Central Africa urged to improve forest industries

Monday, 9 March, 2015

The 31st session of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts (ICE) of Central Africa (which took place last week in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo) is worth noting at least in part because of a focus on the strategic importance of forest resources to the region. The session was hosted by the Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in collaboration with the Congolese Government, and focussed on regional challenges to leveraging the forest sector as a basis for “finished and diversified” exports.

From Africa Press Agency, we learn that the august leaders gathered there left with the consensus that as host to the world’s second forest expanse, “Central [Africa] has to take advantage of the opportunities that the forest industry offers for the sub-region’s transformation.” 

It’s posited that this would be achieved if the countries of the region progressively move toward much higher levels of transformation of their forest products by engaging in activities linked to what is referred to as the second and third ‘transformations’ of such products. From the AFP piece: 

“According to the experts, even if the rate of transformation of forest raw materials, notably logs and non timber forest products (NTFPs) in the sub-region improved from 42 per cent during the period 1993-1999 to 54 per cent during the period 2005-2008, stakeholders of the sector focused mainly on the first transformation which involves only sawing and wood-planning activities after the harvesting of logs.

This level of transformation brings very limited benefits to the economies concerned if compared with the advantages accruing from the second and third of transformations that usher in the much needed value addition and job creation, resulting in the production of well done plywood (second transformation), as well as quality doors, furniture and flooring (third transformation).“

Congo’s Minister Delegate in Charge of Planning and Integration, Mr Léon Raphaël Mokoko, was in agreement: “Developing the forest industry for the structural transformation of the economies of central Africa will act as a measure to reduce the vulnerability of the sub-region to external shocks orchestrated by the precarious nature of the prices of raw materials on the world market.”

It sounded like the output of the session was like unto many of these major gatherings: a lot of agreement and a group of experts expressing strong opinions that more empowered agents—in this case “states, economic actors and development partners of the sub-region”—do very braid-ranging things like “create the conditions necessary for the emergence of viable transformative industry”. Concrete routes by which to do this included investing in technology; high-level training in the wood sector; the identification of new financing mechanisms (a sure fire winner in large development/industry meeting bingo); and contributing to the Green Economy Fund of Central Africa (FEVAC).

They also recommended that Governments “take the necessary steps to make their local markets more attractive through the maintenance of peace and infrastructure development, with emphasis on transport facilities,” and strengthen the involvement of local stakeholders in forest-product exports by “engaging in global value chains of the sector and kicking out tariff and non-tariff impediments to sub-regional trade in forest products”.

The article can be read in its original form here.