions for species of lesser value;
  • In CAR RCA, 70% since 2008
  • In DRC at least 70% for 10 years for owners of processing units and national operators;
  • No information is available for Equatorial Guinea.

The processing rate for timber for export has risen sharply, largely thanks to Gabon's decision in 2009 to ban the export of unprocessed logs.

1993-1999 2005-2008 2010 - 2014
Cameroon 57% 88% ND
Congo 42% 57% 56%
Gabon 15% 37% 100%
Equatorial Guinea 11% 10%
CAR 77% 59% 48%
DRC 69% 39% ND
Central Africa 42% 54% 66%

Central Africa’s main processed product is still the product of first-stage processing only, i.e. sawn timber. Central Africa exports 1.3 million m3 of sawn timber a year (2014 estimate). A high proportion of exported output is artificially seasoned. In recent years, a few secondary processing facilities have appeared, producing planed timber, but they are still marginal (around 5% of sawmill output).


Timber produced by the industrial sector is mainly for export. Currently, the local market is primarily supplied by the artisanal sector. Industrial operators play a marginal role in the domestic markets. The regional market, within Central Africa and for the rest of the continent, is still very little developed. The main export destinations are the European Union and Asia.

Asia’s share increased sharply between 2005 and 2008, rising to approximately 60% of all timber exports from Central Africa. In 2014, the figure reached 66%.

Forest certification

Thanks to an awareness campaign and major international debates, distributors, consumers (to a lesser extent) and certain importing States (for public procurement) are now concerned about the origin and production conditions of the timber they buy. To ensure that producers comply with a legal and sustainable management approach, independent certification systems attesting to proper forest management and legality have been set up.

Due to concerns about good state governance, certification also ensures the proper implementation of validated management plans as well as compliance with laws and regulations.

Various forest management certification systems are currently operating in Central Africa:

Certified area (2016)
FSC Forest Stewardship Council, the forest management certificate that is considered the strictest 5 473 393 ha
OLB Origine Légale des Bois (Origin and legality of timber): certificate developed by Bureau Veritas 2 549 430 ha
VLC Verification of Legal Compliance 2 392 708 ha
All certificates 8 728 379 ha

(NB: some concessions are certified under two different systems)

There are two types of certification:

  • Certification attesting that the timber has been produced in compliance with the law: OLB and VLC. Certification company SGS has terminated its TLTV (Timber Legality & Traceability Verification) programme, whose last certificate in Central Africa expired at the end of 2015.
  • Certification that attests to sustainable management: the only one that is operational in Central Africa is FSC. After a period of strong growth in terms of FSC-certified areas between 2005 and 2013, which contributed to a significant advance in Central Africa compared to the Amazon basin, certified areas have been stationary in the past few years.
Evolution of FSC certified areas (millions ha)

No community or communal forest has been certified so far.

The PEFC (Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification, 300 million hectares certified worldwide in June 2016) aims to expand in Central Africa by acknowledging national certification schemes. PAFC Gabon and PAFC Cameroon are now members of PEFC; the Gabonese scheme has been designed and recognised by the PEFC Council and the Cameroonian scheme is currently in the submission process. A feasibility study has been carried out in Congo. To date, no forest unit has been PEFC-certified in Central Africa.

Certified area (FSC, OLB, VLC)
Cameroon 3 609 931 ha
Congo 3 064 943 ha
Gabon 2 053 505 ha
Equatorial Guinea 0 ha
CAR 0 ha
DRC 0 ha
Central Africa 8 728 379 ha
OFAC certification monitoring indicators (at regional and national levels)
  • Total area (and number) of certified concessions, by type of certificate
  • Total area (and number) of concessions in process of certification (and having organised at least a pre-audit)
  • Total area (and number) of concessions that have a legality certificate
  • Total area (and number) of certified communal forests, by type of certificate
  • Total area (and number) of communal forests in process of certification
  • Total area of communal forest with legality certification
  • Total area of certified CF by type of certificate
  • Total area of CF with legality certification

Forest governance

Forest governance in Africa continues to improve, thanks to approaches based on reassuring importers or their customers about the timber production conditions :

  • Import control (FLEGT process, Lacey Act)
  • Certificates of forest legality and management for timber from the Congo Basin forests.


