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Artisanal chainsaw milling to support decentralized management of timber in Central Africa? An analysis through the theory of access

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During the last decade, in Central Africa, timber volume of the artisanal chainsaw milling (CSM) sector, mainly for domestic markets, has exceeded that processed by the export-oriented industrial sector. However, due to lack of legal alternatives, CSM is largely an informal activity. We rely on the theory of access to understand the mechanisms of access to timber resources, and to the income derived from their use, implemented by local actors to participate in the growth of this informal sector. Among eight common access mechanisms, two have played a particularly important role in the development of CSM for the benefit of rural economies. On the one hand, the growth of CSM was built on the customary tenure system, by valuing traditional knowledge and abiding by the traditional rules of access to trees. On the other hand, domestic timber markets remained accessible to independent operators in Cameroon, in Central African Republic and in Gabon, but the situation is less true in Republic of Congo and in Democratic Republic of Congo.
Even if the financial impacts of CSM are substantial for rural economies in Central Africa, the application of the theory of access cannot conclude that this activity supports a decentralized, democratic and sustainable management of timber resources. Two elements lack in this analysis, the accountability of resource managers and the ecological sustainability of the harvest. These issues could be better addressed through a fine-tuned formalization of the CSM sector that would not compromise its present positive impact on rural people's livelihoods. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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