Monday, January 26, 2015

[biofuelwatch] Cameroon Timber Trade - High Risk, Low Reward

The fight against illegal logging in Cameroon has been a long one - several decades long in fact. Therefore the conclusion from the influential think tank Chatham House that this process has all but stalled must have been hard to swallow for everyone concerned.

In its investigation - the results of which were published yesterday - Chatham House examined the extent of illegal logging and its associated trade and the response. It found that progress has stalled since 2010, with illegal activity accounting for nearly a third of all timber felled.

The checklist of failure is a lengthy one: The proposed reform of the forestry sector's legislative framework is incomplete, the availability of information on forestry projects is inadequate, transparency and enforcement in the sector are very weak and on top of it all corruption remains rampant with little political will around to change this.

At Greenpeace, these findings came sadly, as absolutely no surprise. We have been waving a big flag over many of these issues for a long time, both to the necessary authorities in Cameroon and to the European Union, a key player.

As an example of some of the frustrations, in the report "Licence to launder" we revealed how a US palm oil company, Herakles Farms, aims to benefit from the commercialisation of wood from forest clearance to create its plantation - felled illegally.

This is despite that the company was granted a logging permit to cut and sell the wood under the table. Cameroon law, however, stipulates that such titles can only be allocated by public auction.

Three different state prosecutors were given the information proving this illegality but no action has been taken and suddenly the Ministry of Forestry claimed the permit was legal after all.

This example is illustrative of the lack of political will of Cameroon for change and for the broader trend of the export of wood that results from forest clearance to make space for commercial agriculture, mining and infrastructure.

The Chatham House report touches explicitly on the growing problem of forest clearance taking place for large infrastructure projects.

Large quantities of wood extracted from forest "conversion" projects are reaching international markets illegally, in full knowledge of Cameroon's Ministry of Forestry and the EU. Such activity also undermines the credibility of the FLEGT partnership agreement ratified in December 2011.

Another trend the Chatham House identifies is the shift in markets for products and wood destined for the timber sector, namely away from the EU towards China.

It therefore important for that country's relevant authorities to tackle illegal timber imports as it obvious unsanctioned shipments to China is more and more a key driver for illegal logging in Cameroon and other countries in the Congo Basin.

Another worrying thing about the findings in the Chatham House report is that they echo many of the worrying trends highlighted in the think tank's report on the Democratic Republic of Congo released only a year ago.

Similarly Greenpeace was lacking in surprise at those findings and similarly we have long warned of the existing problems. It is evident that throughout the Congo Basin not enough is being done to stop illegal logging and that the world's second-largest rainforested area and the many communities who depend on it will continue to be threatened.

Companies in Europe need to ensure they fulfill all requirements in the European Union Timber Regulation, the law that came into force in 2013 aimed at stopping illegal timber being placed on the European market. Timber from Cameroon should be treated as high risk and traders should built in additional checks and balances to avoid being liable and prosecuted.

This year both the EUTR and the FLEGT action plan will be reviewed by the European Commision. We urge the commission to seriously address the loopholes in the agreement with Cameroon and the lack of implementation and enforcement by EU member states.

If these are not being dealt with both legislation will be nothing more than a paper tiger and the forests and communities of the Congo Basin will ultimately be the ones who continue to suffer.

Hilde Stroot is the Forest Campaign Leader at Greenpeace Netherlands.

BetockVoices - Allocations of concessions in violation of the results of the auction system. In accordance with the 1994 law, the MINEF has published in January 1997 the very first invitation to tender for the granting of forestry concessions in Cameroon. [See Auction No. 0158/AAO/Minef/DF/SDIAF of 13 January 1997.] It concerned 23 FMU, representing a total of 1 685 000 hectares. In October 1997, the beneficiaries of the new FMU were notified, through the Forest Department, about the results of the deliberation of the Commission allocating concessions. After a closer look at the results, it became obvious that the final beneficiaries had not always been the highest financial and technical bidders. In one third of the cases, the final beneficiaries had not been recommended by the Commission and among the 15 companies chosen by the Commission only five were the highest bidders with the best technical scores. Objectivity is therefore far from having ruled the first invitations to tender in Cameroon. And the World Bank admitted in a 1998 report: "Finally the Government has started to auction cutting rights, but […] in the October 1997 allocation of concessions, the specified allocation criteria have not been fully respected. Bidders are supposed to be preselected based on minimum technical qualifications, and the highest prequalified bidder. But concessions were awarded to the highest bidder in only 10 of 25 cases. In most of the cases (16 of 25), concessions were awarded to the most technically qualified bidder. In other cases, concessions were awarded to bidders with low technical ranking and low bids" (World Bank, 1998: 17). These opaque processes have had a significant cost for state finances: because of the non-allocation to the highest bidder of some of the FMU, it is estimated that the state loses about 4 million euros per year (GFW, 2000). Read more -


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