Illegal Loggers Mutilating Congolese Forests

BRUSSELS, Belgium, February 28, 2007 (ENS) - Delegates from the Congolese government, donor community and civil society will meet next week in Brussels to discuss the sustainable management of the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC. Millions of acres of the second largest rainforest in the world after the Amazon, are being illegally logged, nongovernmental organizations report.

Greenpeace warns that more than 21 million hectares (81,080 square miles) of rainforest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are now illegally logged, an area nearly seven times the size of Belgium.

Based on violations of a 2002 government moratorium on allocation, extension and renewal of logging titles, local and international environmental groups are demanding revocation of all titles granted after the moratorium was imposed.

"Logging companies promise us wonders: work, schools, hospitals, but actually, they seem to be only interested in their own short term profits," said Pasteur Matthieu Yela Bonketo, coordinator of CEDEN, a Congolese NGO in Equateur province who will attend the Brussels conference.


Logging in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Timber companies carve into unlogged frontier forests seeking the few valuable trees scattered across the landscape. (Photo by David Wilkie courtesy WCS)
"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," Bonketo said.

The Congo rainforest is home to numerous communities of Twa "pygmies" and Bantus.

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

Prince Philip of Belgium will attend the Brussels conference, which features speeches by DRC Environment, Water and Forests Minister Didace Pembe Bokiaga, and Belgian Environment Minister Bruno Tobback.

Speakers from the British, French, and Cameroon governments, the World Bank, and many Congolese and American NGOs will address conference delegates.

Armand De Decker of the Belgian Ministry of Development Cooperation will open and close the conference.

In introductory remarks De Decker tied the preservation of the rainforest to the eradication of poverty, saying, "Even though the Congolese rainforest must be saved in the first place for its own sake and because it is one of the last 'natural lungs' of our planet, it is also a source of wealth for the local population – a source of wealth that needs to be protected and developed."

De Decker

Armand De Decker represents the Belgian Ministry of Development Cooperation (Photo courtesy ConForDRC)
De Decker envisions "preferentially involving the villages in sensible forest area management" in zones allowing a variety of activities around the forest and, "in some cases, even within the forest." Nature conservation and tourism, agricultural production and agriculture operations might be encouraged, he said.

Greenpeace is demanding that the DRC government, World Bank, and other stakeholders "take urgent action" to stop the expansion of the logging industry in Congo rainforests, and to fund alternatives to deforestation, "in the face of ongoing illegal forest operations and climate change."

Greenpeace research released Friday exposes the activities of one company that has breached the 2002 moratorium.

Industries de Transformation de Bois, ITB, is actively logging in the Tumba Lake region, with two logging permits covering 726,489 acres (1,135 square miles) of forests, Greenpeace reports. Both permits were issued after the moratorium was enacted.

"ITB logs with no forest management plan as it extracts high value species such as wenge for export to the European market," Greenpeace claims.


The dark decorative wood of the wenge tree, Millettia laurentii, is in demand for flooring, paneling, countertops and chessboards. (Photo © Paul Latham)
Greenpeace is demanding that all forest titles allocated in breach of the 2002 moratorium, including ITB's, be canceled through the ongoing legality review of all logging titles and an extension of the moratorium.

"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.

ITB, a subsidiary of Bois Tropicaux d’Afrique, was one of eight signatories of the Interafrican Forest Industries Association, IFIA, code of conduct at the Conference on Dense and Humid Central African Ecosystems held in the DRC in June 2002.

A representative of the IFIA will address delegates to the Brussels conference on the contribution of the private sector towards sustainable forest management in the DRC.

"The signatory forest harvesting companies of this code share the rest of humanities concern for the protection of the forest ecosystem and are anxious to preserve it," they declared.

The signatories express their concerns about the burning of the forest for agriculture and the poaching of wildlife for bushmeat. ITB and the other companies pledged to discourage their employees, subcontractors and haulers from "poaching and hunting for profit."

But NGOs and government leaders say that logging is not being conducted sustainably. Until comprehensive land use planning and sufficient governance capacity is in place in DRC forest sector, they say consideration cannot be given to granting logging titles.

In Cannes on February 15, French President Jacques Chirac told the 24th Africa-France summit that the moratorium on the development of primary forests in the Congo Basin should be extended, "until the Congolese government acquires the means to oversee and ensure a sustainable development of forests."

At the Brussels conference, WWF, the global conservation organization, will present the case for forest certification in the DRC as one method of achieving a sustainable and diversified use of the country's forest resources. The group was instrumental in the creation of the Forest Stewardship Council, a worldwide certification organization.

Two indigenous Congolese groups will present their views, and the National Federation of Timber Traders will express the interest of the Belgian private sector in sustainable timber.


An endangered bonobo in a tree in the DRC, their only habitat. This great ape is said to be the closest relative to human beings. (Photo by John Watkins courtesy African Wildlife Foundation)
Belgian primatologist Jef Dupain of the African Wildlife Foundation will speak on conservation of the endangered bonobo, one of the great apes. Based in Kinshasa, Dupain starred in the film "The Last Great Ape," featured this month on the television program NOVA. The bonobo is only found in the DRC and lives mainly in the tall, dense tropical forest canopy.

Critical habitat for the bonobo and other imperiled species such as forest elephants and hippopotamus, the Congo rainforest is considered to be a priority region for conservation.

There are at least 11,000 identified plant species in the country, of which 3,200 are endemic to the DRC.

The DRC contains 1,352,070 square kilometers (522,037 miles) of natural forests, representing six percent of the world’s tropical forests and more than 47 percent of Africa’s tropical forest areas. It is seen as an important sink for the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, which is responsible for global warming.