The China-Africa Forest Governance Learning Platform, launched this month, is aimed to research China's impact and influence over decisions about Africa's forests.
The forum, developed by the Forest Governance Learning Group, aims to help African policymakers and other experts better understand Africa's relationship with China, according to an International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
China is now the top importer of timber from several African countries, mainly those in the Congo Basin, and as China's imports of African timber and its investments in forestland are increasing, gathering information about the impacts is key, experts say.
Preliminary research shows while some Chinese companies contribute to the welfare of the African forest communities, others fail to comply and are illegally exploiting forest resources.
Experts said more information is needed to try to improve governance of forests in Africa, and to gauge the possible positive and negative impacts of China's interest in them.
African policy makers need to try to get better partnerships with people in China and potentially take action and improve decision making where it is opaque or wrong.
Not surprisingly, the research shows China has a relatively positive view of the relationship, while many Africa nations have a negative view. Because China needs natural resources the government has encouraged investing overseas, and since Africa needs investment in infrastructure, China the partnership as a a win-win.
But in Africa, both governments and civil society groups in countries such as Mozambique and Zambia see the relationship as negative, in part due to lack of communication. African nations say they want guarantees China's investment will improve the welfare of local communities.
Another big challenge, given the lack of regulation, is to verify that African timber imported to China is being cut legally and sustainably, and to assess the impacts on Africa's forest communities.
With the European Union set to create stricter timber regulations this month, the fears is that more illegal timber may head to China instead.
While China is the biggest investor in Africa's forests at the moment, India, or other places with an increasing need for natural resources, could be next.
By Guylain Gustave Moke