Logging in the Green Heart of Africa

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Building of road for logging in tropical forest, Congo
© WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER

Boon or bane of the Congo Basin forests?

Outside the boundaries of national parks and reserves, many areas of the Congo River Basin have been allocated for forestry concessions.1 But logging is also taking place inside protected areas, with dire consequences for people and wildlife.

Global demand for timber is causing logging, road-building and other infrastructure developments which are contributing to the loss of forested areas throughout the Congo River Basin.

Logging, source of short-term cash

By far the greatest threat is the demand for timber by some Asian and European-owned trans-national logging companies, which take advantage of weak forest legislation and law enforcement.

They are not alone in this process. International banks and financial institutions are also implicated in the deforestation of the Congo Basin’s ancient forests.

Logging is a mainstay of several Congo Basin countries. The numbers speak for themselves. In 1997 and 1998 alone, tax revenue from forestry brought in US$ 60 million in Cameroon and US$ 31 million in Gabon.2

Almost 60% of the basin's total forest area is thought to be productive or commercially valuable. Gabon is the leading timber producer, followed by Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville.3

Find out more

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER
Forestry road west of Minkébé Forest Gabon
© WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER

How the logging process works

The governments of Congo Basin countries grant companies, usually foreign-owned, rights to log areas of the forest. These areas are called forest concessions and they vary in size and cost millions.

Between 1959-2000, 80% of Cameroon’s forest was allocated for logging in this way. This 'license to log' is only granted for a set number of years, after which the companies need to re-apply.

All this activity requires a lot of manpower. The logging sector is one of the largest employers in both Cameroon and Gabon, and contributes to the construction of roads, schools, medical care facilities and electricity lines to rural areas.4

Logging, source of problems

Weak enforcement and implementation of forestry legislation are contributing to rampant illegal logging, significant loss of local and national revenue, as well as serious environmental impacts.

There are several reasons why laws are tough to implement and are poorly respected. Monitoring is one. In Cameroon’s eastern province, on average each forest agent was responsible for over 200 km2 of concessions in 1997.5 50% of logging in Cameroon is considered illegal and half of the country’s forests have been lost already.

There is no guarantee that documenting an illegal activity will bring any consequence. In the 1992-93 period, for example, only 4% of the cases of reported violations reported in Cameroon were heard in a court of law. Over 80% of the violation cases brought before the judiciary were dropped after “the intervention of an influential person”.6

 

France & African timber

In 2004, France was the largest market in the EU for imports of African tropical hardwood primary products. France imports timber and timber products from countries, such as Congo Brazzaville, Cameroon, Gabon, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo.10
 / ©:  WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER
Logging site near Minkébé Forest; WWF researchers looking at a partially cut tree Gabon
© WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER

What are the impacts of irresponsible logging?

  • May cause considerable damage to forests as a result of road construction, and felling and removal of logs.
  • Opens up the forest for hunting and agriculture.
  • As loggers sweep over the landscape in search of valuable trees, they cause rural economies to boom and bust, because once a logging company has removed the few valuable trees, it moves on to a new area.
    Read Ndongo story
  • Logging also attracts immigrants looking for well-paid jobs and access to social services not provided by the state. This leads to increased agricultural and hunting pressures on nearby natural resources (e.g. bushmeat) that continue even after the logging company has moved on.7

Outlook & opportunities

It is predicted that Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Congo-Brazzaville will have all their old-growth forests (trees that are over 400 years old) outside of protected areas cut down by 2015.8

Though raw log exports from Central Africa declined in 1999, overall exports of processed wood increased. China imported 60 million m3 of timber in 1999, and is expected to import about 100 million m3 by 2010.

Cameroon’s log export ban, which does not apply to sawn wood, has prompted other Central African nations to increase production to satisfy increased demand for African logs and sawn timber in Europe - a trend that is likely to continue. However, export volumes still represent a small fraction of the global tropical timber trade.

There is great potential for a logging industry that is beneficial to the economies of Central Africa’s countries while also contributing to social and environmental good. Central African nations are in the process of reforming their forestry policy but the biggest hurdle to better forestry is not the law itself but the practical implementation of those regulations.9

What is WWF doing about this problem?


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1 CARPE. 2001. Timber Tsunami: Tracking Logging in the Congo River Basin. Congo River Basin Information Series. Congo River Basin Information Series. Issue Brief #5.
2 CARPE. 2001. Timber Tsunami: Tracking Logging in the Congo River Basin. Congo River Basin Information Series. Congo River Basin Information Series. Issue Brief #5.
3 CARPE. 2005. Forests of the Congo River Basin: a preliminary assessment. Balmar. Washington DC.
4 CARPE. 2001. Timber Tsunami: Tracking Logging in the Congo River Basin. Congo River Basin Information Series. Issue Brief #5.
5 CARPE. 2001. Timber Tsunami: Tracking Logging in the Congo River Basin. Congo River Basin Information Series. Issue Brief #5.
6 CARPE. 2001. Timber Tsunami: Tracking Logging in the Congo River Basin. Congo River Basin Information Series. Issue Brief #5.
7 CARPE. 2001. Timber Tsunami: Tracking Logging in the Congo River Basin. Congo River Basin Information Series. Issue Brief #5.
8 CARPE. 2001. Timber Tsunami: Tracking Logging in the Congo River Basin. Congo River Basin Information Series. Issue Brief #5.
9 CARPE. 2001. Timber Tsunami: Tracking Logging in the Congo River Basin. Congo River Basin Information Series. Issue Brief #5.
10 Oliver R, Fripp E., and A Roby. 2005. Changing International Markets for Timber – What can African producers do? Wood Products Trade – Africa and Europe.

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