DRC to crackdown on illegal foresting, after taking a tough stance on mining

By Yara Rizk
Posted on Wednesday, 10 November 2021 16:44

The Congo Basin rainforest absorbs the equivalent of Africa’s entire carbon emissions. Jens GROSSMANN/LAIF-REA

In the midst of a global climate conference, DRC is taking a tougher line against deforestation. It has announced a ban on log exports in an attempt to regain control of its forests after having launched a similar process in its mining sector.

The announcement came a few days before COP26, the world climate conference that opened on 31 October, and it was no doubt planned that way. On 28 October, Eve Bazaïba, the DRC’s environmental minister, announced that the country intended to ban all log exports soon.

In addition to this strong announcement, the minister promised that other measures would be introduced to limit deforestation and preserve the species living in the Congo Basin forest, the second largest river forest on the planet, just behind the Amazon.

“This will allow time for nature to recover, including through a reforestation programme that we have put together with all our technical, financial and development partners,” said the minister.

Precious resource

This declaration was made within the context of COP26, currently going on in Scotland, UK. This event brings together more than 100 countries, which have all committed to bringing an end to deforestation – a phenomenon responsible for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions – by 2030.

Although a group of environmental ministers and researchers is calling for a $150m financial package for the Congo Basin, the 100 or so countries have pledged more than $19bn in public and private funds over several years to finance forest protection programmes.

In the DRC, a new entity, the Direction de Reboisement et Horticulture (DRHo), has been tasked with restoring the country’s forest capital since 2020. According to its action plan, one billion trees are expected to be planted by 2023 and 1,800 hectares of various agroforestry projects are planned.

We don’t want any more contracts with partners who come to savagely cut our forests, we will retire these types of contracts.

Each year, the country exports an average of 120,000 m3 of wood, a valuable resource for the national economy. In 2016, according to the French Development Agency, the DRC produced 200,000 m3.

Illegal practices

As per a study carried out by the Regional Post-graduate Training School on Integrated Management of Tropical Forests and Lands (ERAIFT), half of the sector’s players are large companies (Sodefor, Maniema Union, Forabola and Booming Green) and the other half are medium-sized and small companies (CFT, IFCO, Somifor and the Kitenge-Lola Establishment).

According to the Coalition Nationale contre l’Exploitation Illégale du Bois (CNCEIB), abusive practices persist within this sector. These include logging outside authorised areas and exceeding permitted volumes, fraudulently marking timber, not paying royalties and not complying with the rules of sustainable logging.

“High-risk illegal timber worth at least $21m was shipped to international markets from the DRC in 2014-2015,” said a report published by the French government in 2015. Thus, according to the same report, most of the timber industrially harvested in the DRC and traded around the world was considered to be “highly likely to be illegal.”

Audit of all contracts

In 2018, the DRC’s biggest markets for wood products by value were Vietnam, the European Union (EU) (via the European Free Trade Association), and China, according to Forest Trends, a US-based conservation group.

In response, DRC’s President Félix Tshisekedi ordered an audit of all existing logging contracts in early October. “We don’t want any more contracts with partners who come to savagely cut our forests, we will retire these types of contracts,” said Bazaiba.

However, no date has been set for when this announced ban will come into effect. Moreover, this is not the first time that a Congolese environmental minister has made such a statement.

Progress too slow

By 19 March 2020, Claude Nyamugabo Bazibuhe, the then minister of the environment and sustainable development, had already launched a campaign in Kinshasa to combat deforestation. The minister decided to seize all illegal logs and ban sawmill activities in the ports, promising to establish real traceability in the sector.

However, progress remains modest. In legal terms, for example, the only strong measure adopted goes back almost 20 years, when a moratorium on the allocation of new forest concessions was introduced in 2002.

It is worth noting that the many plant varieties that populate the Congo Basin forest absorb about 4% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere each year, according to the Central African Forest Initiative. This rainforest, 60% of which lies in the DRC, runs through five other countries on the continent: the Republic of Congo, the CAR, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon. Home to 10,000 species of tropical plants, 30% of which are unique to the region, the forest helps mitigate the negative effects of global warming.

300,000 people in the sector

Yet, in its 2019 report, Global Forest Watch stated that the DRC is the world’s second-largest deforestation front. “In 15 years, the country has lost 6% of its forest cover,” says the report. According to UN figures, deforestation there has doubled over the past decade, notably because of “high demand for fuelwood and charcoal, palm oil plantations and other commercial farming.”

As per the latest estimates by the Centre de Recherche Forestière Internationale (Cifor) and the Fonds Forestier National (FFN), 90% of the DRC’s urban population use wood as their main source of energy. To meet this need, the government advocates butanisation (domestic use of gas).

In total, about 5.8 million m3 of wood is sold in Kinshasa and Kisangani. On average, 300,000 people are involved in this sector.

COP26: $1.5bn mobilised

On the second day of COP26, a global pledge of $12bn in funding to save and restore forests was officially announced. According to official UN statements, “this pledge is accompanied by a long list of commitments from public and private sector actors to combat climate change, curb biodiversity destruction and hunger, and protect the rights of indigenous peoples.”

The Congo Basin pledge, specifically, was signed by more than 10 countries, the Bezos Earth Fund and the EU. In total, $1.5bn has been pledged to protect this green space.

“The Congo Basin is the heart and lungs of the African continent, we cannot win the battle against climate change if we do not keep the basin standing,” said Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba.

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