China in Africa: New forum seeks sustainable, pro-poor forestry

A new forum will launch on 5-6 March to help ensure Chinese investments in African forests have positive outcomes for local livelihoods and sustainability.

News, 27 February 2013
The timber depot of a Chinese-owned timber concession licensed to operate in Nampula, Mozambique. While some replanting takes place, they do not currently replace all they cut. Photo: Mike Goldwater.

The timber depot of a Chinese-owned timber concession licensed to operate in Nampula, Mozambique. While some replanting takes place, they do not currently replace all they cut. Photo: Mike Goldwater.

The China-Africa Forest Governance Learning Platform was developed by the Forest Governance Learning Group (FGLG), an international alliance that promotes policymaking that serves forest-dependent communities and sustainability. It will enable policy researchers and forest specialists from Africa and China to share information on issues such as forestry investment, timber supply chains and forest-linked livelihoods.

The FGLG developed the platform in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Forestry and Beijing-based Global Environmental Institute, which together with IIED will host the launch event in Beijing next week.

At the launch, the platform partners will also present and discuss new research, which IIED will publish later this year, about Chinese impacts and influence on decision making about forests in Africa.

China’s imports of African timber and investments in land use in forest areas are both increasing, and China is now the top importer of timber from several African nations. Yet information about the positive and negative impacts of these trends is often weak or inaccessible.

The research shows that whilst some Chinese companies comply with corporate social responsibility requirements and contribute to the welfare of local communities, others fail to compensate rights-holding communities adequately for access to forest land, and illegally and excessively exploit forest resources.

The research explored the way Chinese government agencies and banks not only encourage investment in Africa, but also regulate and supervise Chinese business activities there. While this shows commitment to environmental regulation, more details on implementation, legally binding requirements and concerted enforcement will be needed to improve the governance of forests and livelihoods in Africa.

For example, there are no effective regulatory measures to verify imported timber in terms of its legality and sustainability, or to assess the impacts on sourcing countries. Nor does public procurement policy specify any requirements for imported timber.

In reviewing stakeholder perceptions about the effects of Chinese investment on forests and livelihoods in Africa, the researchers found that government and civil society respondents in Africa have generally negative perceptions while those in China have broadly positive perceptions. With relationships between African and Chinese researchers and opinion formers being weak, the review concludes that the forest governance learning platform is sorely needed. 

"Getting forest governance right is hard enough at a local or national level," says James Mayers, head of IIED's natural resources group and facilitator of FGLG. "The challenges become immense when investment paths and supply chains stretch across the globe. But the current growth in Chinese investments in African forests also brings great opportunities for policymakers to ensure that benefits reach local communities and boost the sustainability of African forestry."

At the first meeting of the platform speakers will discuss issues that include:

  • Chinese forest policy in relation to the timber trade and investment in Africa
  • Forest development trends, challenges and livelihoods in Africa in relation to links with China
  • The role of participatory forestry in reducing poverty in China, and its significance for China-Africa forest governance
  • China’s efforts in addressing socio-ecological impacts of its overseas forest investment and trade  

"There is immense misunderstanding about the nature of Chinese investments and trade with African countries," says Lila Buckley of IIED. "This platform aims to create links between actors on both sides, provide clear information about the nature of these engagements, and identify where there are gaps in policy and research so that better decision-making is possible."