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The coexistence of traditional slash-and-burn farming and community forests in Gabon

Slash-and-burn cultivation is still widespread among the vast majority of ethnolinguistic groups in Gabon, and likely to remain so in the future. It generally occurs within a five-kilometre radius around each settlement. In Gabon, this is the zone earmarked since late 2013 for the country’s first community forests. The principles of sustainability underlying the idea of community forestry imply that forest cover should be preserved. However, this can conflict with slash-and-burn farming, which removes a certain amount of timber production potential from the area concerned every year. The simplified management plans for community forestry provide for cropping sequences in order to avoid competition between the two activities on the same land. This provision also acknowledges the important social and economic role of farming in rural areas. Agro-forestry is one of the keys to maintaining family farming together with community forestry. Preserving standing trees of social, economic or environmental value lessens the arduous task of felling while quantitatively reducing the impact of slashing and burning, which is no longer systematic. Introducing useful, rare or protected species or valuable timber trees also increases the economic and heritage value of agricultural lands while meeting the conservation and sustainability requirements of the simplified management plans for community forests. Traditional family farming can thus be maintained and made secure within a legally recognised portion of the forest, together with optimised cultivation techniques.