Greenpeace reveals ongoing illegal carve up of Congo's rainforests

Press release - 23 February, 2007
Brussels,23rd February, 2007 - Greenpeace released evidence today of widespread illegal logging in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), part of the second largest tropical forest in the world after the Amazon. The environmental organisation has documented logging operations in violation of a moratorium, which since 2002 should have stopped the allocation of logging titles (1).

While delegates from the Congolese Government, donor community and civil society prepare for the Brussels conference on 'The sustainable management of the forests of the DRC' next week (2), more than 21 million hectares of rainforest are now allocated to the logging industry, an area nearly seven times the size of Belgium.'

The DRC Government introduced a moratorium on the allocation, extension and renewal of logging titles in May 2002, yet it has been widely violated. With evidence of ongoing illegal forest operations and with a new urgency to fund alternatives to deforestation in the face of climate change, Greenpeace International demands that the DRC government, World Bank and other donors take urgent action to stop the expansion of the logging industry in the DRC's rainforests.

'While key players gather to discuss the future of the DRC's rainforests, if these forests are to have much of a future the logging industry must be contained. This means cancelling all titles in breach of the 2002 moratorium and extending this moratorium to stop the grabbing of the forests dynamic in DRC. We now need new funding mechanisms from donors to stop deforestation in the Congo", said Stephan Van Praet, Greenpeace International Africa Forest Campaign co-ordinator.

Greenpeace today highlights a particular example of one company who has breached the 2002 moratorium. ITB (Industrie de transformation de bois) is actively logging in the region of Lac Tumba, with two logging permits covering 294,000 ha of forests. Both permits were issued after May 2002 in breach of the 2002 moratorium (3). The company logs with no forest management plan as it extracts high value species such as Wenge for export to the European market (4).

The area being logged, near Bikoro, Equator province, is part of the Lake Tumba region, identified by international donors as a priority region for conservation (5).The forests of the region are a critical habitat for the endangered bonobo and other threatened species such as forest elephants and hippopotamus. The area is also home to numerous communities of Twa 'pygmies' and Bantus.

ITB claims to be making a positive contribution to local communities. Meantime, the few forestry officials charged with overseeing logging companies in the area have no vehicles or other equipment to monitor forestry operations and need to count on the goodwill of the logging companies to even reach logging sites (6).

"Logging companies promise us wonders: work, schools, hospitals, but actually, they seem to be only interested in their own short term profits. What will happen when our forests have been emptied? They will leave and we'll be the ones left with damaged roads, schools with no roofs and hospitals without medicine" said Pasteur Matthieu Yela Bonketo, co-ordinator of CEDEN, a Congolese NGO active in Equateur province who will be in Brussels for next weeks conference.

'Industrial logging doesn't bring benefits. The "pygmies" who totally depend our forests and the local communities who live in them are suffering because of the presence of the industry", he concluded.

Greenpeace is demanding that all forest titles allocated in breach of the 2002 moratorium, including ITB's, are cancelled through the ongoing legality review of all logging titles and an extension of the moratorium until comprehensive land use planning and sufficient governance capacity is in place in DRC forest sector.

VVPR info: Stephan van Praet, Greenpeace Campaign Coordinator: +32 496161580 Media Officer, Natalia Truchi , +31 646162029 Pictures of logging, biodiversity and Twa "pygmy" communities are available upon request.

Notes: 1. In 2002 a ruling was issued by the DRC Environment Minister setting up a moratorium on the allocation, renewal or extension of logging titles. Its validity was re-confirmed by Presidential Decree in 2005. Greenpeace therefore considers all titles issued, extended or renewed since this moratorium as illegal. 2. The conference will be held at 'Palais de Egmont' Brussels, further details Prior to the May 2002 moratorium, ITB had one logging > > permit. Between 2002 and 2005 this was 'exchanged' for two larger permits covering a greater area in a different location. The company now has two titles in the Lake Tumba area, one of 214,700 ha and the other of 80,064 ha.4. Greenpeace investigations during the past five months have identified ITB timber at ports in France, Belgium and Italy and have also confirmed that ITB timber from DRC is purchased and traded by Interholco, part of the German/Swiss Danzer Group.5. The area was identified by the Congo Basin Forest Partnership because of 'outstanding biodiversity because they encompass intact populations of larger mammals (e.g., elephant and gorilla in forest wilderness) or because they represent important and distinctive habitats and communities of species.' A Greenpeace field visit in October 2006 confirmed active logging by ITB in the Lake Tumba region and documented the facilities of the local forest authorities.