Cameroon is said to be richly endowed with natural resources. What is the country’s forest potential, and what is the latter’s contribution to the national budget or GDP ?
Cameroon, which is part of the Congo Basin, the World’s second forested area, is blessed with a rich forest heritage estimated at over 22 million hectares, 17.5 million of which are exploitable forests. They are home to some 300 timber species and a wide variety of non-timber forest products, which are underexploited. The forestry sector contributes an estimated 4% to GDP.
In your presentation during the Cabinet Meeting of December 2017, you made mention of the low rate at which both timber and non– timber forest products are processed in the country. What accounts for this situation ?
As part of Government action, the Prime Minister, Head of Government, instructed me, during that Cabinet Meeting, to present a paper on the strategy formulated to process timber and non-timber resources locally. That paper highlighted the fact that the forestry policy seeks, amongst others, to promote and diversify the use of locally processed products, in a bid to enhance factory efficiency and boost the development of finished and semi-finished products for export. Available statistics at the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife indicate for instance that 90% of processed volumes concern un-planed and undried sawn wood. Moreover, out of the 160 Wood Processing Units implanted in Cameroon, 25 end at the secondary processing stage (which involves products like wood panelling and floors, assembled wood, reconstituted solid wood, etc.) and just 11 deal in tertiary processing with products like boards, doors and windows, furniture, etc. Enhanced Timber Processing, which we all yearn for, is still done in small units scattered in urban centres. They are poorly equipped and offer low quality products that do not stand competition.
As for non-timber forests products, processing is still done on a small scale in processing units that offer semi-finished products. Such is the case with flagship forest products like Pygeum, Yohimbe, Gnetum and Andook. Apart from these, there is an emerging industry driven by NGOs, with such products like Neem, Moringa, Karite, Moabi, Rattan, Njansang and Bamboo. Apart from honey, these products do not stand a chance in the international market, owing to the absence of quality certification standards. In the same vein, industries like Bamboo and Rattan are handicapped by lack of technological capacity. In a nutshell, though several structures and private laboratories are keen on enhanced processing of non-timber forest products in Cameroon, the overall processing capacity in terms of quality and quantity still remains below the development potential of all the industries.
What are the estimated needs in training and equipment to give these forest products added value ?
In view of the foregoing, processing and equipment needs are many. In this regard, three years ago, we started training woodworkers in major urban centres in wood trades such as wood drying techniques and reconstituted solid wood, to render them more competitive in secondary and tertiary processing. 1,634 woodworkers have been trained to date. And this training cycle will be pursued. To this end, the renovation of the Yaounde Wood Promotion Centre was launched to enhance its performance in species promotion, training and supervision of woodworkers in the wood trades.
Besides, in 2015, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the German outfit, WEINIG Group, to institute a mutually beneficial technology watch for transfer of technologies predicated on supply of state-of-the-art equipment and capacity building. Other initiatives are underway such as the project to create a school of arts and wood trades, purchase, together with the Ministry of Secondary Education, of wood processing tools and driers for some secondary schools and associations of wood trades stakeholders.
Moreover, it should be underscored that the following actions have been undertaken as part of the implementation of the sustainable wood processing component of the Growth Industries Competitiveness Programme lodged at the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development:
- Conduct of a diagnostic study on technical and vocational training, and presentation of an action plan for wood trades;
- Set up of an inter-branch organisation for the wood sector;
- Technical approval, in conjunction with the Standards and Quality Agency, of 22 wood norms and standards, and production of a wood construction Guide suited to the national context;
- Provision of wood processing equipment to some training Centres, associations of wood trades stakeholders, Councils and City Councils.
What is the Government doing to encourage optimum exploitation and processing of forest products especially non-timber products which, so far, is still done on a small scale ?
In 2012, the Government designed a national plan for the development of non-timber forest products industries. The plan highlights the improvement of the legal and regulatory framework, especially with the tax reform started last year, institution of a data collection and collating system and launch of inventories for some of these products and their domestication. The aim is to enhance and promote them, and it involves processing and marketing assistance, with the production of product fact files, which provide more knowledge on some fifteen products. This also involves the participation of stakeholders in trade fairs and exhibitions, as well as training, organisation and identification of stakeholders by region, creation of platforms for stakeholders of industries of certain products, and a network of stakeholders. Other measures were taken or are about to be taken with the goal of developing these industries, especially bamboo and rattan. The measures include: conduct of a study in view of setting up a pilot bamboo processing unit, signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan to develop these industries as part of the green economy, development of bamboo projects for landscape restoration, food security and poverty eradication, the ongoing design of the National Bamboo Sector Development Programme, etc.
What are the major stakes of the sector’s industrialization and national development plan for non-timber products, and what is holding back its implementation ?
The stakes are quite high and are based on processing, which offers enormous socioeconomic development opportunities, with poverty reduction at the fore. To boost the processing of non-timber forest products locally, the following measures deserve special attention: creation of centres for the sale of non-timber forest products to check falling prices when faced with foreign buyers; understanding of the values chain and assisting stakeholders in developing, sourcing funds and implementing Projects for the planting and processing of non-timber forest products locally; completion of the review of the 1994 law on forestry, wildlife and fisheries regulations.