Community forestry in the Green Heart of Africa

Responsible forestry in the hands of communities

In the face of large-scale industrial logging, what are the opportunities for small communities who want to reap income from their forests in a responsible way? Not long ago, the answer would have been close to none. Now, WWF is bringing together forest certification and communities, to ensure that their lives take a turn for the better.

Healthy forests that bring income to communities – this is what we’re after. Unfortunately, for many of the Congo Basin’s isolated and impoverished communities, these prospects are still far away in the distance.

But there are solutions. Involving communities in sustainable management and certification of their community forests can help them financially - without the need for them to write off their resources to outside logging companies.

What is certified wood?

Forest certification is a system of forest inspection and a means of tracking timber and paper through a "chain of custody" - following the raw material through to the finished product. The aim is to ensure that the products have come from forests which are well managed - meaning they take into account environmental, social and economic principles and criteria.

What WWF is doing

WWF has approached several communities in the Djoum area of South Cameroon. There, we are building their capacity to look after their forests and manage them in the long-term, in partnership with the Centre for Environment and Development (CED).

Over time, we expect that communities will be able to certify an area of more than 6,000 ha and link these forests with the national and international markets.  

We also want to make sure that certification costs are kept low, to make the process more accessible to community forests in Cameroon and Central Africa. 

A crucial stepping-stone

In Djoum, the local communities’ keen interest was already a major foundation to build on – a stepping-stone that has propelled the project further ahead than we anticipated. But this is certainly not to say that the process has been an easy one.

A new ‘to-do’ list for communities

The checklist of things to do before community forests are eligible to be certified is daunting. But taken sequentially, one step leads naturally to the other, provided that the community sustains its interest and motivation. The checklist includes:

  • Develop management plan
  • Receive training on implementation of the management plan and timber processing 
  • Design an adapted workable system for the certificate of community forest 
  • Receive assistance to organise Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification audits
  • Get access to the market of certified timber

How it all started

Forest certification is not an easy concept to grab, especially when it comes to understanding the complex and strict demands of the process.

Therefore, our first priority with the communities of Djoum – including women and BaAka indigenous representatives - was to explain certification in simple terms that relate to their lives and needs.  While the response was positive, there were concerns about certification costs and communities’ capacity to see the certification process through.

5 good reasons for forest certification

For communities:
  • Long-term income generation
  • Jobs in rural areas
  • Control of resource by community forest owners/managers
  • Higher price for timber
  • Minimal impact on the environment and other forest- based resources
 / ©: WWF / Edward Parker
FSC logo on timber from a certified UK forest.
© WWF / Edward Parker
A magnifying glass on the certification process…
  • How do the communities operate? Who has the power and who takes decisions? Answers to these questions help us adapt certification operational procedures and statuses to the context in Djoum.
  • We also want to know what kind of forests are found in Djoum, and how the communities are using them. So we trained locals to collect this information and determined how closely forest use practices correspond to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification standards.
  • Who is interested to buy certified wood from Djoum’s community forests? WWF and CED are seeking out timber traders and already, some companies have expressed interest.
Unexpected factors can influence our work considerably. When strong rains plagued Djoum, the local community’s agricultural activities were seriously affected and required their full attention. For some time, they could only progress the certification process in their leisure time – a further indication of their commitment.

Reasons to be pleased

WWF and CED staff, and the people from the communities have a broad grin on their face. Results from the forest inventories are encouraging as they show that there is strong potential for the exploitation of several species.

The challenge now is to avoid exploiting 2 or 3 species that could quickly become exhausted, and instead rely on a wider range of species at low intensity.

A timber trader has expressed interest in sourcing timber from community forest under the process of certification.  As the communities make progress along the road to certification, we can only expect more opportunities of this kind to happen – and widen the communities’ prospects for better lives in functioning forest ecosystems.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Congo Basin

In Virunga National Park (eastern Democratic Republic of Congo), WWF is developing responsible forestry and agroforestry to improve community livelihood.
More than 30 km of green belt have been planted in the south, central and north sectors of the park. Around the protected area, agroforestry and community-based forestry activities are promoted to improved yields and provide timber and firewood.

Support is also given to private and semi commercial tree – planting. WWF has helped plant over 8,000,000 trees around Virunga National Park since the project began while a study of the wood market has been carried out. In continuation of this effort, a network of private tree growers has been established and is operational.

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