Progress on addressing illegal logging in Cameroon has stalled since 2010. That’s one of the findings of a new report from the British think tank Chatham House. The report is one of the series of reports on illegal logging that Chatham House has produced in recent years.
The report, written by Alison Hoare, a Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House, finds a series of problems relating to forest governance in Cameroon:
The reform of the legislative framework for the forest sector has yet to be completed; and while there have been improvements in the availability of forestry information, there remain many gaps. Furthermore, the principle of transparency has yet to be broadly accepted within the government. Enforcement is weak and information management systems are deemed inadequate. Most important, corruption remains widespread and the political will needed to drive change is felt to be lacking.
The scale of the problem
In 2013, a total of 89 forest concessions in Cameroon covered an area of 6.3 million hectares, or about one-third of the area of dense forest in the country.
Chatham House writes that the high level of illegality in Cameroon’s forests is, “the result of many years of poor governance – not least entrenched corruption, weak institutions and unclear and inappropriate laws and policies”.
Chatham House notes that,
The main drivers of deforestation in Cameroon are conversion to agriculture, from both large and medium-scale plantations, as well as smallholders, fuel-wood harvesting (an estimated 12 million m3 is harvested annually), mining and infrastructure development.
This 2014 documentary from Journeyman Pictures shows the scale of illegal logging, corruption, and the complicity of the authorities:
But deforestation is likely to accelerate in Cameroon. As a spokesman for the Ministry of Forestry explains in the documentary, “Cameroon is committed to intensive farming.” The government’s long-term development strategy includes large-scale investment in infrastructure and the development of the agricultural and mining sectors.
Illegal logging for Herakles Farms’ oil palm plantations
One of the most notorious plantation developments in Cameroon is an oil palm plantation run by a New York-based company called Herakles Farms. The plantation area in the south-west of Cameroon is in an area of high biodiversity, surrounded by five protected areas.
Initially the company wanted an area of 70,000 hectares for its oil palm plantations. In 2010, Herakles illegally began forest clearance despite the fact that no valid land lease had been issued. In 2013, Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry suspended the company’s forest clearing operations. Herakles ignored the suspension and continued clearing forest.
The company received a land lease in 2013, for a reduced area of 20,000 hectares. The following year, Greenpeace revealed how Herakles attempted to sell its illegally logged timber to China.
Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT)
Chatham House reports on the progress of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan in Cameroon. FLEGT aims to tackle illegal logging and to ensure that wood sold in the EU can be shown to be legal.
In 2007, a multi-stakeholder process was established which allowed “a constructive and continuous consultative process with stakeholders” according to a 2013 report by FERN.
But since 2010, when Cameroon signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the EU, NGO involvement in the FLEGT process has declined. Chatham House puts forward four reasons for this:
- unwillingness from the government to facilitate NGO involvement;
- poor coordination among NGOs;
- a loss of interest among some NGOs because of the slow progress in implementing the VPA; and
- competing pressure for NGO time from the REDD+ process.
Parallel worlds: FLEGT and REDD
The readiness preparation proposal produced for Cameroon under the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Proposal mentions unsustainable and illegal logging as one of the drivers of deforestation in Cameroon.
But Chatham House points out that,
The REDD process has taken place largely in parallel with efforts focused on illegal logging – there has been little coordination between the two. Consequently, some NGOs have found it difficult to engage in the two processes or have decided to prioritize one over the other. This is a result, in part, of the difficulties of identifying areas where joint actions and projects can be developed, although conversion timber is an issue that is now being addressed by both processes.
The report’s author, Alison Hoare, said in a statement that in Cameroon,
“more concerted efforts are needed to tackle corruption, increase consultation, and improve transparency and availability of information. The Cameroonian government also needs to pay more attention to the informal sector and the domestic market.”
Unfortunately, neither FLEGT nor REDD have so far managed to convince the government in Cameroon to do any of this.