YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AlertNet) – The government of Cameroon has intensified a crackdown on illegal loggers in a measure aimed at conserving the country’s forest resources and combating the effects of climate change.
Philip Ngole Ngwese, the country’s minister of forestry and wildlife, recently announced the suspension of licenses for 27 companies that had failed to comply with legislation governing activities in the forest sector.
“This decision forbids these companies from undertaking activities relating to forest exploitation, transport and export of logs and processed timber products,” Ngole Ngwese said in a statement.
“The decision is putting some order into forest exploitation in the country, to ensure forest resource sustainability, governance and to protect the environment from the effects of climate change,” the statement said.
Illegal logging is seen as contributing to the alarming rate of deforestation in Cameroon, which officials say is making the country increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, in part by contributing to changing rainfall patterns in the region.
The west central African nation’s forest constitutes a significant portion of the Congo Basin, the world’s largest continuous forest ecosystem after the Amazon Basin. Almost half of Cameroon is forested, with woodland stretching through six of the ten regions.
13 PERCENT OF FOREST LOST
But more than 13 percent of Cameroon’s forest cover was lost between 1990 and 2005 due to commercial logging, agriculture and the search for fuel, according to the World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
The director of forestry in the forestry and wildlife ministry, Samuel Ebia Ndongo, said it was imperative for the government to take more aggressive action because many companies with timber licenses had refused to respect the law and had engaged in illegal harvesting and other violations.
“(Illegal logging) is a contributing factor to deforestation and climate change as well as loss of biodiversity. Illegal logging leads to conflict over land resources, the disempowerment of local and indigenous communities, corruption and armed conflicts as well as results in loss of revenue by the state and the local communities,” Ebia Ndongo said.
Environmental experts say that deforestation accounts for as much as 20 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions and constitutes the largest source of emissions in the developing world. Ebia Ndongo said this was the reason behind a push to include the United Nations programme aimed at Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in developing countries in any new international agreement on climate change.
Ebia Ndongo said that the government had previously set up programmes to combat illegal deforestation and had been at the centre of important initiatives for the long-term management of forests and ecosystems within the Congo Basin.
Under the Central African Forest Commission, a trilateral agreement was established among Cameroon, Gabon and Congo to protect 14.6 million hectares (36 million acres) of forest in the region. Cameroon has also formed the Sangha Tri-National Conservation Area with Congo and the Central African Republic.
“All these efforts were geared towards the sustainable management of forests and to fight against climate change,” Ebia Ndongo explained.
Cameroon has also signed international conventions and agreements related to the protection of forest resources. Under a Voluntary Partnership Agreement for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade signed with the European Union, Cameroon has pledged to remove illegally logged wood from its supply chain to EU countries.
TIMBER TO CHINA, EU
Statistics from the trade and industry ministry show that Cameroon exports 60 percent of its raw timber to China, and 80 percent of its processed timber to EU countries.
Despite these measures, abuses in Cameroon’s forest exploitation sector have continued unabated, officials said.
Jules Pauline Essono, director of Centre de Promotion de Bois, one of the companies which has lost its licence, blamed the sector’s poor record on government corruption.
“There are lots of administrative bottlenecks, and the procedure of even obtaining a licence is fraught with bribery and discrimination,” Essono said. He asserted that the situation was no different in other sectors. “Until this cankerworm is eradicated, the anarchy will still prevail,” he said.
Experts say that Cameroon’s annual rate of forest loss of almost 1 percent is extremely high and speaks volumes about the abuses that have been going on over the years.
Samuel Nguiffo, secretary general of the Centre for Environment and Development, a Cameroonian non-governmental organisation, commended the government’s decision and said it would go a long way towards reducing environmental degradation and the effects of climate change.
“Legal and illegal cutting of trees both contribute to climate change. That has been scientifically proven over the years. Deforestation, especially in tropical Africa, is one of the main sources of human-originated greenhouse gas emissions,” Nguiffo said.
The director of the World Agroforestry Centre for West and Central Africa, Zacherie Tchoundjeu, said governance in the forestry sector is a global concern and the reason a number of initiatives at global, regional and sub-regional level have been created to foster international dialogue on illegal logging and trade.
“The government decision to sanction illegal forest exploiters is a commendable bold step to enforce governance in a sector that has hitherto been fraught with corruption, thus defeating initial efforts to curb deforestation,” said Tchoundjeu.
He also expressed the need to ensure sustainability of forests through education on governance, tree planting and the promotion of agro-forestry.
Elias Ntungwe Ngalame is an award-winning environmental writer with Cameroon's Eden Group of newspapers. This story is part of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.