Timber exports ranked third in importance behind cocoa and coffee; but by 1980 this industry was declining because of overcutting. From 1965 to 1975, the period of peak timber exploitation, log and sawed wood exports contributed an average of 23 percent of foreign exchange earnings annually. In the early 1980s, timber exploitation averaged an annual 4 million cubic meters of logs and accounted for 9 percent of the agricultural GDP. By contrast, in 1984 exports of logs and sawed wood had declined to 2.1 million cubic meters and represented only 12 percent of exports.
Overexploitation through the 1960s and mid-1970s almost depleted forest resources. Côte d'Ivoire's forest shrank from 15 million hectares in 1960 to less than 3 million in 1987. Deforestation continued at a rate of 300,000 to 500,000 hectares a year, while annual plantings averaged only 5,000 hectares. The government's response to this ecological disaster was halfhearted: in 1985 the government-owned Forest Development Company (Société pour le Développement des Forêts--SODEFOR) initiated an industrial reforestation program designed to produce some 6.6 million cubic meters of wood in thirty-five years. The SODEFOR program will have little impact on timber production through at least the year 2000, however, and until then, producers will continue to exploit shrinking natural forests. As a follow-up on the SODEFOR program, the government declared 1988 "the year of the Ivoirian forest" and approved a CFA F1.3 billion tree-planting program to plant a total of 25,000 hectares. This represented only 0.2 percent of the forest land lost since 1960. Finally, the government announced a novel scheme to create agricultural belts around the remaining wooded areas, making those who were allocated plots responsible for policing the forests. Despite these gestures, the government insisted in 1985 that timber exports would cease only when the country's financial situation stabilized or when substitute exports could be found, neither of which had occurred by 1988.
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