Forests & Finance: Certification for deforesters, and repression for an evicted community
  • A rule change by the Forest Stewardship Council means companies like Hevéa Sudcam, which cleared nearly 60,000 hectares (148,000 acres) of forest in Cameroon since 2011, are now eligible for the world’s leading sustainability certification.
  • Two years after announcing an imminent ban on exports of raw timber, governments in the Congo Basin have again delayed its implementation, this time indefinitely, citing the need for more time to prepare for it.
  • The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has called on Uganda to end its repression of the Indigenous Benet people, who are fighting for recognition and access to ancestral lands they were evicted from in 1993 for the establishment of a national park.
  • Forests & Finance is Mongabay’s bi-weekly bulletin of briefs about Africa’s forests.

Congo Basin impact of new FSC rule will depend on governance

YAOUNDÉ — Until recently, forestry companies that had cleared natural forests for plantations since the Forest Stewardship Council was created in 1994 were barred from certification by the council. But a change voted in at the FSC’s recent general assembly has opened a pathway to eventual certification for these companies.

The FSC says the change will allow a company like Hevéa Sudcam — which has cleared nearly 60,000 hectares (148,000 acres) of forest to make way for rubber plantations near Cameroon’s Dja Faunal Reserve since 2011, displacing local and Indigenous communities and threatening the reserve — to remedy the environmental and social damage caused and apply for FSC certification of these plantations.

The idea is to provide an incentive to companies that cleared natural forests between the FSC’s establishment in 1994 and 2020 to restore millions of hectares of degraded forest.

Supporters of the rule change say evaluation of restoration efforts will be guided by robust procedures.

“Addressing all the wrongs of the past through a remedy framework has thresholds and clear requirements — a sort of warning to economic operators,” says Belmond Tchoumba, WWF forest program coordinator for Central Africa, whose organization supported the rule change at the FSC’s general assembly in Indonesia in late October. “It is about the credibility of the FSC. It is a procedure with a third-party auditing and when the standard is reached, the company can be associated [certified] again.”

But critics say the rule change may serve only to greenwash deforestation, allowing companies to apply for certification without meaningfully restoring damaged forest or addressing losses suffered by local communities as a result of unsustainable forestry.

“The Congo Basin is considered a region where forest governance is almost absent and no reparation can be effectively done by a green label while damages are still obvious on the ground,” Greenpeace Africa forest campaigner Irene Wabiwa told Mongabay.

Congo Basin countries postpone raw log ban — again, indefinitely

YAOUNDÉ — A ban on the export of raw timber from countries of the Congo Basin has been postponed once again, this time indefinitely. Two years after announcing the log export ban, regional ministers say more time is needed to understand the implications of the move and prepare for it.

Industrial timber harvesting in the Congo Basin, as elsewhere in Africa, is overwhelmingly export-oriented. Many African governments have imposed partial or complete bans on raw log exports as a way to both earn more money from exporting processed wood products and reduce illegal logging that has seen, for instance, the extraordinary devastation of forests across West Africa in search of various species of rosewood.

The Environmental Investigation Agency and others noted these earlier bans were widely circumvented, notably by Chinese companies responsible for a rapidly growing share of wood exports from Africa.

In 2020, member states of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) agreed to ban the export of raw logs “to increase, secure and valorise timber resources with the aim of intensifying economic diversification.” Though not a member of CEMAC, the Democratic Republic of Congo also signed up to the plan, and the measure would have extended to all countries of the Congo Basin from Jan. 1, 2022.

But in July 2021, Congo Basin countries agreed to delay the ban until 2023, ministers said, to allow governments and timber companies to prepare for the change. Following a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Central African Economic Union in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on Oct. 28, member countries have indefinitely postponed the ban and ministers in each country will now reexamine the measure from scratch.

The group has, however, agreed to adopt regulations to support forestry certification and better define categories of processed wood products. It also plans to put harmonized tax policies on wood products in place.

Samuel Che, managing director of Ewen International Sarl, a Cameroonian timber company, told Mongabay that the original consultation in 2020 ignored companies like his own, at the bottom level of the industry. Speaking to Mongabay in November last year, when the ban was expected within months, Che was strongly supportive of the measure. He said he thought foreign-owned logging companies were influencing CEMAC decision-makers to postpone the ban.

“Let it go into effect as soon as possible. Stop the talking and go into action. As time goes, the forest is reducing,” he said. “Just from [the time of] the announcement, the logging has increased. The way the Chinese are harvesting is too much, different from what they were doing at first. They just want to benefit from this extra time to do what they want to do.”

Reached again by phone following the latest announcement, Che was more cautious.

“I don’t think there has been enough preparation to roll out this plan,” he told Mongabay. “For now, we don’t have the factories to transform. We just have few sawmills. If the government was able to do something like trying to subvent [subsidize] for those who are able to set up factories, that will go a long way to help in the implementation of what they want. Without that, it is not going to help much because you will have the wood but you will not have where to transform it.”

Two men shifting a partly sawn log into place, preparing to cut it further with a chainsaw. Image by Ollivier Girard (BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Ugandan government warned over alleged violation of Benet community rights

KAMPALA — Indigenous Benet people in eastern Uganda say they’re suffering violence and harassment from the Uganda Wildlife Authority following a series of public events calling for recognition and the restoration of access to their traditional territory. The Benet, also known as the Mosopisyek, were evicted from their traditional land in 1993 to make way for Mount Elgon National Park.

In June and August this year, the communities organized a series of assemblies in the latest attempt to reclaim their lands. They say they have since experienced threats, intimidation, and sexual assault by UWA rangers; they also say rangers have confiscated their livestock and burned down their homes.

In a statement issued at the beginning of October, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights called on the wildlife authority to end the repression.

“The African Commission is gravely concerned that such actions by UWA amount to grave danger to various rights of the members of this community, including their rights to: life, bodily integrity, justice, freedom of assembly, property, culture, family, existence and natural resources,” the commission said in a statement.

The commission found the communities’ free, prior and informed consent was not secured before their eviction, and they have not been offered compensation or adequate resettlement options since 1993.

Despite a 2005 judgment in Uganda’s court system that recognised the Benet as the Indigenous occupants of Mount Elgon, they say the wildlife authority has continued to prevent them from growing crops and grazing livestock on their ancestral lands, as well as denied them access to culturally important sites for rituals, fruit gathering, beekeeping, and hunting.

In 2011, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni ordered UWA to allow community members to settle in the park temporarily until the government finds a permanent solution to resettle them, but the harassment has continued, they allege.

David Chemutai, coordinator of the Benet Mosop Community Association (BMCA), an organization that works to advance the rights of the community, said this has caused hardship for the community’s 13,000 members.

“It is sad that we are stateless as a community up to now. We are still fighting for identity yet we have been here all along even before the country gained independence. All we want is recognition by the government and to be allowed to go back to our ancestral lands,” Chemutai told Mongabay by phone.

“We want our rights to be respected. We want punitive policies like the Uganda Wildlife Act of 2019 to be revised to incorporate community-led conservation approaches that favor Indigenous communities.”

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