FORCOMS is an independent and voluntary initiative aimed at forest concession owners in Central Africa. The scheme currently targets companies operating in Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon and Republic of Congo (Congo). Its primary purpose is to offer transparent and reliable information about the legality and sustainability of the activities of different forest operators in the sub-region to international tropical timber markets, governments and civil society via a FORCOMS website. The activities of forest operators are evaluated against 35 indicators, agreed on at a multistakeholder workshop in Douala in 2004, that measure legal compliance and progress toward SFM, including social considerations.
Members are responsible for maintaining their own information, which is verified periodically by independent, third party inspections. FORCOMS then makes available audit reports for each inspected concession along with an action plan that companies are expected to undertake to improve management of their forest operations.
FORCOMS does not seek to replace or compete with any existing forest certification schemes, but to maximize complementarities with ongoing initiatives to support sustainable forest management in Central Africa. The System acts as a tool to verify and make known when forest operators have achieved the basic necessary (legality) and acceptable (sustainability) standards for credible forest certification. It is in this sense that the project was conceived as a preparatory mechanism for potential Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) processes.
Although the FORCOMS system was initiated independently of any regional institutions, it is closely linked with the Secretariat for the Central Africa Forest Commission (COMIFAC); the Executive Secretary of COMIFAC is now the President of the project steering committee. This institutional grounding has allowed for considerable exposure and can largely be credited with COMIFAC member countries’ support for the initiative.
A project steering committee made up of representatives from government, research institutions, NGOs and the private sector is overseeing the implementation of FORCOMS, while a project coordinator based in Central Africa manages the project’s day-to-day execution.
Since 2004, IUCN along with the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Interafrican Forest Industries Association (IFIA) have been jointly piloting FORCOMS as a system to implement the Code of Ethical Conduct for the Sustainable Management of Forest Concessions in Central Africa. The Code was adopted following its recommendation at the fourth session of the Nine-Country Conference on Central African Moist Forest Ecosystems (CEFDHAC) in Kinshasa in 2002.
The criteria that FORCOMS uses to evaluate forest sector activities are the product of a participatory decision-making process. Beyond producing outcomes that address a variety of needs and concerns, fostering a sense of ownership and encouraging the development of a more participatory policy-making environment, including different stakeholder groups has increased awareness of code of practice and what it entails. Additional awareness raising activities have included a number of meetings at the national and sub-regional levels organized over the course of 2007. The FORCOMS website is operational and contains information about the indicators that FORCOMS uses, country-specific operating procedures, consultant reports and summary write-ups from the national and sub-regional conferences.
In the case of FORCOMS, an important function of the Code is to act as a framework to communicate standardized information to international tropical timber markets among others about the activities of logging companies operating in Central Africa. This emphasis on communication is innovative, however, as experiences with certified forest products have shown, complementary efforts, resources and a strategy are needed to raise awareness about the system among consumers. As part of the FORCOMS initiative, a process targeting consumer countries is underway.
During June and July 2007, project staff visited and made direct contact with several forest enterprises in Cameroon to inform concession operators about FORCOMS and encourage their participation. The visits targeted small-scale, uncertified and large-scale, certified operators alike. Questionnaires were given to 11 enterprises as part of the process of developing agreed principles for participation in the FORCOMS scheme. 7 countries have agreed to take part in the System, while the other 4 have expressed interest but have not yet confirmed. At least 3 enterprises in each country have expressed interest in getting involved.
FORCOMS was conceived and developed with the specific objective of complementing and finding synergies with concurrent forest governance initiatives in the sub-region. In addition to providing a vehicle for the implementation of the Code of Ethical Conduct for the Sustainable Development of Forest Concessions in Central Africa, FORCOMS was developed with the intention that the criteria it uses could be incorporated in both the regional African Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (AFLEG) and sub-regional FLEGT VPA processes. The indicators adopted by FORCOMS are currently being used in the development of the framework of legality for the EC VPA with Cameroon and negotiations for use of the FORCOMS system as a reference point for all countries that enter into a FLEGT process are currently underway. FORCOMS further actively seeks pragmatic synergies with other initiatives in the sub-region where they exist.
A plan for the project’s third phase has been developed and negotiations with donors to secure continued funding are ongoing.