China-Africa Forest Governance project

2014 - 2018

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

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   


    China in Cameroon’s forests: a review of issues and progress for livelihoods and sustainability, James Mayers, Samuel Nguiffo, Samuel Assembe-​Mvondo (2019), Research report

    Chinese investment in DRC: a view from the forest, Isilda Nhantumbo, Inoussa Njumboket, Jean- Marie Nkanda, Anna Bolin, James Mayers (2019) IIED Briefing

    Chinese investment in Uganda: new impetus for sustainable development? James Mayers, Julian Barungi (2019) IIED Briefing

    Forest-wise parks in Mozambique, Mário Paulo Falcão, Xiaoting Hou-​Jones, Duncan Macqueen, Ming Li (2019), Project report

    China in Mozambique's Forests, Duncan MacQueen (editor), Contributing authors: Narciso F. Bila, Andrade Egas, Mario Falcao, Ernesto U. Junior, Arnela Mausse, James Mayers, Sheila Menezes, Maria Muianga, Simon Norfolk, Peng Ren, Clare Rogers, Carlos Serra, Eunice C. Sitoe, Jingwei Zhang, Xi (2018), Research Report

    Towards legal and sustainable investments by China in Africa’s forests. Steps taken by Chinese organisations and the path ahead, Seth Cook, Xiaoxue Weng, Ming Li, Jie Chen, Bin Xu, Yong Chen, Jingwei Zhang, Peng Ren, Lei Wang, Xiaoting Hou Jones, James Mayers (2018), Research Report

    Tackling discrepancies in timber trade data: comparing China and Mozambique, Andrade F. Egas, Peng Ren, Jingwei Zhang, Ernesto U. Júnior, Narciso F. Bila, Eunice C. Sitoe (2018) Working paper

    Invest in forest-wise people and business! A report from the 4th international learning event of the China-Africa Forest Governance Platform, James Mayers, Duncan Macqueen, Xiaoxue Weng, Khanh Tran-Thanh (2017) Event report

    China in Africa – exploring investment in the forests, James Mayers (2017), Project update | en français | 中文 | em português)

    China in Africa – a fast changing relationship, James Mayers (2016), Project update (en français | 中文)

    Investimento Chinês no Sector Florestal Moçambicano, Maria Muianga, Simon Norfolk (2017), Country report

    Procedimentos de registo e verificação de dados na cadeia de fornecimento de madeira, Andrade F. Egas, Ernesto U. Júnior, Narciso F. Bila, Eunice C. Sitoe (2017), Country report

    Chinese aid for African forestry: progress, problems and prospects, Xu Bin, Chen Jie, Chen Shaozhi, Su Haiying, He Youjun (2017) IIED Briefing

    Boosting governance in Mozambique's forests. Options for more sustainable forestry among Chinese timber traders and Mozambican partners Duncan Macqueen, Mário Falcão (2017), Research report (em português | 中文)

    Invest in forest-wise people and business! A report from the 4th international learning event of the China-Africa Forest Governance Platform, James Mayers, Duncan Macqueen, Xiaoxue Weng, Khanh Tran- Thanh (2017) Event report

      Manual on sustainable overseas forest management trade and investment by Chinese enterprises: Mozambique version, Edited by Chen Yong, Maria Muianga, Chen Shaozi, Li Ming (2017), Report (中文)

      The impact of Chinese investments in the DRC, Isilda Nhantumbo (2016), Backgrounder

      Why Africa's forests are important for its people, the world and China (2016), Project report (en français | 中文)

      Chinese investment in Africa’s forests: scale, trends and future policies (2016), Project report (en français | 中文)

      China in Africa – a fast changing relationship, James Mayers (2016), Project info (en français | 中文)

      The dragon and the giraffe: China in African forests, James Mayers (2015), Briefing Paper

      Timber flow study: export/import discrepancy analysis, You Chang, Ren Peng (2015), Working paper

      China-Africa Forest Governance Project News (2015), Project Report

      Status and issues of Chinese investments in forest land in Cameroon, Patrice Kamkuimo- Piam, James Mayers (2015), Briefing Paper (en français | 中文)

      Current situation regarding Chinese investments in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Belmond Tchoumba, Isilda Nhantumbo, Anna Bolin (2015), Briefing Paper (en français | 中文)

      Status and next steps in China for sustainable trade and investment in Africa, Dr. Li Jianquan, Seth Cook (2015), Briefing Paper (en français | 中文)

      Status and trends in Chinese investments that impact forestland use in Uganda, Godber Tumushabe, James Mayers (2015), Briefing Paper

      Exploring options to improve practice for Africa’s largest exporter of timber to China, Maria Muianga, Duncan Macqueen (2015), Briefing Paper (en français | 中文)

      China-Africa collaboration to improve forest governance, James Mayers and Xiaoxue Weng (2014), Backgrounder (en français | 中文)

      Chinese views of African forests: evidence and perception of China-Africa links that impact the governance of forests and livelihoods, Xiufang Sun, Peng Ren, Marissa Van Epp (2014), Research Report

      China-Africa Forest Governance Project News (2014), Project Report

      China-Africa Forest Governance Project, (2014), Project profile (en français)

      China-Africa Forest Governance Learning Platform, report of an inception event and future agenda, Khanh Tran-Thanh, Lila Buckley and James Mayers (2013), Event Report

      Platform set for China-Africa forest governance action, James Mayers (2013), Reflect and Act

        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)


        Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)



        Research Institute of Forestry Policy and Information at the Chinese Academy of Forestry (CAF) (Chinese language site)

        Global Environmental Institute (GEI)


        Centre for Environment and Development (Cameroon)

        Reseaux Ressources Naturelles (DRC)

        Terra Firma (Mozambique)

        Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (Uganda)


        World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)

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