Congo's forest communities suffer at the hands of irresponsible forestry sector

By Greenpeace

KINSHASA, Dem. Rep. of Congo (DRC) November 13, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Logging companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo are plundering forests, using physical intimidation against local communities and failing to meet their obligations to improve local infrastructure, according to villagers' testimonies gathered by Greenpeace Africa.

Residents in Equateur province complain that companies, including Sicobois and Cotrefor, arrive in their villages, log and export all the wood they want without delivering on all of their promises of social development before they then, in some cases, leave again with little notice.

“The so-called model of socio-economic development that industrial logging companies in the DRC claim they promote in their concession areas is, in reality, a nightmare for surrounding communities,” says Irène Wabiwa Betoko, Forest Campaign Manager for Greenpeace Africa.

The villagers claim that companies often collude with local authorities to stifle any opposition to their operations. Allegations of serious physical intimidation, violent assault and arbitrary arrest are commonplace.

On a recent visit to Mongala district Greenpeace Africa discovered that, for nearly a decade, Cotrefor logged the area around the Boli South grouping of villages of nearly all of its valuable endangered species, such as Afrormosia and African Mahogany. The logs were then exported to Europe and elsewhere at high market prices.

The community said the company left last year without notice and without completing the construction of a school and a road that they were contractually obliged to. Some local residents who opposed the company's operations were arbitrarily arrested and fined.

In the locality of Bokweli there has been a long history of conflict between the Sicobois company, and its employees, and the local community. Residents say local authorities collaborate with the company and have turned a blind eye to violent physical assaults and infringements of the forest code that they say have damaged their livelihoods.

"Our trees are felled, exported or sometimes abandoned,” says one villager. “The school is in a disastrous state.. We have only the bark of large trees to make coffins for our dead ... We do not know where we are headed with industrial logging. "

Irène Wabiwa Betoko of Greenpeace says: “These testimonies illustrate that more attention needs to be paid to the damaging impacts logging is having on local populations in forested areas. The DRC authorities need to hold these companies accountable and to ensure the new national Community Forestry Decree is properly implemented.”

Greenpeace says the logging sector in the DRC is in a state of organised chaos. Forest governance is weak and corruption is rampant. Some reports estimate that nearly 90% of logging is illegal[1]. Demand for valuable tropical timber, from Europe and China in particular has sent illegal logging spiralling out of control.

Longstanding efforts to introduce a new model of community-based forest management were given a boost this summer when a Community Forestry Decree was passed. However, last month, Greenpeace Africa discovered that many local officials are not aware the law exists and that measures are needed to ensure the benefits of better forest management end up reaching community members.

For people to manage their own land and forests, proper implementation and enforcement of the community forestry law is a basic requirement.