The FLEGT action plan

As early as 2003, the European Union drew up the FLEGT action plan (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade), which provides for a set of measures to exclude illegally sourced timber and wood products from the European market, to improve the supply of legally harvested timber and increase demand for legal products.

This Action plan consists essentially of Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) and the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR).

An assessment of the FLEGT Action Plan commissioned by the European Union Timber Regulation was completed in 2016.

Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs)

Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) are trade agreements between exporting countries and the EU and are aimed at establishing a system ensuring of the legal harvesting of timber in the signatory countries.

To date, three countries in Central Africa have signed a VPA with the EU:

  • Cameroon: VPA in effect since 2011
  • Central African Republic: VPA in effect since 2012
  • Republic of Congo: VPA in effect since 2013

Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo have started negotiations with the EU to sign a VPA.

The VPAs' purpose is to improve governance by producer States, through the use of various tools:

  • a legality verification system
  • a traceability system
  • independent auditors
  • independent observers (optional)

Ultimately, FLEGT permits will be issued for timber. At the end of 2016, no Congo basin signatory country was in a position to issue FLEGT licenses. Indonesia is currently the closest to achieving this.

European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR)

This regulation requires wholesale operators to apply due diligence and to be able to prove that it has done so. This due diligence consists of applying a system of measures and procedures designed to reduce as much as possible the risk of marketing timber or wood products derived from illegal logging.

Other initiatives to combat illegal timber trade

Like the European Union, other timber-importing countries have legislated against the illegal timber trade: the US since May 2008 with the Lacey Act, and Australia, which has adopted the Illegal Logging Prohibition Act, due to come into in force at the end of 2014. Like the EUTR, these laws prohibit the marketing of illegal timber harvested in violation of the laws of their country of origin.

The Lacey Act imposes a broad prohibition that ranges from sale to trade and even possession of illegally harvested timber. However, the Lacey Act does not impose an obligation in terms of means, even though the administration encourages “due care” as a means of effectively addressing these regulatory obligations. All wood products, from logs to paper, are covered by the Lacey Act.

Australia’s Illegal Logging Prohibition Act adopts an approach that is similar to the EUTR, namely a ban on marketing, and the exercise of due diligence. A list of “regulated” products - the only ones that are affected by the due diligence obligation – will be drawn up within a year.

Forest management

In the 1990s the Central Africa states decided to implement their management policy for timber production forests by tasking the concession-holding firms to draw up the management plans. These plans had to meet the social and environmental requirements for sustainable management, as dictated by public policy.

Management routines were developed and disseminated with support from the projects.

Some key dates:

  • 1993-95: the Dimako (Cameroon) API project (aménagement pilote intégré / integrated forest management) lays the groundwork for Central African forest management, including requirements for sustainable management and consideration of the forest’s environmental and social functions.
  • 1998: Approval of the Management Plan for Harvesting and Management Permit (HMP) no. 169 awarded to IFB (Central African Republic), a plan drawn up under the ECOFAC project.
  • 2000: Gabon validates the first management plan prepared by a private forest concession-holder.
  • 2016: Over 24 million hectares of managed forest in the Congo Basin, in other words half of the total area in concessions.
Evolution of developed areas (millions ha)
Concession areas developed by country (millions ha)

CAR is undeniably the most advanced country in land management, the only concessions not yet being managed are the ones that have been awarded recently.

The management process is well underway in Cameroon, Congo and Gabon also, but is only getting started in DRC, the biggest forest country in the region. Its first management plans were validated in 2016. Equatorial Guinea, on the other hand, has not kept up with the management process in the other countries of the region.

OFAC management monitoring indicators (at the regional and national levels)
  • Total output from forests with approved management plans,
  • Total area of concessions and number of concessions with approved management plans
  • Total area and number of concessions with temporary agreements (Management Plan preparation phase),
  • Total area and number of communal forests with approved management plans
  • Total output of communal forests with approved management plans
  • Total area of community forests with simple approved management plans.