Photo Essay / 26 Jan 2017
Decoding Cameroon’s domestic timber trade
Behind a lucrative sector operating in the shadows
Verdant Cameroon boasts 20 million hectares of forest- nearly half of its national territory. It is Africa’s largest exporter of tropical hardwood to the European Union, most of which is sawn timber destined for Italy and Spain.
Though its reputation as an international timber exporter is well-known, its domestic timber market and trade have been documented only recently.
Cameroon’s national forest policies tend to ignore its existence, with no official data collected to assess the sector’s economic, environmental and social impacts, making the State the main loser in the growth of this informal sector.
This is ironic given the astounding volumes traded on this market, as well as the revenues generated from it. Research conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) indicates that if small-scale production of sawn wood sold on the domestic market is accounted for in national statistics, total national production would equal 4.3 million cubic meters per year- nearly double the official figures cited by the government.
Domestic chainsaw milling operations are vital to the well-being of tens of thousands of urban and rural Cameroonians. In recent years, this sector has become as important as the industrial forestry sector, creating 45,000 direct jobs and generating more than $54.6 million USD.
So why does this sector continue to operate in the shadows?