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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Green Treasure: Illegal logging in Cameroon

Environment groups like Friends of the Earth, Forest Monitor or the Cameroon-based Centre pour l’Environnement et le Développement (CED) have in turn released reports showing that illegal logging remains a ‘serious threat’ to Cameroon’s forests.
“Illegal logging in Cameroon includes uncontrolled logging, notably without permits. Some companies log out of authorized logging areas, and cut trees that are smaller than 60cm in diameter, while some cut down protected tree species” explains Dr. Germain Djontu, a researcher with CED a Cameroon-based environment NGO.

A report released in 2009 claims that the state of Cameroon looses at least 50 billion US dollars each year due to illegal logging. I must observe that this is a great loss for local communities who are supposed to benefit from forest royalties across a community forest tax system “when this revenue is not collected by the state local communities loose the 10% community tax they are supposed to get” Dr. Djontu adds, after listing a string of environmental hazards caused to trees and the soil.
Cameroon’s 22.5 million hectares of forests is a green treasure for mostly European logging companies that hold the country’s biggest forest exploitation permits, in what officials call ‘production forests’. Production forests make up over 14 million hectares. Some of these European companies are blamed for allowing illegal logging in a widely inaccessible rainforest that is difficult for officials to control. But when I spoke to Cameroon’s Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, Prof Elvis Ngolle Ngolle naturally downplayed the scope of illegal logging, blaming it on small holdings,
“In our production forests that are under management plans where more than 90% of Cameroon’s timber comes from, there is little or no illegal exploitation. Where we have observed the phenomenon of illegal exploitation is in the non-permanent forests which are really not in the production forest. These non-permanent forests are where they don’t have management plans yet, and those who exploit timber in these forests exploit timber under licenses which are sometimes short term licenses.”He explains.
Friends of the Earth notably urged the importing countries like Netherlands to join Cameroon to impose huge financial sanctions on companies seen to be involved in the practice. A move the Forestry minister says Cameroon adopted already.
“Statistics show that in the last four years or so, we have increased sanctions. We have dared to sanction companies who have fallen (what are some of those sanctions?) Those sanctions range from suspension of…withdrawal of their titles or their permits or certificates to payment of high sums of money. Some companies have paid here 50 million, 100 million and they continue to pay.”However green activists insist the problem is in fact the follow up of these sanctions. Dr Djontu says “There are sanctions that have never been imposed to companies that cut out of their exploitation zones, or cut down trees less than the 60 cm diameter, but as we speak, they have not paid these sums to the state.”
Like petroleum and the mining sector, forestry remains a ‘high-risk’ and ‘no-go’ territory for most Cameroonians. An environment activists (who refused to be cited), told me their offices had been broken into and thrashed, and their computers and files carried away, by unidentified men.
Most of the small holdings or non permanent forest licenses are owned by influential Cameroonians who will viciously defend their interests. Corruption is also rife in the sector and local officials are the direct preys.