Zaire Table of Contents
Zaire is the most heavily forested country in Africa, with a forest cover extending over 122 million hectares. The country has an estimated 6 percent of the world's forestland. Only a small portion of Zaire's forest area, however, had been exploited commercially by the early 1990s, primarily because of the lack of transportation infrastructure, particularly in the interior of the country.
There are three main areas of economic interest: the Mayombé Forest in western Bas-Zaïre covering 240,000 hectares, an area north of the Congo River in Équateur Region covering 21 million hectares, and the tropical rain forests in northern Bandundu Region with 101 million hectares. Bas-Zaïre, close to Kinshasa and the country's ports, has been the site of the heaviest logging in the country. Much of the Mayombé Forest was seriously depleted by logging operations in the 1960s, and some logging restrictions are now in force there. The forests in Équateur Region have been partially degraded because of slash-and-burn farming techniques. The hardwood central basin forests in Bandundu Region remain relatively untouched, although some encroachment from itinerant slash-and-burn agriculture has begun to affect the northern and southern borders (see Environmental Trends , ch. 2).
In effect, all forestlands are owned by the Zairian state, which has granted long-term (usually twenty-five-year) logging concessions over huge areas to multinational companies. In the early 1990s, timber concessions had already been granted for 37 percent of Zaire's exploitable forest area. Eleven foreign-based companies or joint ventures accounted for 90 percent of the country's logging operations. One German subsidiary alone accounted for 40 percent of logging in Zaire.
On average, 500,000 cubic meters of timber traditionally were extracted annually, but figures were lower in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1988 about 416,500 cubic meters of logs were extracted; production rose to 419,000 cubic meters in 1989 and to 465,000 cubic meters in 1990 but dropped to 391,000 cubic meters in 1991. Sawn wood production was much lower, at 131,000 cubic meters in 1989, dropping to 117,000 cubic meters in 1990, and 105,000 cubic meters in 1991. Zairian production is extremely modest when compared with that of major international producers.
In the early 1990s, planning was underway for major increases in logging production--up to 5 million cubic meters by the year 2020. Production increases would be accompanied by promotion of Zairian wood products in overseas markets, particularly in Europe, the United States, and Japan. There were also plans to increase timber exports to East Africa, currently at a low level. Such an increase would depend, however, on the construction of a road network in the interior of the country.
Over the years, attempts have been made to increase growth, diversity, and development in the forestry sector, but to no avail. Zaire's timber, like most African timber, continues to be exported primarily in its cheapest raw material form--as raw logs rather than sawn wood. Moreover, production of other products such as veneer and plywood remains quite limited. As with other areas of agricultural development, ecologically sound and profitable growth in forestry depends on dramatic improvements in transportation and both private and public management capabilities, neither of which appears likely in the foreseeable future (see Environmental Trends , ch. 2).
Data as of December 1993