In 2012, the Central African Republic negotiated and ratified a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU as part of the EU FLEGT Action Plan. While the Agreement is not yet operationalised, its negotiation and the efforts made to implement it have already contributed to the promotion of good governance within the forest sector. Nevertheless, such efforts were paralysed during the conflict that took place between 2013 and 2015. A coup gave rise to a three-year period of political instability, during which forest concession activities were threatened by armed groups, notably the Seleka coalition. It was only between 2015 and 2016, following presidential elections that took place under the auspices of the United Nations, that constitutional order was reinstated. At present, although conflict continues in the north of the Central African Republic, relative security has been restored in the south-west, where the exploited forests are located. This has enabled the resumption of activities within the forest sector and of efforts to improve its governance.
The mandated observation project is part of the FLEGT initiatives that are currently being deployed throughout the country and has several benefits. By conducting field visits to forest concessions, the project will have the deterrent effect of documenting possible offences and punish them if necessary.
According to Josias Ndewa Zeneth, the FLEGT process is ‘key to claiming loud and clear whether the forest legal framework has been respected or not.’ He adds that the forthcoming reports of the independent observation project, which will be made public at the end of its 15-month term, will be a key incentive for timber companies to ensure that they are complying with the legal and regulatory framework.
According to Luc Gomanga, field visits are ‘essential to guarantee the traceability of timber.’ He adds that the visits gave the forest guards the opportunity to discuss practices that are detrimental to sustainable forest management with timber companies, as well as gain an insight into land restrictions on logging activity, and to plan various reforms with stakeholders.