A young Bonobo: the species is at riosk as logging in the Congo Basin fragments their forest habitat and opens up new areas to poachers. Photo: via Greenpeace.
End the Congo logging chaos for rainforest, people and bonobos!
Raoul Monsembula / Greenpeace Africa
1st June 2015
Industrial logging in the world's second largest rainforest is out of control, writes Raoul Monsembula, and spells disaster for both wildlife and forest people. There is an alternative: community forestry has just been enshrined in law. But resources must be committed to law enforcement in Congo and abroad, and to empowering forest communities.
Forest clearance for roads and other infrastructure is opening up vital Bonobo habitat to poachers and further threatening the endangered ape near protected areas such as the Lomako-Yokokala faunal reserve.
'Chaos' and 'chaotic' are frequently - perhaps even overly - used words. One dictionary definition is a "total lack of organisation or order". That can be said certainly of the industrial logging sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Companies pay little heed to regulations, promises to forest communities go unfulfilled and government institutions show little or no will to hold them to account and protect the DRC's vast natural heritage and resources.
But at the same time this chaos is organised and is ordered. It is to a large extent engineered by officials and companies for their own benefit. The institutions that should govern the forestry sector and enforce the law are not functioning effectively.
There is a woeful lack of transparency, with logging contracts not made public or only made public years after they were signed and no reliable official data available on permits, production and exports. Corruption is endemic and it appears that illegal activities in industrial logging concessions are the norm.
Nothing is being done to stop illegal logging and other abuses
In its new report Trading in Chaos, Greenpeace Africa reveals the findings of two years of investigations into the operations both at home and abroad of one of the key players in the DRC logging chaos, Lebanese-owned Cotrefor.
The results are a depressing cocktail of unpaid taxes, shocking mistreatment of employees, rampant irregularities in operational procedure and exceeding allocated quotas of the endangered tree species Afrormosia that are permitted to be logged.
Furthermore, such poor practice is evidently not proving a hindrance to Cotrefor exporting and trading their wood worldwide to destinations including China, the USA and the European Union.
And this is despite the fact that legislation such as the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR), exists with the sole purpose of preventing illegally sourced timber or timber products being placed on the European market.
Greenpeace has regularly demonstrated how sadly easy it is to become an illegal logger these days. And you can still ask European authorities yourself if you do not believe us.
Predictably the ones to suffer from the organised chaos in the DRC are members of the communities who form part of the estimated 40 million people who rely on the country's vast forests for their livelihood.
They see little of the profits made by Cotrefor and other companies, valuable species are often logged out completely from their areas. Social obligations made between the communities and those wishing to begin logging operations, such as a school, healthcare or infrastructure near their land, are often not fully realized.
And it is not just people who suffer. One of mankind's oldest relatives, the Bonobo, is found only in the DRC. Through its investigations Greenpeace Africa discovered that forest clearance for roads and other infrastructure is opening up vital habitat to poachers and further threatening the endangered ape near protected areas such as the Lomako-Yokokala faunal reserve.
There is an alternative - community forestry
Yet as depressing and familiar as this chaos and lack of impunity sounds, there is an alternative to the concession based model of industrial logging in the DRC. There is in existence a law that would concentrate more responsibility for their own lands in the hands of local communities.
Passed last year, Congo's Community Forest Decree (Decree 10/1018) recognizes the customary ownership rights of local communities, stating that "Any local community can obtain a forest concession on a portion or the totality of the forests it owns on a regular basis by virtue of custom, in accordance with the conditions and procedures established by the present decree."
The maximum area of these concessions is extremely large, at 50,000 hectares - especially compared to the less than 5,000 hectares of legally recognized community forests in Cameroon. But even that need not be a limitation, given that
"in the case where a customary possession of a local community extends beyond the above mentioned surface area, the latter retains its customary rights on the portion that is not conceded and continues to exercise those rights in conformity with the concerned legislation." Moreover within those areas, "Communities have full rights in the management of the forest concessions attributed to them", with no time limit.
But there are serious problems. First, many of the people who should be able to benefit from the Decreee are unaware of its existence. Second, forest communities are not being provided with the tools to claim their forest rights, nor to manage their forests. And as the Rainforest Foundation warns, that institutional void could create a new set of problems.
The new law "is in itself unlikely to deliver sustainable and equitable outcomes because of lack of institutional capacity", the RF warns. "In the absence of strong administration, weaknesses in the law and implementation measures could open the door to widespread forest destruction and other perverse outcomes."
Government action desperately needed
Ultimately, in order to control this organised chaos and to stop companies like Cotrefor operating with total impunity, the DRC government needs to take action. They must fully investigate allegations in the Greenpeace Africa report and the existing moratorium on all new logging titles should be maintained until all conditions are met.
Furthermore to prevent the steady flow of illegal Congo Basin timber overseas, including from Cotrefor, the governments of timber-importing nations such as EU Member States, China and the USA need to open investigations immediately into companies trading timber products from the DRC.
Authorities must use every route open to them, including international human rights and labour laws and conventions, CITES, the Lacey Act and the EUTR, to stop and prevent illegal and destructive trade.
And DRC authorities, backed by foreign donors, need to provide the resources - in institutional support, training, mapping, planning and financing - to allow forest communities to gain title to their forests under Decree 10/1018, and manage them wisely.
Only if these measures are taken can the chaotic cycle of illegal logging in the Congo be broken and can the squandering of the country's vast natural heritage that form part of the world's second largest rainforest be stemmed.
Petition to Congo's environment Minister: 'Help the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo manage and protect their own forests!'
The report: 'Trading in Chaos' is published by Greenpeace Africa.
Raoul Monsembula is the Greenpeace Africa country director for the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This article was originally published by Greenpeace International, with additional reporting by The Ecologist.
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