Assisting countries to develop and enforce forest laws remains one of the most important tasks facing the international community, according to Alhassan Attah, Chairman of International Tropical Timber Council.
The Council is the governing body of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). It is convening here this week at its 38th session to debate issues such as forest law enforcement, forest restoration, and the achievement of sustainable forest management.
"The work carried out at this session highlights the need for ITTO to continue its efforts to assist countries in forest law enforcement," said Mr Attah.
The Council received a report from an ITTO diagnostic mission to Gabon, a country with a strong political commitment to sustainable forest management. Nevertheless, the mission found that increased support for forest law enforcement would be necessary during and after the coming into force of a new forest law this year. It recommended that ITTO support training programs that would address, among other things, adherence to the forest law and associated regulations.
The Council also heard the report of a mission to Liberia, where the formal forest sector was destroyed during a civil war. The United Nations has imposed an embargo on the export of timber from the country in an effort to limit the contribution of timber smuggling to civil unrest. The mission recommended that ITTO provide a wide range of support to the Liberian forestry sector as it is reconstructed.
During the session the Council received a progress report on the development of a code of best practices for improving law compliance in the forest sector, a joint initiative of ITTO and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. When published later this year it will provide countries with a compendium of experiences in combating illegal forest activities.
"ITTO has a wide variety of activities and projects that are addressing elements of illegal logging and illegal timber trade," said Mr Attah.
"These are adding considerably not only to our understanding of the illegal logging phenomenon but also to our ability to combat it."
A feature of the Council session was a side-event organized by a coalition of local and international civil-society organizations. The event focused on the relationship between secure land tenure for indigenous and local communities and the task of reducing illegal logging.
For example, Mr Kapupu Diwa, a representative of indigenous people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, reminded delegates of the close relationship that indigenous people in his country have with the forest, but pointed out that their rights to the forest are not being respected and that they are not benefiting as they should from the commercial use of forest resources.
Andy White of Forest Trends, a US-based NGO, urged ITTO to do more to assist its members in tenure and policy reform.
"ITTO is uniquely placed to help," he said.
"For example, it can encourage open dialogue within and between countries, conduct studies – not only on what to do but how to do it – and expand its technical assistance to countries."
According to Dr Manoel Sobral, ITTO's Executive Director, the increased commitment of countries in dealing with illegal logging will have help to significantly reduce the problem over the next few years.
"We are seeing many countries taking bold steps towards better forest law enforcement," he said.
"Moreover, there is a growing commitment among developed countries to assist these efforts. For example, the Japanese government intends to take the lead in the elimination of illegal logging in cooperation with ITTO. I warmly welcome this commitment and expect that it will lead to significant tangible results in coming months and years."
For more information on the Council session visit the ITTO website (www.itto.or.jp).