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International Partnerships

Legal reforms for the future of Ivorian forests

Sustainable forest management is the art of reconciling what users want from the forest with what the forest can sustainably produce. This fragile balance requires a legal framework that combines economic development, natural resources protection and the well-being of the population. In Côte d’Ivoire, this has not always been the case, and the country has lost over 80% of its original forest cover. Nevertheless, in recent years, important legal reforms have been put in place to transform the way the forest sector is managed.

These reforms have been catalysed by a bilateral agreement between Côte d’Ivoire and the European Union (EU) on timber legality called Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT). And these reforms are beginning to bear fruit. Lieutenant-Colonel SYLLA Cheick Tidiane is Côte d’Ivoire’s Focal Point for this Agreement. He explains that “since the beginning of the negotiations, a new forest ownership regime is in force, export procedures have been clarified, the role of civil society has been recognised and regulated, and there is a more favourable context for the participation of the various stakeholders in the implementation of forest policy”.

A new ambition: achieving 20% of forest cover

A partnership agreement with the EU as a catalyst for reform

Participatory reforms

A new tree ownership regime

The process of reviewing the legal framework for the forestry sector has highlighted several shortcomings, identified solutions and developed new regulations to be integrated into the legal framework.

One of the issues addressed is that of tree ownership. The forest management model that prevailed before the VPA negotiations began was based on exclusive public ownership of forest resources, which excluded landowners from receiving remuneration for the value of the trees naturally present on their land. This had the effect of severely limiting farmers’ interest in reforestation.

Today, the Forest Code recognises that villagers have the right to own the trees on the land they own – including under customary law. Raphaël Kra, country associate of the international NGO ClientEarth in Côte d’Ivoire, explains that “the benefit is now clearly specified in the regulation: communities are owners of their forests, even if the land only belongs to them customarily, customary ownership being recognised by law. This will allow them to freely market the trees on their lands, but it will also encourage reforestation, as they will now have an economic incentive to do so.”

Many of the legal texts are still in the process of being adopted, but once finalised, the new ownership regime will allow owners to develop and benefit from their forest resources in the long term, a real paradigm shift for the forest sector.

Clarification of export procedures

Recognition of civil society's role

Another change introduced in the Forest Code is the recognition of the independent monitoring role of civil society.

Youssouf Doumbia, President of the Ivorian Observatory for the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (OI-REN), explains that “bad governance is one of the factors that have reduced the national forest cover. To avoid this in the future, civil society must play a watchdog role that allows it to report non-compliance in the management of forest resources, but also to propose solutions and lead decision makers to correct these non-compliance. In this sense, the VPA negotiations have contributed to adopting legal provisions to establish independent monitoring in forest management and governance.”

A more favourable business climate

The legal reforms being pushed through as part of the VPA negotiations also aim to create a more favourable business climate for the private sector. According to Gilles Gueu, Secretary General of the Industrial Wood Producers’ Union, “regulating the activity will create a levelled playing field. The regulation will also allow economic operators to compete on an equal footing in national markets, knowing that illegal operators will be excluded.”

Furthermore, and without losing sight of the fact that the VPA is a trade agreement, “the regulation will allow manufacturers to add value to their product internationally, as the FLEGT licence will allow Ivorian timber products to circulate freely on the European market”.

Towards a better future for Ivorian forests

Although challenges remain to successful achieve the VPA’s objectives, Côte d’Ivoire and the EU are working closely together to ensure that the necessary balance between all stakeholders is maintained to improve natural resources governance and increase the Ivorian forest cover.

As Denisa Salkova, EU Focal Point for the EU-Côte d’Ivoire FLEGT VPA, explains, “it is important that policy makers and stakeholders work together to develop and implement effective laws that ensure a sustainable future for the forest sector, an approach that is facilitated by the FLEGT VPA.”


Original article published on FLEGT VPA Facility