Music of the forest: a way forward for Gabon’s cooperation with China

Gabon is a country blessed by nature. With over 800 km of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, tropical rainforests covering 85% of its territory and a wealth of minerals, Gabon is the most prosperous nation in the Congo Basin. Looking at the statistics, there could be no greater contrast with the country that is becoming one of its main investors: China.

Gabon’s total population is equal to one of the smallest Beijing districts, though its area (more than 267,000 km²) is equivalent to 16 times that of Beijing. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is approximately 15,000 US dollars, almost double China’s, and WWF’s Living Planet Report 2012 ranks Gabon as first in the world for “biological capacity” (biologically productive area per person), while China comes among the last. But Gabon and China have also something in common: the commitment in national plans to making the environment a key element of economic development.

We visited Gabon with a group of journalists from China ahead of the Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), an event held every three years to bolster relations between China and African countries. Our goal was to explore how the national commitments can meet on the ground and recommend actions that China and Gabon can undertake through FOCAC for development and the environment.

Gabon is a perfect example of the opportunity for collaboration in these areas as its economy is so dependent on natural resources. Mining and oil account for the largest portion of the country’s GDP (60%), but dwindling oil reserves have compelled the government to focus on alternatives for future investment and in 2010 “Green Gabon” became one of the strategies to boost the economy.

“Green Gabon” and the forestry sector

The idea behind “Green Gabon” was to grow through a sustainable use of natural resources, e.g. promoting ecotourism in the 13 national parks (11% of the country’s land), reducing carbon emissions associated with deforestation and advancing performance of the timber industry. As a start, in 2010 the government banned log exports in order to benefit local processing – thus local employment. The new forestry law also required the implementation of sustainable management plans for concessions which include cutting cycles of 25-30 years. Such measures were partly the result of painful experiences from the past…

Continue reading on WWF International website. Published on 9 July 2012.

Photo: Trucks waiting to cross a bridge near Lambarené, Gabon. © Claudia Delpero, all rights reserved.