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Congo Forests : Green treasure in need of protection

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Congo Forests : Green treasure in need of protection

As the road and railway networks in East Africa expand, the forests of Eastern Congo face growing threats from the escalating demand in regional and global markets.

Congo’s Forests : Priority in the fight against deforestation

The Congo Basin, spanning six Central African countries, must take center stage in global climate action efforts. This vast area absorbs 4 % of global CO₂ emissions, with its peatlands alone storing 30 billion tons of carbon, equivalent to three years of global fossil fuel emissions.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) harbors over half of the Congo Basin’s tropical forest. Despite the ban on illegal logging in 2002, the government requires additional resources to effectively monitor its vast forested areas, which cover a quarter of the United States’ land area.

A 2014 Chatham House report revealed that 87 % of logging in the DRC was conducted illegally. Furthermore, a 2018 Global Witness report indicated that a European timber company holding many forest concessions in the DRC operated illegally on 90 % of these concessions.

Preventing widespread deforestation in the Congo

Deforestation poses a significant threat to the Congo Basin, one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. The forests in Eastern DRC stand as some of the last intact stretches of tropical forest globally, second only to the Amazon. These areas play a vital role in climate regulation and provide millions of people with essential resources such as food, medicine, materials, and shelter.

The demand for wood for its commercial value drives deforestation, often leading to further encroachment once harvesting roads are established. It’s crucial to effectively manage and monitor timber harvesting and trade to ensure compliance with national laws. This approach aims to promote fair benefit distribution, reduce illegal timber exports, and combat tax fraud.

Among the highest annual deforestation rates worldwide

The DRC already faces one of the highest annual deforestation rates globally. Since 2010, the country has lost at least 500,000 hectares of forest annually, with peaks exceeding a million hectares yearly. While timber harvesting isn’t the primary cause of deforestation in the DRC, small-scale agriculture remains a significant daily activity for thousands, serving national and international markets.

Collaborating with national parks teams, the government has uncovered instances of undocumented wood reaching borders, hindering origin identification. Moreover, only a fraction of the total wood volume is accurately declared, exacerbating issues like the misdeclaration of tree species. These intentional or unintentional shortcomings lead to improper or untaxed wood, resulting in losses for both local communities and the government.

In 2017, the DRC initiated the legal groundwork for establishing « timber parks » at border posts nationwide, starting with the eastern borders.

Progress towards legal trade in Congo

More than 300 logging operations are documented in the Congo. Timber originating from Kisangani traverses a 700 km journey by truck along the Congo River to reach the border, typically in the form of sawn boards. Upon reaching the border, the timber undergoes inspection at the yard before being transported to markets in neighboring countries, including Kenya and beyond.

For instance, while 100 cubic meters of timber are officially declared on route sheets, approximately 150 cubic meters are transported, with 50 cubic meters remaining undeclared and unpaid.

As the DRC seeks to expand its trade relations with partners in the East African Community and beyond, it should be able to handle the burden of combating illegal timber trade. Neighboring countries, such as Uganda and Kenya, further along the trade routes, should improve the inspection and documentation procedures for incoming timber.

Ultimately, exporting and importing countries bear shared and proportional responsibilities in environmental management. The disappearance of the DRC’s forests will have repercussions for everyone.

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