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The socio-economic issues at stake in the tropical wood trade. An international response: the FLEGT. The case of Cameroon

Cindy LOPES-BENTO student laureate

°1981 Luxemburg
Licence in Commercial and Consular Studies, Institut Catholique des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, Brussels, Belgium, 2005

Les enjeux socio-économiques du commerce du bois tropical. Une réponse internationale : le FLEGT. Cas du Cameroun

The problems related to the use of tropical wood are complex. Many tropical species are durable, strong, hard, renewable and attractive, which gives them unique economic advantages. This, however, immediately raises the question of the extent to which the exploitation of tropical wood contributes to its large-scale destruction. Appropriately, it has been questioned whether this trade has any benefit for the local populations living in and around the forests. The debate on this subject has continued for the past few decades, with varying degrees of intensity.
The economic value of tropical wood is almost universally recognized, but it is believed with almost equal unanimity that there should be a clampdown on illegal logging, slash-and-burn agriculture and deforestation. The goal is to achieve a mutually beneficial trade system, and to end the situations in which harvesters purchase valuable giant trees for a few euros per trunk from the local population. In practice, however, there remains much work to be done. The obstacles are well known: corruption, illegal and uncontrolled logging, theft, etc.
Tropical wood is a material which can be produced more sustainably than any other, in the most concrete and literal sense of the word: with continual, uninterrupted yield. Economic development can only be called sustainable when it is based upon sustainably produced goods such as wood. Indeed, trees produce wood throughout their life span, and when a few large trees are judiciously removed from a forest, their place in the ecosystem is quickly taken by younger specimens. In this sense, a tropical rain forest is no different from a temperate or boreal forest. The main difference is that the valuable tropical species are quite scarce. For this reason it is absolutely essential that the greatest care be taken when harvesting. From a purely technical point of view, therefore, the sustainable production of tropical wood is a great deal more complicated than in temperate regions. The biggest problems, however, are of a sociological and legal nature.
End users seem less and less willing to use wood with unknown origins or without proof of sustainable production. Internationally, there are a number of initiatives in answer to the growing concern about responsible forest exploitation, for example the CITES convention, which regulates trade in endangered species, and the FSC certification and similar protocols for inspecting production, trade and processing. The European Commission also has an action plan, the FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade), aimed at putting sustainable forest management in place and fighting the illegal trafficking of tropical wood.
Cindy Lopes Bento has researched the socio-economic context of the wood sector in Cameroon. She has had long-term, intensive work experience in Cameroon and at the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Belgian branch, which does magnificent work as an NGO to promote responsible wood use. Her study begins with a well-organized summary of the forestry sector in Cameroon. She examines the difficulties encountered when introducing an action plan for sustainable forest management. Then, recommendations are given for improving each of the actors involved in the trade chain. Due consideration is given to the difficulties faced by producers and exporters, as well as to the economic, social and environmental impacts. The study is very thorough and well founded, and is particularly relevant to development cooperation.

report: Dr. Hans Beeckman, Laboratory for Wood Biology and Xylarium, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium