With 5.2 million hectares of agricultural land, Gabon has set its sights on becoming one of Africa's leading palm oil producers by 2025, while trying to limit associated deforestation.
The Congo Basin is one of the largest forest reserves in the world. It spans five countries in Central Africa, one of which is Gabon, covering 400 million hectares and housing 93.2 million inhabitants.
With the highest rate of forest area per inhabitant in Africa, Gabon has 21.09 million hectares of forests – more than 80 percent of country's total land. An estimated 30 to 40 percent of flora in the Congo Basin are in Gabonese forests, though the country comprises only 10 percent of land in the CEMAC (Economic Community of Central African States) sub-region. High density forests enabled Gabon to capture 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 between 2016 and 2017.
By 2022, Gabon aims to have all its land development certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The hope is that this addresses economic development, climate change and biodiversity loss, making it a destination for green investments.
In support of this, a project is being funded by the French Development Agency (AFD), along with technical support from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). This project aims to make Gabonese CSOs (Civil Society Organisations) active players in improving agro-industrial and forestry governance by 2025.
In July 2021, a training session was held for CSOs in Mouila, Ngounié province, Gabon. Mouila was selected as it is at the heart of a landscape which hosts palm oil and logging operations.
Eight Gabonese CSOs signed a charter within the Coalition of National CSOs for Implementation of Environmental and Social Commitments of Companies in Gabon (COSC-RSE Gabon). Under the coalition, 19 people were identified during a mapping of national and local organisations.
Earthworm's Cameroon country manager Erith Ngatchou led the training. For Erith, this training was part of Earthworm's resilience strategy.
“We promote verification of what we do, not by third parties but by communities or CSOs who often criticise companies. Training civil society also aims at making them understand what we do. This training was really an opportunity to present what we do but in a concrete way; to share experiences on different ways to approach and address sustainability challenges within a landscape,” Erith explained.
The training also aimed to equip civil society with tools such as participatory mapping, Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), and the High Carbon Stock (HCS) Approach. Other topics covered were advocacy skills, grievance management and conflict resolution, and environmental and social contract clauses between communities and companies.
"It was good to get into the environment of these certifications, both FSC for forestry operators and RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) for agribusinesses. It allowed us to get into this environment, which is not always known by many involved in sustainable development, environmental protection or conservation. So it allowed us to get to know the different FSC principles, as well as the different RSPO principles. That was quite interesting and I think many of us were not aware," said Ladislas Ndembet, Director of Muyissi Environment, a Gabonese civil society organisation.