- Three of Cameroon's largest timber companies are leading the way in changing the country's forest industry. The companies will join an international certification system of legal and sustainable wood production. Cameroon, with its valuable rainforests, is a major timber exporter, especially to the European market.
International environmentalist groups have welcomed the industry's move help to protect Cameroon's endangered forests. According to WWF, this change "will see economic benefits for both the country and local communities, while helping to conserve the Congo Basin forests," which is the world's second largest tract of rainforests after the Amazon.
Three timber companies - Pallisco, Decolvenaere, and Transformation Reef Cameroon - are the first in the region to have applied for membership in the Central Africa Forest & Trade Network (CAFTN), a part of WWF's Global & Forest Trade Network (GFTN).
- By joining the CAFTN, we reiterate our commitment to conserve the forests we manage and ensuring we make a lasting contribution to the local economy, said Jules Esquenet, Decolvenaere's manager in Cameroon. "Moving towards credible forest certification is a huge challenge, but we are committed, and with WWF's support, we will achieve it."
The CAFTN aims to build the capacity of producers to supply legal and sustainable wood, and achieve credible certification. To qualify as members, each company will now undergo an independent audit of their operations and prepare time-bound action plans to achieve credible certification for their forest concessions and phase out the purchase of wood from unsustainable sources.
The companies' membership announcement came during the 2nd Central African Heads of State Forest Summit, being held in Brazzaville from 4–5 February 2005. "Governments in the region are taking bold steps to conserve the Congo Basin forests," said WWF's Director General Claude Martin. "International agencies are backing them by providing financial support."
- The private sector can also join in this venture by achieving credible certification in the forest concessions they manage and ensuring no wood from illegal or unsustainable sources enters their supply chain, Mr Martin added.
Through the CAFTN, the environmentalist groups offer timber producers committed to responsible forestry advice, information, technical support, market recognition, and direct links to responsible buyers who are also GFTN members.
The three companies together manage over half a million hectares of forest concessions, including forests with high conservation values. They export about 120,000 cubic meters of sawn timber to European markets - about 20 percent of EU imports come from Cameroon - mainly to France, Spain, the Netherlands, and the UK.
- Wood markets in the Netherlands and other northern countries are increasingly demanding FSC certification for their supplies, be it oak, pine or tropical species, said Paul Reef, Administrator for Transformation Reef Cameroon. "With support from the CAFTN, we hope to be able to supply FSC-certified timber by the end of 2006."
Also Michel Rougeron, head of Pallisco in Cameroon, saw the need for a certification system. "We are committed to achieving the highest standards of sustainable forest management. The prospect of future credible certification of our forestry practices and products is keeping us on track, and we welcome WWF's support," said Mr Rougeron.
The addition of these three leading tropical hardwood producers to the GFTN was said complete several GFTN buyer-supply chains leading from the forest floor in the Congo Basin to shop floors across Europe. "These trade or market links will contribute directly to the conservation of one of the world's greatest natural heritage areas," WWF said in a statement.
- WWF believes that responsible forestry practices will help conserve the forests of the Congo Basin so that they continue to provide for both people and wildlife, said Laurent Magloire Somé of WWF in Central Africa. "The development of markets for credibly certified forest products will contribute to the development of national economies and improvement of local communities' livelihoods." he added.
The Congo Basin forests contain more than half of Africa's animal species, including most of the forest elephants left in the continent and the entire world population of lowland gorilla. They also provide food, materials and shelter to some 20 million people. Estimates indicate that the region loses 1.5 million hectares of forests - about half the size of Belgium - each year due mainly to illegal and destructive logging.
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