“If demographic pressure and low efficiency of food production and wood energy systems are maintained, the forest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo could be gone by 2100”. BMZ Heiko Warnken’s speech to open the CAFI Dialogues, that took place in Bonn on 2 and 3 April, was a reminder of the urgent need to boost action for Central African forests.
The best actions, though, are also those based on evidence, and it is precisely for this reason that international NGOs, donors and government representatives of the Central African sub-region poured over facts, studies and ground experiences. The meeting, hosted by GIZ, was an opportunity to discuss, debate and deliberate face-to-face.
What hot topics drew participants in? The complex causes of forests loss in the region, the role that community forestry can have to secure lands and sustainable revenues, and possible solutions to address the growing domestic and international demand in timber.
Whether implementing projects, researching forestry and rural development or acting as watchdogs, over 20 international NGOs accepted the invitation. All were driven, though, to reach common ground on what we know for sure and what needs more research, or, were we must, as one participant noted, " generate more light than heat".
Some consensus emerged, for example on the accelerating trends of forest loss (14 million hectares of forests were lost across the 6 CAFI partner countries over the last 5 years) and the need for research on causes and drivers after 2014, that takes into account long-term impacts, correlations and multiplier effects; or the fact that shifting agriculture is not always subsistence agriculture, and policies and actions need to ensure that it is beneficial for local populations and rural development in general. Participants also agreed that community forestry is a good way for communities to secure rights, and best when not geared exclusively towards timber production, and that formalizing the artisanal timber sector is a process that needs action both on supply (possibly through individual chain saw millers) and demand (for example making it a requirement for public bids).
While Day 1 focused on ideas, Day 2 of the CAFI Dialogues was all about coordinating actions. In the BMZ's former Chancellor's room, DFID opened the first session with a few burning question: in light of China’s growing importance as an economic partner of the region, what do we know about these economic relationships ? For example, how much timber does China import from which central African countries? This triggered a discussion on different initiatives underway to work with Chinese authorities or economic actors, and the best ways in which CAFI could complement these efforts. A series of strategic coordination meeting then looked into collaboration with WWF’s Tridom landscape programmes and approaches, at the World Bank’s ProGreen Fund and at the recently launched GEF Congo Basin Impact programme.