Published on Nasikiliza

Sustainable practices are integral to the success of developing Angola’s forestry sector

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Namibe, Angola
Photo by: Jbdonade/Flickr

Can a shift towards a sustainable forestry ecosystem help to deliver the jobs and diversity that Angola’s economy needs?
The timber industry offers enormous developmental potential. According to the Centre for International Forestry Research, domestic wood or community logging markets in Sub-Saharan Africa (as opposed to large-scale commercial felling) employ hundreds of thousands of people. It is an industry that provides employment and wages for entire communities and that has huge socio-economic and environmental importance.

Across Africa, and particularly in Angola, the industry is growing, through both investment by foreign companies, and also through community forestry projects that are part of larger timber investments.  But this largely informal sector is a Catch-22; for small communities, it is a matter of necessity that they operate sustainably, but they are typically unable to do so due to lack of funds and lack of understanding of sustainable practices.
There are tremendous opportunities to introduce new technologies and inspire innovation within the informal timber sector, which is vital for developing sustainable forestry practices and job creation. Yet the sector remains largely unregulated and under-represented, since the informal harvesters have little incentive to reforest what they have taken and often there is little to no effort made by African governments to coordinate activities at a landscape level.
The Angolan government recognizes the potential in the forestry sector and has taken steps to implement sustainable practices. The creation of a sustainable forest ecosystem provides enormous community benefits through the delivery of job security and economic diversification for future generations, which is a major national priority. With oil prices of around $50 a barrel, this ‘new normal’ has made investment in non-oil sectors extremely important so the country can move away from reliance on oil and secure a stronger buffer in times of global economic crisis.

Angola now needs to create non-oil industries that are not only commercially viable but that are sustainable over the long term. Sustainable harvesting practices are therefore essential if they are to remain a consistent contributor to a diverse economy, a healthy supply chain, tax contributions and long-term employment stability. Companies such as Estrela da Floresta, which has a community focus and a passion for sustainable development, will offer a model of success in the pursuit of economic diversification.

As with almost every corner of industrial development in Sub-Saharan Africa, sustainability dovetails with skills development. No country can survive with an unskilled workforce alone, which is why skills development programs need to be part of the sustainability story. Companies that are investing in Africa’s timber industry have a moral duty to support the training of local workers so that their investment leaves behind a social legacy, as well as an economic one.
The informal timber industry possesses the basic experience however, there is a significant opportunity to boost their productivity by providing them with the latest techniques and equipment. Developing large-scale wood fibre plantations alongside existing infrastructure can contribute to the creation of industrial employment and the creation of new opportunities for workers from the informal sector as small, legal, enterprises will be encouraged to grow up around Estrela’s core timber asset.
The reality is that Angola provides an exceptional combination of large areas of underutilized, highly fertile land with very few natural forests, alongside low population pressures, access to transport infrastructure and sufficient water resources. This presents investors with opportunities to directly invest in new plantations that are supported by resources and infrastructure; and that will have a positive net impact on existing populations. These opportunities will of course create thousands of new jobs and contribute to the creation of a diverse economy through the myriad multiplier effects and stimulation of a healthy supply chain.
It is time for the hands of the modern economy to reach deep into Angola’s timber sector and create mechanisms and ecosystems that enable local communities and individuals to operate in a legal and sustainable way. There is great potential for innovative SMEs and creative industries to emerge more constructively around the informal sector - if the market is open to them. And, if those businesses and industries thrive, so do individuals, communities and the wider economy.


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