China-Africa Forest Governance project

Improving evidence, capacity and joint action for sustainable Chinese investment in Africa's forests.

2014 - 2018
James Mayers

Director, Natural Resources

The timber depot of Green Timber, a Chinese-owned timber concession that are licensed to operate in Nampula and Zambezia provinces, Mozambique (Photo: Mike Goldwater)

The timber depot of Green Timber, a Chinese-owned timber concession that are licensed to operate in Nampula and Zambezia provinces, Mozambique (Photo: copyright Mike Goldwater)

China's investment and trade in Africa's natural resource sectors have significant implications for Africa's forests. Many investments are in forested or woodland areas, some directly engage in logging and others, such as mining, infrastructure and agribusiness, affect forests and rural livelihoods.

By one estimate, 75% of Africa's timber is exported to China. But despite the scale, we know little about the impacts. There is also a lack of dialogue between Chinese and African stakeholders to address emerging critical issues such as sustainable investments, illegal logging and rural livelihoods.

Our goal

Through research, dialogue and joint action, IIED and its partners will contribute to improving forest governance, by promoting sustainable and pro-poor Chinese trade and investment in Africa's forests.

Our goal is to achieve improved policy and investment practice in China and Africa in ways that foster good stewardship of forest resources and benefit local communities.

Where and who?

Between 2014 and 2018, we are working in China and four African countries: Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mozambique and Uganda.

Each of these countries hosts important China-Africa sustainable development challenges. They are countries in which the scale of Chinese investment and trade in forest-related sectors is significant and, in the case of Cameroon and DRC, where there is ongoing timber legality work supported by the European Commission. IIED already has established strong partnership in these countries through several years of forest governance work with influential local partners.

Our main partners in China include Research Institute of Forestry Policy and Information at the Chinese Academy of Forestry (CAF) and Global Environmental Institute (GEI).

Our lead African partners are: Centre for Environment and Development (Cameroon), Reseaux Ressources Naturelles (DRC), Terra Firma (Mozambique), Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (Uganda).

Internationally, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is a critical partner whose expertise in engaging with sustainable corporate practices is of great value.

What are IIED and partners doing?

This project develops evidence and capacity to create opportunities for improving policy and Chinese company practices in favour of sustainable land use and benefits to local women and men in Cameroon, DRC, Mozambique and Uganda.

Project partnerships in these countries, and in China, focus on progress with the China-Africa Forest Governance Learning Platform, company due diligence and legality, and improving in-country land use investments.

The China-Africa Forest Governance Platform, launched in 2013, is now a well-recognised multi-stakeholder forum that strengthens mutual understanding, partnerships and joint actions on forest governance between China and Africa. Platform participants have also had influence in key international policy arenas.

While the China-Africa Forest Governance Project has been the main supporter of the platform to date, other organisations continue to increase their involvement. The platform has so far brought together forest governance players, including the heads of government forest departments, from nine African countries; representatives from the Chinese Academy of Forestry; the Global Environmental Institute; IIED; WWF and other international organisations.

As of 2018, the platform has held a range of trans-country dialogues and four major international learning events: two in China, one in Cameroon and one in Mozambique.

There are three ways that the project is building on the China-Africa Forest Governance Learning Platform:

  1. Generating evidence: With in-country partners, we are generating reliable knowledge about the current status and trends of China-linked investments in the forests in the four African countries – focusing on forestry, mining, agriculture and infrastructure. We are analysing relevant laws and regulations, incentives for companies to operate sustainably and legally, and the impacts of China-linked investments and trade on rural livelihoods
  2. Strengthening capacity and dialogue: Without good dialogue in, and between, China and Africa, we cannot make real progress beyond the negative reporting by the media on China's investment in Africa. Therefore, this project is focusing on building capacity among stakeholders – policymakers, private sector actors, researchers, practitioners and journalists – through national, regional and international dialogues, trainings and work exchanges
  3. Improving policy and investment practice: Through evidence, capacity building and dialogue, we aim to change specific policy and investment practices. Some of the ways that we aim to do this include:
    • Helping Chinese investors adopt and monitor codes of practice
    • Supporting companies to obtain verification of good legal practice, and
    • Engaging with Chinese and African policymakers to change policies and investment and organisational practices to support resilient African land use and a sustainable China-Africa forest products trade.

Long reads:

In February 2017, the long read 'Mist clears on China in African forests' focused on improving Chinese investment in African forest land use.

In August 2018, 'Finding a green path for China and Africa?' gave a full review of the issues, the project work to date and the way things are heading.

Also in August 2018, two videos, in Chinese with English and Chinese subtitles, were produced telling the story of the China-Africa Forest Governance Platform. Watch them below or on IIED's YouTube channel   

    Additional resources

    Part of our work has been to increase journalists’ access to China-Africa forest stories and enable them to see the issues first-hand. Through the project we helped journalists in China and African countries meet Chinese business people, government players and local communities. Below are some of their stories:

    Deutsche Welle (English edition): China-backed Kribi port project in Cameroon leaves locals frustrated, by Julius Schenkel and S. Qian (January 2018)

    Sixth Tone: Chinese Demand for Bloodwood Cuts Into Congo’s Ecosystem, by Shi Yi (January 2017)

    The Guardian: Mozambique faces race against time to end illegal logging, by Ning Hui (August 2016)

    China Dialogue: Can China help Mozambique fight deforestation?, by Ning Hui (September 2016)

    Thomson Reuters Foundation: Cameroon moves to curb forest loss linked to Chinese investment, by Elias Ntungwe Ngalame (July 2016)