DRC – ‘Illegal Logging Will Thrive’ Despite REDD

Posted on 07 December 2010 by admin

The Epulu River in DRC's Ituri Province. Credit: J Doremus/Wikicommons

The Epulu River flowing in DRC's Ituri Province. Credit: J Doremus/Wikicommons

By Rosebell Kagumire

CANCÚN, Dec 7, 2010 (IPS/TerraViva) – One of the stumbling blocks to finalising proposals to fund the conservation of forests in Africa is that some of the most ecologically – and commercially – valuable forests in Africa are in areas racked by conflict.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has received plenty of attention and money to preserve its rainforest. One hundred thirty million hectares – nearly two thirds – of this enormous central African country is forested. Somewhere between 20 and 37 billion tonnes of carbon are stored in the second largest rainforest in the world (only the Amazon is larger), as well as a tremendous amount of biodiversity.

The DRC was the first African country to complete a Readiness Proposal Plan for REDD (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), and there are a dozen pilot projects of various sizes in place in the country.

The country has received about $120 million for its REDD+ processes – developing the plan and supporting provincial efforts and popular participation in conservation.

Half a million hectares lost each year

But the country is still losing around 500,000 hectares of forest every year. Illegal logging is top of a list of drivers of deforestation that also includes charcoal production, trade in bush meat and ongoing armed conflict. War, particularly in the eastern DRC, has forced many people into camps for the internally displaced which place increased pressure on forests.

More seriously, the conflict has all but destroyed regulation and oversight of forests, allowing an illegal timber trade to flourish. In 2009, the government cancelled around 60 percent of the country’s timber contracts after an anti-corruption probe found that 91 deals covering nearly13 million hectares of forest had been granted under questionable circumstances by corrupt officials.

A 2001 U.N. panel also found that three of the DRC’s neighbours, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, were guilty of looting timber under cover of war. The U.N.’s report said this included confiscation of forest products, forced monopoly and price-fixing; it implicated top government officials from each of these countries, who profited hugely from the illegal logging.

Designing and implementing an effective conservation strategy will have to account for illegal logging and cross-border security in a challenging political environment.

“As we move forward with the REDD projects, we will have to hold talks through various sectors like trade and security to ensure these cross border illegal activities  that affect REDD are checked,” said Victor Kabengele wa Kadilu from the DRC Ministry of Environmental Conservation.

“Illegal logging is still big challenge,” he said. “So far we have a project in Mambasa, (North Kivu) to control the logging through certification of forest products.”

The DRC’s REDD proposal recognises the need to improve governance of forests. One of the measures it puts forward is to improve the salaries of the officials who enforce forestry regulations with a system of performance bonuses, as well as greatly increasing their numbers: at present, there are just 50 forestry agents for the entire DRC.

Kadilu says that an agreement on funding would go a long way towards securing DRC’s forests.

“We have ongoing projects to minimise the pressure on forests. We have encouraged new, improved agricultural practices; agroforestry and new technologies like the improved cook stoves on a large scale,” he said.

“To continue with all this we need a lot funding and we are hoping that the monies pledged are delivered and that more pledges are made at this conference.”

Outlook not promising

Charles Mushizi, a lawyer from the Kinshasa-based Centre for Exchanges On Legal and Institutional Reform, is sceptical.

“Most of our political decision-makers don’t understand these issues and our policies are still not in line with climate change demands,” he said. “Corruption is very big in DRC. On one side you have wars, and on the other we have a lack of capacity of government structures.

“Those in armed conflict areas are committed to logging and the sale of timber to finance the conflict and of course REDD activities in such areas will not easily be carried out.”

Wally Menne, an environmentalist affiliated with the Timberwatch Coalition, told IPS that it is difficult to see REDD succeeding in DRC.

“The DRC government is under pressure to convert forests to plantations of oil palm and eucalyptus, on the understanding that there will be REDD+ money to subsidise the conversion of natural forests that are ‘degraded’, and at the same time get money from logging,” said Menne.

“The argument is that they will only plant in ‘degraded’ forests, which usually means that the forest has been disturbed at some time in the past and can no longer be called ‘pristine’, but is still ecologically important.”

He pointed to other government policies on land that will affect the success of conservation efforts.

“In the DRC there have already been schemes to attract farmers from other countries (including South Africa) with grants of free land and tax holidays for mass food production. This might not be directly linked to REDD, but it will mean that more ‘degraded’ forests will need to be bulldozed to make way for crops.”

In Menne’s view, illegal logging by international actors is a lesser threat than the activities of big corporations with legal concessions who supply enormous and profitable markets in Europe.

“Illegal logging is going to thrive because it will be seen as a way to make money from forests before they are ‘sold’ to a REDD project for ‘restoration’ with one or other kind of plantation,” he said.

“it does not look very good either for the forests and grasslands, or the indigenous peoples and local communities. REDD will most likely bring more problems than solutions, and it is unlikely to succeed in protecting natural forests.”

(END/2010)

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