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In Cameroon, illegal logging of high-value timber harms indigenous forest communities

Indigenous people living in forest communities are now facing the worrying consequences of illegal logging when their medicine sources and farms are devastated.

Timber logging
Illegal logging of timber in Cameroon. Photo credit: Ian Makia

In east Cameroon, Société Bois Africains du Cameroun (SBAC) and Société Forestière de Bouraka (SFB), two commercial logging companies, have been involved in the exploitation of valuable wood since the acquisition of concession rights in 2015 and 2oo4 respectively.

On November 7, 2019, the Cameroon Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) suspended the two companies for logging past their demarcated cutting base. Still, SBAC and SFB respectively hold the Unité Forestière d’Amenagement (UFA) 10050 and 08006 cut through 17 villages including Londjap, Nkoulkoua and Massea in Somalomo district, Haut Nyong department, Eastern region, Cameroon. An interactive map of the Global Forest Watch shows that the eastern region of Cameroon is transforming into an emerging hotbed of deforestation as industrial lumberjacks dig deep into critical biogeographic regions.

Based on data from Global Forest Watch, in 2004, Haut Nyong lost 892 hectares of primary forest, making up 70 percent of its total tree cover in the same time period. But data started to change in 2020 when 13.0 kilohectares of its primary forest was lost, covering 54 percent of the tree cover in the area.

“Logged forests generally remain in a deplorable state. You already have unusable trees that have been felled or cleared by machinery. You have gasoline cut and abandoned in the forest, and the bad use of wood waste,” says Emini Timothée, a young man from Baka, leader and lawyer for Okani, a non-governmental organisation which promotes the protection of indigenous communities’ forests.

Communities left without resources

As forest indigenous leader, Emini reveals that the forest in its essence plays two main roles for local communities and the entire planet. Firstly, climate regulation, and secondly, the production of several nutritional resources. Thus, the anarchic and illegal exploitation of the forest has a negative impact on the well-being of the people in terms of climate change and also the considerable loss of the trees used in the traditional pharmacopoeia.

SFB and SBAC received respectively 51,450 and 70,688 hectares for logging in the Somalomo district. And for such large hectares of forest carved out for exploiting timber, it’s a major environmental concern for the future of the local communities and wildlife.

Indigenous people are already suffering from this forest change. “Some of the people most affected face the option of migrating to other locations, and they find themselves homeless because illegal logging destroys their farms and other resources that they depend on for their daily livelihood,” Hymelda Wouafack said.

Member of an indigenous people in Cameroon, Hymelda recounts the situation: “Most people in the affected villages face when the bark of trees used to treat certain diseases are reduced and people do not have access to other medications free of charge. In these villages, people are very poor and have bad hospitals.”

The most prized woods are the most essential to the diet of her community members. Consequently, organic food through a large part of non-timber forest products is poorly positioned. “To be honest, illegal logging is a weapon of destruction for the forest and the lives of neighboring people. This mode of exploitation does not benefit the populations at all,” says Emini.

Defenseless wildlife

Forest damage in the region now disturbs wildlife populations. ECODEV said SFB was guilty of felling trees in the nearby ecotone of the town of Yoko. 52 trees were felled and found floating in the wetlands. ECODEV declares that “these trees are sometimes abandoned in the forest. In the case of the SFB, the abandonment of wood in the forest is very frequent. Meanwhile, for the region’s wildlife, environmental change may lead to forced migration or even frequent death.

Global Forest Watch data show that in 2000, 76 percent of the country’s forests were already exploited or allocated for logging concessions. In essence, deforestation has devastating consequences on the reproduction and survival of wildlife. Unfortunately, when a forest is degraded, wildlife may be unable to find all the food and nutrition they need. As a result, they may become more sensitive to zoonotic diseases and air pollution from atmospheric nitrogen deposition.

Luc Mathot, co-founder of Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement (EAGLE) commented that if these logging companies were certified, the impact of logging would be less important. Cameroon is not promoting good governance and certification in the forestry sector. Not only deforestation, it is a problem of corruption, lack of political will and lack of interest to protect wildlife and forest.

“Wildlife may or may not be more adaptable to logging, depending on their species and the systems in place to minimise logging. Wildlife cannot survive if all habitats are destroyed around the villages,” says Luc.

Fraudulent logging

Emini explained that the more valuable a gasoline, the more expensive the amenity. For this reason, “Corrupt operators prefer to take approvals for less expensive timber and subsequently sometimes take advantage of the ignorance of local residents or corrupt authorities to illegally exploit precious woods,” he added. Foresters are entrepreneurs and business means profits.

However, Daniel Enoudji, a farmer in Somalomo district, could not use his farm that had been cleared by the SBAC. In no time the loggers exceeded their concession mark just to harvest the valuable wood standing on his farm. The SBAC came in with a bulldozer while its tracks destroyed his crops. All it takes is that it lowers its blade, even if there is a big tree, it will end up on the ground.

ECODEV reported that SFB had already been sanctioned for 03 months by 2020. The sanction has been lifted but illegal logging activities continue. Seized trees are often left in the forest when lumberjacks are suspended or found guilty of illegal activities. This is also the case with the SBAC and SFB in the neighbourhood of Massea, Londjap and Nkoulkoua when the duo’s forestry titles were suspended in 2019.

Industrial lumberjacks such as the SBAC and SFB are in a marginal position on the Cameroonian internal market. The regional market, both in Central Africa and the rest of the continent, also remains undeveloped. Based on the forest sector production and marketing data collected in 2019, the Centre for the Environment and Development (CED) revealed that despite a modest decline, exports of logs remained strong in 2019. There were 554,520 cubic meters compared to 828,000 cubic meters in 2018.

“Cameroon has good legal texts, but we must admit that the application still has a long way to go. The law on illegal logging, but this practice continues to the full knowledge of MINFOF officials. Go see the shenanigans at the forest checkpoints, and you will understand the melting pot that exists between law and practice. We can see that for more than 10 years today, the forest law is in perpetual revision and during this time the forests are dying and the communities are impoverished more,” says Emini.

Illegal harvest of precious wood like Ayous/Obéché, Fraké, Sapelli, Eyong, Bilinga, etc. remains the norm in the forests of the national domain. High-value wood is targeted by loggers because it is costly in their destination markets.

The exports remained constant, 813,509 meters recorded in 2019 against 832,157 cubic meters in 2018, veneer and plywood also stagnated around 80,000 cubic meters. Logging has remained focused on a reduced number of species. The Tali and the Okan make up 52 percent of log exports and 10 valuable wood accounted for 90 percent of external demand.

Emini says that at least there is no framework agreement that regulates the exploitation of precious wood and respects traceability.

By Francis Annagu

This story was supported by Code for Africa and InfoCongo, and was funded by the Global Forest Watch (GFW) with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment (KLD). GFW supports data-driven journalism through its Small Grants Fund Initiative. The publisher maintains complete editorial independence over the stories reported using this data

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