FSC backs Gabon certification programme to boost timber demand

Photo: JPDodane

The FSC says it was not consulted by the Gabon authorities on their decision to make its certification scheme compulsory for forest concession holders in the country. However, it said it ‘strongly supported the ambition shown by the government’ and would back Gabonese forest managers in meeting FSC standards.

The consensus of a Forestry Sector Forum in Libreville at the end of November, attended by a broad spectrum of stakeholders, was also that Gabon was making the right move and the focus was primarily on how government certification goals could be realised and in what time scale.

Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba said that forest operations must embrace an  ‘international  standard’ on responsible logging by 2022, mentioning solely the FSC scheme.

“Any business not committed to the certification process will have its permit withdrawn,” he said on a visit to a sawmill in the north of the country.

FSC Congo Basin Director Mathieu Auger-Schwartzenberg said that the FSC supported ‘all initiatives that can lead to making responsible forest management the norm’.

“This is the core of our mission and of our Global Strategic Plan,” he said.  “We will ensure Gabon’s forest managers are given necessary support, while at the same time making sure their performance is checked rigorously, using our systems of independent third-party verification. We’re confident this will lead to measurable social and environmental benefits in Gabon.”

The FSC says it will collaborate with all involved stakeholders to develop an action plan for implementation of the government’s decision.  As a first step, it participated in the Forestry Sector Forum in Libreville in November, where FSC International Managing Director Kim Carstensen presented its certification scheme.

Also taking part in the event were forest businesses, government representatives, the PAFC/PEFC and OLB schemes, NGOs, banks and other financial and donor organisations. The PAFC/PEFC was also among those to make a presentation, although the question did not arise as to whether Gabonese concession managers should also be allowed or encouraged to adopt its scheme too.

“In his closing remarks, the [Forest] Minister reiterated that the President had made a political decision and it was now up to the experts (at the meeting) to come with a practical plan how to implement this,” said Jaap van de Waarde of the WWF Netherlands, who attended the meeting.

The WWF itself has also backed Gabon’s decision.

“It is a positive step to protect Gabon’s forest ecosystems and to ensure benefits for local communities,” said Marthe Mapangou, Director of WWF-Gabon. “WWF will continue to support the government and companies in Gabon to implement sustainable forest management and to communicate best practice in forest management through implementation of Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) tools.”

Currently just over 2 million ha, or 14%, of Gabon’s forest  concessions is FSC certified, comprising areas managed by Rougier, Precious Woods and Compagnie des bois du Gabon.

FSC says it will work in coming months with Gabonese forest sector stakeholders  ‘to see how concrete action plans for each concession can be developed and implemented to achieve the government’s vision’.

As for the finance needed for certification, Mr Van de Waarde said that the agencies Agence France de Developpement and KfW both indicated at the Libreville forum that they have funds to support activities that would be needed in such a process’

Mr Auger-Schwartzenberg said it would like to see other Congo Basin governments encouraging certification. ‘The Gabon government decision creates an important precedent by signalling to forestry companies in the region that this is a serious issue and that it is committed to seeing companies manage the country’s forests in a sustainable manner for the benefit of people and nature and Gabon’s place in international markets.”