Working with small operators to strengthen timber legality in Cameroon
Since 2016, Action for Sustainable Development (ASD) has been working with small operators in Cameroon to help them meet the legal and regulatory requirements related to forest management. This makes the operators able to access a better market for their products and helps to increase the supply of legal timber in the country. To learn more about ASD’s work, BVRio spoke to Geneviève Ndjiki Weladji, president of ASD.
Cameroon has vast forest resources that provide millions of people with jobs and subsistence products. The forest sector accounts for 8% of the country’s gross domestic product (FAO FRA 2015). Unfortunately, Illegal logging has long been recognised as a significant problem in the country, due to misuse of certain logging permits and lack of effective regulation and law enforcement (Hoare 2015).
The domestic timber market has been characterised by its informality. Small operators in the timber sector with mostly temporary workers struggle to comply with the requirements to formalise their enterprise. On the one hand, the process of formalisation is unknown for them and quite complex. On the other, their relationship with government officials is characterised by distrust, due to existing corruption in the country.
In 2010, Cameroon signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union to strengthen forest governance and timber legality in the country. As part of this agreement, the domestic timber market requires legality monitoring. Therefore, the VPA created momentum for addressing the existing informality in the domestic market.
In this context, Action for Sustainable Development (ASD) have started a project named Strengthening Legality in the Domestic and Transboundary Timber Market in the Eastern Forest Region of Cameroon (Renforcement de la Légalité dans le Marché Domestique et transfrontalier du bois dans la région forestière de l’Est Cameroun – RELEMDOT by its French acronym) to contribute to the formalisation of the domestic timber market by ensuring supply, exploitation and marketing activities of small operators meet the legal and regulatory requirements related to forest management. ASD is a non-profit association from Cameroon that works to strike a stable balance between economic profitability, nature conservation and social equity in the management of natural resources.
The project’s benefits are wide-reaching. Firstly, by meeting legality and regulatory requirements, small timber operators are able to access a better market and reduce many costs related to informality and corruption, as well as experience improved working conditions. Forest owners also benefit from this project because they have also received training on the legality of timber and they have signed logging partnerships with small operators with preferential prices, which undoubtedly adds value to the owners. Finally, the project helps to reduce deforestation due to illegal logging and increases the supply of legal timber.
ASD started the project by developing a census to identify local operators. The timber operators chosen for the project are small and characterised by mostly temporal workers (up to 30) and a smaller number of permanent workers (up to 5). Most of them have no knowledge of the process to formalise or the requirements and legal documents to obtain. Additionally, they are initially sceptical about being able to cover the costs and go through what appears to them as a very complex process. This is why the project has an initial awareness raising and sensitisation, to help the operators overcome their concerns.
The process of formalisation starts by establishing a formal agreement between timber processors and forest owners. This is often a long and costly process. After an agreement has been reached for this, small operators have to obtain the following documents: the Procès-Verbal (record) of the visit to a processing site, l’Attestation de Détention de Matériels de Transformation du Bois (certificate of possession of wood processing equipment), Certificat d’Enregistrement en Qualité de Transformateur de Bois (Certificate of registration as a wood processor), and secure transport documents for small timber processors such as the Lettres de Voiture Débités (Waybills for the transport of sawn wood). An additional document can also be obtained for the recovery of scrap wood from logging.
Obtaining all these documents can take as little as two months and as long as a year. One of the main limitations of the project is how lengthy the processing of the paperwork within the government can take and unofficial costs.
Additionally, obtaining the documents require costs that can range between 568 and 636 GBP. The costs mentioned include only the formal costs to be paid for paperwork processing, but there are additional costs since most operators have to travel from remote areas in order to reach the government offices that handle these documents.
So far, the project has been very successful in getting small operators to become aware of the requirements and comply with them. The leadership of ASD has been essential during the whole process as they provide accompaniment to the small operators through the different steps, facilitating the development of partnerships, and supporting registration processes and access to secure documents.
The role of government officials is worth highlighting as well because they participated actively in the awareness raising phase of the project. The FLEGT and VPA context was favourable in creating momentum and it promoted the active participation of the government on strengthening legality in the country.
Some of the operators that participated in the project and have finalised the process to obtain all documents are satisfied with being formalised and experiencing benefits already. Their experience is encouraging others who haven’t started the process yet. As this participating operator explains: “I was still convinced that obtaining legal documents was not within the reach of the small scale wood processors that we are, but with the RELEMDOT project and the existence of operators having engaged and having obtained the requested documents, our company Ets MENCHING decided to go for it”.
Geneviève told us: “If the legal recovery of scrap wood by small operators in eastern Cameroon is a reality today, it is partly thanks to the RELEMDOT project”. Additionally, she stressed how thankful ASD is to the FAO EU FLEGT program, which provided technical and financial support to this project. Lastly, she would like to reach out to “any other partner who would like to contribute to the legal exploitation and development of forest resources because there is still a lot to do.”
To date, ASD is still accompanying small timber operators through this process to be able to formalise their activities and strengthen legality in the domestic market. Many of the operators that participated in this project are now fully formalised after a lot of effort and some of their amazing products can be found now in our Responsible Timber Exchange platform!
About BVRio Responsible Timber Exchange
The Responsible Timber Exchange (RTX) is an online negotiations platform, integrated with a Due Diligence and Risk Assessment system. The platform also as an app version, WoodsApp, making it quicker and more intuitive to access the offers and requests registered by users.
In addition to the RTX platform and the WoodsApp, BVRio published a free Practical guide to conducting due diligence of tropical timber products: Cameroon. The objective of this practical guide is to summarise the main documents that need to be collected, and how to interpret them, in order to conduct due diligence of timber consignments to be imported from Cameroon into the US and European markets.