The port of Kinkole in Kinshasa in DR Congo is habitually abuzz with activity. When Greenpeace visited recently huge logs were being brought up river and offloaded. Many of the scores of huge unmarked logs that have been felled are being exported illegally.
The scene is a chaotic one, yet there is order to the mayhem and in a way this small scene is a reflection of the logging industry as a whole in the DRC - organised chaos.
In Greenpeace Africa’s new report Cut It Out: Illegal logging in the DRC we detail how companies, including prominent multinationals, are routinely flouting Congolese law with complete impunity and how the DRC government’s so-called “battle against illegal logging” is, so far, failing.
Evidence of such activity is not hard to find. Trucks carrying illegal unmarked wood travel around in plain sight and companies are cutting off the ends of logs in order to hide illegalities.
Ports such as Kinkole are inundated with illegal logs. Some of them are so freshly cut they still smell of the forest.
Many companies are using what are called artisanal permits, that are specifically supposed to be used for small-scale logging, in order to circumvent a moratorium in the DRC on new industrial logging permits.
We visited one village where real artisanal logging was taking place with the approval of the local chief. The chainsaw operator explained this is done for the domestic market to supply wood for things such as housing and furniture. This is the essence of artisanal logging and when done responsibly, the local economy can benefit.
But too often companies are after a quick profit and the destruction is to the detriment of those people who live in what is part of the second largest rainforest in the world. These people depend on the forest for their livelihood.
In Bandundu, the province’s environment minister told us that he really wants to clean up the sector, but in reality that will not be an easy task. We saw provincial inspectors being chased away from one site when attempting to seize illegal timber and a recent report by Resource Extraction Monitoring (REM) has also detailed illegal logging on a grand scale.
Help should be at hand though with the new EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) which came into effect on March 3. This means that any illegally harvested timber cannot be traded on the European market - a big destination for timber from the Congo Basin either directly or through markets such as China. Anyone who does so can be prosecuted.
The chaotic state of the sector in DRC and the lack of independent systems there to verify legality mean it will currently be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for traders based in the EU and dealing in timber from the DRC to comply with the legislation.
Greenpeace has been among those campaigning for many years to see this law come into force and we hope that this can at least give some impetus to reform and help clean up a sector that is currently out of control.
We hope that the DRC government seizes on that impetus before any more of Africa’s forests are needlessly and illegally cut down.
Click here to read Cut it Out: Illegal Logging in DRC