China is now top importer of timber from Africa, but criticism mounts

China is now top importer of timber from Africa, but criticism mounts


(Source: IIED, edited by Issa Sikiti da Silva). China is now the top importer of timber from several African nations, and its investments in land use in forest areas are both increasing, but the information about the positive and negative impacts of these trends is often weak or inaccessible, the International Institute for Environmental Development (IIED) said on Wednesday.

This has given a ‘golden’ platform to critics of China’s agriculture engagements in Africa to wonder whether these investments are indeed sustainable and pro-poor.

Now some experts are seeking ways to share the light and inject some sort of understanding about this issue.

A new forum due to launch on 5-6 March 2013 in Beijing will help ensure Chinese investments in African forests have positive outcomes for local livelihoods and sustainability, London-based IIED, which will host the event next week, said in a statement.

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, IIED said.

“This forum 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,” IIED senior researcher Lila Buckley said.

“There is immense misunderstanding about the nature of Chinese investments and trade with African countries,” Lila added.

“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.”

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

The research shows that while 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, Buckley said.

“Getting forest governance right is hard enough at a local or national level,” said 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.”

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