“The forest industry is the second-biggest employer in Central Africa after the public sector so it’s a lot of jobs especially in remote areas. It’s very important for the rural development of the region,” ATIBT general director Ralph Ridder told CNBC Africa.
Accessing markets that pay well for tropical timber are among Gabon’s biggest challenges. Developing markets have become increasingly cautious of tropical timber, as it has been linked to corruption, deforestation and climate destruction.
“There’s a market access issue in the regional or inter-African markets. Market access is basically blocked because of administrative issues,” Ridder added.
Timber processing is an additional issue in both Gabon and other countries seeking to trade timber.
Countries with vast forestry seek to export logs and locally-processed timber as a means of increasing national revenue.
Timber industries however need to be developed, and access to loans and has been an issue as commercial banks are yet to trust the industry.
“The government has issues in preparing the framework conditions for attracting this investment. The third thing is responsible management. Today, about 70 per cent of the forest is managed illegally,” Ridder explained.
“There’s only a bit less than 30 per cent of the timber that is harvested according to reasonable standards and that of course is an issue.”
Challenges in Gabon’s industry can however be tackled, but political will plays a crucial role in finding a solution to the issues. ATIBT tries to support government institutions and industries to improve the current situation.
“The problem is that we need to really change the image of tropical timber in the marketplace, in the sensitive markets like Europe and the US. Today, if you talk about tropical timber, typically people take two steps back and don’t buy. Changing that requires a lot of effort,” said Ridder.