Congo Basin Forests
Stopping illegal logging and exploitation in Central Africa’s threatened tropical forests
The vast forest of the Congo Basin is the second largest tropical rainforest on Earth and the lungs of Africa. Its incredibly rich and diverse ecosystem provides food, fresh water, shelter and medicine for tens of millions of people and is home to many critically endangered species.
© Christian Kaiser / Greenpeace
Of the hundreds of mammal species discovered there so far—including forest elephants, gorillas, bonobos and okapis—39 are found nowhere else on Earth. Of its estimated 10,000 plant species, 3,300 are unique to the region.
Palm Oil’s New Frontier
In recent years, investors from around the world have been focusing heavily on Africa in an effort to exploit the continent’s rich natural resources—including agriculture, minerals and oil—at the expense of local communities and the environment.
This trend of buying or leasing large areas of land in Africa to extract resources for export has been termed “land-grabbing” due to the speed and scale at which it is taking place and the opaque nature of some of the land deals that have been negotiated.
The U.N. has warned that these deals could severely undermine food security, hamper long-term economic development and lead to the loss of important ecosystems.
The Congo Basin is the target of several international palm oil developers looking to expand their operations in Africa. Concession contracts are currently being negotiated for a million hectares of land in Cameroon alone. Most of this land is located within the rainforest region, meaning that palm oil plantations would be a major cause of wide-scale deforestation if allowed to proceed.
Greenpeace research details the large number of concessions being granted and the dangers to the climate and communities if this large-scale palm oil expansion continues unchecked.
The deceitful efforts by U.S.-owned Herakles Farms to develop a huge new oil palm plantation are a stark example of the threats that industrial plantations present to human rights, biodiversity and the global climate. The plantation would occupy an area eight times the size of Manhattan in the southwest of Cameroon.
Linked to New York private equity giant Blackstone Group, Herakles took over the project from Sithe Global Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SGSOC), which signed a convention with the country’s government in 2009 to develop about 70,000 hectares.
The very legality of that convention has been questioned and despite claims by the company that the majority of the concession is secondary and degraded forest, research shows it will affect forests that have been identified as vital for endangered wildlife and serve as corridors to five crucial protected areas.
Also, despite further claims from Herakles Farms that the project will boost the economy and create jobs, the company’s plans have been met with widespread opposition and attracted fierce criticism from local NGOs and residents alike.
The Herakles Farms oil palm plantation is the wrong project in the wrong place. We’re among the many voices calling for this development to be stopped before it is too late for the people and the ecosystems of Cameroon.
World Bank Ties to Illegal Logging
There are direct ties between the International Finance Corporation (IFC)—the World Bank’s private arm—and Olam International, a company involved in illegal logging operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Controlled by wealthy industrialized countries, the World Bank is one of the largest sources of funding for developing countries. It is the most important international donor in the DRC.
The World Bank suspended financial assistance to the DRC during violent conflicts in the 1990s, but resumed lending in 2001. By August 2006, the World Bank Group had approved loans, credits and grants to the DRC worth more than $4 billion.
In June 2002, the World Bank approved a $450 million Economic Recovery Credit for the DRC. The release of $15 million of this was made conditional on the adoption of the DRC forestry code. It also created a moratorium on the granting of new logging titles.
However, the moratorium was quickly overlooked as the DRC’s rich rainforest and mineral resources are eyed as a quick source of tax revenue and foreign earnings to kick-start the country’s collapsed economy.
Ancient Rainforests Vanishing
Even though there has been a moratorium on new logging permits, more than 37 million acres of rainforest have been granted to the logging industry. That’s an area the size of Illinois, most of which is made up of land vital for protecting biodiversity.
The DRC Rainforest is a critical habitat for the endangered bonobo and other threatened species, such as forest elephants and hippopotamus. DRC forests have also been identified as critical for the livelihoods of an estimated 40 million rural people.
Broken Promises to Forest Communities
Because of corruption and flawed law enforcement, taxes paid by the logging companies are not going back to forest communities to provide essential services like education and healthcare. Even the World Bank admits that over the last three years, not a single penny paid by the logging companies has reached local communities.
This leaves the local communities not only without the forest that provided their food, shelter and medicine, but without the benefits they have been promised.
A Call for Change
Today, the intact rainforest of the DRC needs to be valued and conserved in the interests of both the Congolese people and the global environment. These interests are incompatible with industrial logging. Logging leads to the construction of roads that open up—and thereby degrade—intact forest, a destruction that anyone with access to Google Earth can see.
We’re demanding that all forest titles allocated in breach of the 2002 moratorium be cancelled through the ongoing legality review of all logging titles.
We’re also calling on the World Bank to stop funding illegal logging in the DRC and set up programs and projects that will actually help local communities—not harm them.