At a time when conservationists have been shouting against the indiscriminate destruction of African forests, especially by Chinese timber exploitation companies, Gabon seems to be on reverse gear as it witnessed the largest shipment of timber to China on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.
Gabon’s Minister of Water and Forestry, Lee White, who is British, was in the port town of Owendo on the day to personally supervise the shipment of 26,000 square metres of timber from Gabon to China.
Besides supervising the loading and eventual shipment of the timber, the minister took part in the operation to ensure that workers in the forestry sector respected the measures put in place by the government to fight against the spread of COVID-19.
“This visit is within the context of the follow-up of activities in the forestry/timber sector, notably the putting into practice of the preventive, organisation and protection measures of personnel during this period of the COVID-19 pandemic,” declared the British-born Minister of Water and Forestry.
The presence of White in Owendo to witness the loading and shipment was to demonstrate that the forestry/timber sector was progressively resuming its activities in spite of the drop in world demand brought about by the COVID -19 pandemic and its social and economic impact worldwide.
“This is a historic shipment because it is the largest timber shipment in the history of Gabon. This demonstrates that in spite of the COVID-19 health situation, the forestry industry continues to wax strong and exports to China have started spiking. That gives hope,” White declared.
The minister seized the occasion to call on all to respect the measures put in place to protect employees against the coronavirus.
He said: “I have come to ensure that the sanitary and security measures put in place within my services are effective to eventually ensure and guarantee the health of our agents and those of other administrations, and also make sure that they can continue to work under good conditions in spite of the coronavirus pandemic.”
The minister was accompanied on the visit by the Minister Delegate in his ministry, Oswald Severin Mayounou, and Auguste Ndouna Ango, the Director-General of Industries, Commerce, Wood and the Improvement of Forestry Products.
Environmentalists across Gabon are outraged by this development. But it is not clear if the conservationist groups will stage any protest to pressure the government to halt future shipments of timber to China.