According to the FAO (2015) Gabon has around 23.0 million hectares of forested land, which constitutes to 89.3% of the total land area. Almost the whole forest area is primary or otherwise naturally regenerated forest, and only a small part of approximately 30 thousand hectares is planted forest. There are three major forest types:
- evergreen rainforest in the west, which has been heavily harvested, degraded and in some areas reduced to secondary forest characterized by the species Okoumé (Aucomea klaineana), one of the most important species of the Gabonese timber sector, and Ozigo (Dacryodes buettneri).
- closed humid central Gabonese forest, covering most of the country, with many species found to similar forests found elsewhere in the region such as Azobé (Lophira alata), Mahogany species (Entandrophragma spp. and Khaya spp.), Aiélé (Canarium schweinfurthii) and Ayous (Triplochiton scleroxylon).
- a semi-deciduous forest type in the northeast, characterized by trees such as Limba (Terminalia superba), Wengé (Millettia laurentii) and Ayous (Triplochiton scleroxylon).
The full 100% of the Gabonese forests is owned by the state, although the management of the forest areas can be divided into three different categories:
- production forests which are managed by private concessionaires, although the management rights are exclusively administered by the state.
- protection forests, which are directly managed by the state. Gabon has 13 national parks and some other protected areas, covering together approximately 12% of the country.
- the domaine rural, which is generally land and forest where rural communities and forest dwellers are free to exercise their customary rights, provided that they respect the conditions imposed by the forest administration.
With a low overall population density and large forest area Gabon faces a relatively low forest loss of 0.12% per year and an average degradation rate of 0.09%. The main causes for deforestation are small-scale agriculture established along roadways and urban development, while the main causes of forest degradation are industrial mining and illegal logging in opened-up areas.
Production and export
According to ITTO (2015) the industry of Gabon produced in 2014 about 2.2 million m3 of logs. Until 2010 the vast majority of the country's timber production was exported as logs, but in 2010 a the export of raw logs was banned to favour the local transformation of lumber and especially to stimulate the domestic economy. This change resulted in an increase of processing plants, an increase in the number of jobs created by the timber sector, and a huge increase in the exports of processed timber products. As can be observed from the table below the primary timber exports rely primarily on the export of sawnwood and to a lesser extent veneer and plywood. Exports of primary timber products accounted for a total export value of around 428.5 million US dollars in 2014.
The most important species for the Gabonese timber industry is Okoumé (Aucoumea klaineana) which accounts for the vast majority of the country's timber exports, because it makes excellent plywood. However, the Gabonese forests contain a significant number of different tree species, including commonly harvested species such as:
- Azobé, Bongossi (Lophira alata)
- Okan (Cylicodiscus gabunensis)
- Padouk d'Afrique (Pterocarpus soyauxii)
- Beli (Julbernardia pellegriniana)
- Tali, Missanda (Erythrophleum ivorense, Erythrophleum suaveolens)
Europe has been the main beneficiary of the Gabonese timber products, since the log market was mainly oriented towards Asia while the processed timber products are often exported to Europe. However, the Far East is gaining market share again in the country´s timber exports as can be observed from the figure below.
There are 2 main ports for timber exports: Port-Gentil, and the Port of Owendo (near the capital Libreville). The Transgabonais railway is one of the major transport routes in the country, running from Franceville in the east to Owendo in the west.
Sources of information
- Emergence journal: the timber sector in Gabon
- FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015.
- Fordaq - timber trade network
- Forests Monitor country profile - Gabon
- ITC (International Trade Centre) calculations based on UN Comtrade statistics
- ITTO (2011) Status of tropical forest management 2011 - Gabon
- ITTO (2015) Biennial review and assessment of the world timber situation 2013-2014.
- World Port Source - Map of ports in Gabon with container liner service.
- WRI Congo Basin Forest Atlas - Gabon
The Ministry of Forest, Environment and Natural Resource Protection oversees the management and monitoring of Gabon’s forest resources, including the allocation of forest concessions. The World Resources Institute has a detailed analysis of the forest concessions in Gabon. Concessions can only be issued to companies holding valid registrations with the economic, social and forestry authorities. Gabon knows two types of forest management permits, which are awarded through auction:
(1) a CFAD – Concession forestière sous aménagement durable, which has a minimum size of 50 000 hectares and a maximum size of 200 000 hectares, whereas the total area assigned to the same licensee may not exceed 600 000 hectares.
