Emmanuel Groutel: “Certified wood from the Congo Basin, African excellence”

For almost twenty years, a considerable development has taken place in Central Africa in terms of responsible wood production. Some producers have managed to produce both good and beautiful. Often criticized, attacked, boycotted, sold out, it is time to re-establish certain facts and value what should be, far from the rhetoric of self-pity.

The establishment of the FSC label

Thus, out of the 6.6 million cubic meters of logs (logs) that are harvested annually in the Congo Basin, no less than 1.1 million cubic meters are collected according to the criteria of the most demanding label in the world : that of the Forest Stewardship Council, commonly called FSC. As a reminder, it was founded in 1993, when the Earth Summit in Rio (1992) did not give the expected results in terms of forest preservation. NGOs, companies and environmentalists then sat around the table in order to work on an innovative model whose objective is to conserve forests for future generations. The result has been the creation of a model that ensures the protection of the rights of workers and populations, strict compliance with national and international laws or the safeguarding of flora and fauna.

Read also African tropical flora: beware, danger of disappearance!

For Emmanuel Groutel, en forestry and forest products, there is a real skill and even an African excellence that deserves to be valued and encouraged.

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A preponderant part in the universe of the FSC label

200 million hectares of forests are certified according to this label in 2020 worldwide, including nearly 5.5 million hectares in the Congo Basin alone. This huge territory, divided between Cameroon, Congo and Gabon, is twice the size of Belgium. Researchers and scientists agree that the social and environmental aspects are treated in an exemplary manner by forest companies labeled FSC.

Gabon, which claims to be the African counterpart to Costa Rica, this Central American country that positions itself as an ecological model, also adopts a green policy by decreeing that all the forests under concession in the country should adopt this FSC model by 2022. Vast challenge, no doubt, as the level to be reached is high. Moreover, it is interesting to note that the critics of this decision hide behind the argument, so often heard in Africa, that the level to be reached would be too high! How to position yourself at the top of the range and refute the constraints?

Read also Côte d’Ivoire: heading towards reforestation

Labeling, a major challenge taken up …

Indeed, it is complex and difficult to fulfill all the conditions linked to this labeling. Thus, the traceability system established (from the tree to the processed product), combined with audits carried out by third parties independent of the producers, makes it possible to respond to international regulations which fight against environmental crimes and illegal timber trafficking. It is a strict response to the rules put in place in Japan, Australia, the United States and Europe. It is also and above all a response to the legitimate environmental concerns of citizens here and elsewhere.

This move upmarket by certain forest producers in the Congo Basin is also accompanied by a significant increase in the quality and sophistication of the products they offer on the markets.

Here too, Gabon had set the tone by banning the export of logs from 2010 (the first okoumé log, the emblematic essence of the country, had been exported in 1908). Plywood, pieces of furniture, cladding, clapboards, crosspieces, parquet, terraces and many other products still spread a made in Africa of excellence.

Certified African producers have combined complementary notions: aesthetic and ethical, resistant and durable, available and sustainable. This know-how and this technicality initially serve the most advanced international markets. The wait is also African. The brakes that need to be removed in this area are mainly due to additional logistics costs (a container between Libreville (Owendo) and Lagos costs 3, 4 or 5 times more expensive than if this “box” had been exported to Shanghai). The diversification of wood species is also a crucial element.

Read also Sub-Saharan Africa: its forests are also burning

… But there are many factors to take into account

Other factors are economic (how to adapt the offer if necessary?), Transactional (secure payments), or even psychological (pride in consuming an African product).

  • While the time is ripe for localism, even for protectionism which does not say its name, for the establishment of customs or non-tariff barriers all over the world, it will be interesting to observe whether the quality African tropical timber will be appreciated at their fair value in Europe or the USA.
  • While wood is considered to be the material of the post-carbon era, it will be relevant to ensure that no discrimination hinders wood from sound management.
  • While a certain condescension is often required towards African countries, we will see if the jobs created by responsible companies will be maintained thanks to the fluidity of trade.
  • So, finally, that the consequences linked to the loss of biodiversity and global warming are vital, will the entrepreneurs sincerely involved in the field, every day, see their determination crowned with success?

In the area of ​​forestry and forest products, there is a real skill and even an African excellence that deserves to be valued and encouraged. It would be heartbreaking if these qualities were not recognized locally, regionally and internationally. An indicator ? Will we see terraces in FSC-certified African wood guiding the steps of the athletes during the Olympic Games organized in the City of Lights in 2024?

* Dmanagement science specialist, specialist in strategic positioning and expert in forestry matters and international wood flows.

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