(2) a PFA - Permis forestier associé, which is reserved exclusively for Gabonese nationals and which has a maximum size of 50 000 hectares. When a PFA is integrated in a CFAD the maximum size is 15 000 hectares.
Besides the forest management permits there are also cutting permits (PGG - Permis de Gré à Gré) available to Gabonese nationals in the domaine rural for up to 50 trees.
To obtain a full operating license the applicant needs an exploration permit for a first inventory of the concession, and has a maximum validity of 12 months. With the results of this inventory the applicant can apply for a provisional agreement for management - exploitation - transformation, which has a maximum validity of 3 years. In these 3 years the concessionaire needs to prepare a forest management plan and an industrialisation plan, which need to be approved by the forest authorities, after which a license to operate can be obtained. The management plan shall cover 30 years, which subdivides the area into six compartments. Each of these compartments requires a five-year plan, subdivided into annual coupes for which annual operational plans (PAO) must be developed before logging is authorized. The forest management plan specifies parameters such as annual allowable cut, the cutting cycle, silvicultural treatments, the list of species authorized to be logged, and the minimum harvest diameter for each species.
Before issuance of the annual harvesting license, a set of documents need approval from the forestry administration authorities, and include among others the annual operation plan (PAO), a license to operate delivered by the regional forestry administration authorities, a forest inventory report and forest maps. The boundaries demarcated on maps must be clearly marked on the ground.
A Carnet de chantier (field book) is maintained for the annual harvest, specifying the details of the harvested logs such as species, their unique numbers, volume and other relevant details. All harvested logs and corresponding stumps shall be hammer marked with the same mark, and the registered hammer for marking trees is specific to each company and is registered by the forestry administration and judiciary authorities. Each billet should be marked the same as the tree from which it came so as to facilitate identification during transportation.
Log transportation documents must be completed prior to departure from the harvesting site and must be retained during transportation. These documents allow logs to be traced back to the site of felling and shall correspond with the field book.
The delivery of logs at the processing plants or other sales points is reported in quarterly report (l'état trimestriel) to the forest authorities.
All processing and manufacturing enterprises must have the appropriate licenses and permits to operate, and need an industrialization plan approved by the forest authorities. Factory input and output volumes must be recorded in quarterly reports of logs received and Forest enterprises involved in logging and timber processing should keep records of all logs entering the processing plant, and should submit reports to the forest administration (provincial inspectorate) quarterly and annually. At least 75% of the harvested volumes shall be processed within the country. Any company wishing to export from Gabon should hold an export license, which is issued by the Ministry of Commerce and renewable annually.
The below listed key documents are based on the applicable legislation and are considered to play a key role in demonstrating legal origin. An overview of applicable legislation and its scope is accessible here (Forest Legality Alliance).
Trade and export
Bans and quota
Gabon has an export ban on logs and roundwood since May 2010.
Cites and protected species
There are currently no CITES listed timber species for Gabon, and therefore the export of species grown in Gabon is not subject to additional CITES-related requirements.
The following 5 species are listed as protected from exploitation since January 1st, 2009 for a period of 25 years (decree n°0137/PR/MEFEPA):
- Afo (Poga oleosa)
- Andok (Irvingia gabonensis)
- Douka, Makoré (Tieghemella africana)
- Moabi (Baillonnella toxisperma)
- Ozigo (Dacryodes buetnerii)
Since the end of 2015 also the exploitation of the species Bubinga, locally known as Kevazingo (Guibourtia spp.) has been prohibited (decree n°347/MPERNFM/CAB)
National action on timber legality
Gabon is negotiating a VPA with the EU, and negotiations started in September 2010.
Third party certification
As per January 2016 the only certified forests in Gabon are FSC-certified, covering in total 2,062,494 hectares. Another forest certification initiative in Gabon is the Gabonese forest certification system PAFC, which has been endorsement by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) since 2009. However, thus far no forests have been certified against the PAFC standard.
Sources of information
- CITES database
- Code Forestier de la République Gabonaise
- Décret n°0137/PR/MEFEPA du 4 février 2009 portant mise en réserve de certaines espèces végétales à usages multiples de la forêt gabonaise.
- EU Flegt facility - Gabon
- FSC report “Facts & Figures” – January 2016.
- Legal Timber
- Forest Legality Alliance risk tool - Gabon
- WWF/GFTN Common Legality Framework for Gabon