September 27, 2022

Chinese demand for luxury wood furniture ‘fuels’ deforestation in West Africa


By NDI EUGENE NDI

By MOHAMMED MAMAN

For months, Cameroonian authorities have faced pressure from environmentalists to cancel a government contract that authorized the controversial harvest of timber from a heritage forest.

On August 11, the Prime Minister’s office issued an annulment decree. Fouda Seraphin Magloire, the secretary general of the prime minister’s office, said there were illegalities in allowing harvesting in the forest.

This decision resulted in the classification of 68,385 hectares in the Nkam, maritime division of the Sanaga of the littoral region, southwest of Cameroon, because private ownership had been canceled and the plot returned to government management.

“The procedure for classifying the portion of 65,007 hectares of forest located in the Nkam, constituting the forest management unit 07 005, must be suspended,” Mr. Magloire said of another piece of forest land. which had been affected by the controversial previous directive.

For the Cameroonian government to reverse its own decision regarding a forest was not a common feature.

But the reserve known as Ebo Forest is one of the last intact in Central Africa, made up of native trees.

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The controversial decision to allow logging had opened it up to Chinese merchants, prompting local Banen residents and rights activists who said their last refuge was being chopped off.

However, in the southern region of the country, the region of origin of President Paul Biya, Sud-Cameroun Hévéa (Sudcam), a company controlled by a Chinese state-owned conglomerate, has decimated 25,000 hectares of dense equatorial forest for a plantation. rubber tree.

The timber from the concession was shipped to China, according to environmental rights organizations including Greenpeace Africa, which described the project as “by far the most devastating clearing for industrial agriculture in the Congo Basin.”

China’s appetite

A Global Fund Report [WWF] claims that deforestation in Cameroon and the entire Central African region is not as severe as it is in South America or Asia, but the lack of accurate data on the logging means that illegal loggers could profit from it.

And China’s enormous thirst for forest products such as rosewood has made it a major destination for timber from vulnerable areas of Africa, including even protected areas.

In Cameroon, the Sudcam concession, although considered a legal enterprise, is adjacent to Campo Ma’an National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site that is home to 26 species of medium and large mammals, including elephants, buffaloes, great apes, panthers, Okapis, chimpanzees and pangolins.

Environmentalists fear that lax regulations will influence operators to exceed limits.

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A truck heading towards the port of Douala in Cameroon is seen leaving a forest in Ngoyla in the east. PHOTO | NDI EUGENE NDI | NMG

Cameroon forms the Congo Basin, which also includes the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon; all famous for their regular rainfall, rivers, swamps and dense forests.

“The relentless demand for timber from around the world – in particular, the rapidly increasing demand from China – means that the forests of the Congo Basin are being exploited at unprecedented rates,” a WWF bulletin said.

“Often this is done in an unsustainable way or not in accordance with local laws. Road construction by logging companies has also opened up isolated forest areas to poaching and illegal logging.

According to the Center for the Environment and Development (CED), which promotes the indigenous crops and forests of Central Africa, China is now Cameroon’s biggest buyer of timber, often shipping raw logs rather than processed timber. .

Nigeria’s history

But tree felling is not just in Cameroon. In neighboring Nigeria, strong demand for timber and logs by international traders has made commercial logging lucrative in the southwest and southeast, where hardwood of different species and values ​​is found.

Legally, the Nigerian states, not the federal government, are responsible for forest resources and many of them have so far hired forest rangers to prevent indiscriminate logging.

But Chinese merchants have lucrative deals that are too hard to ignore.

Environmentalists are unhappy with illegal logging.

Dr Elias Williams, an environmentalist at Lekki Phase 11 in Lagos, has warned that the export market is eating away at local needs.

“I’m afraid to say that with the way logs are being felled in Nigeria, especially in the South West, a time is coming when it will be difficult for us as a nation to get boards for our consumption.” , he declared to the Nation.

“There is no gain in saying that while people are cutting down these trees, there is no concerted effort to replenish them and that is why immature trees are being cut down.”

The president of the Okobaba Board Vendors Association, Ebutte Metta, said Lagos State Alhaji Ganiu Onikeku admitted that these felled trees were not replacing them.

Normally, Central and West African hardwoods like rosewood and oak take 30 to 40 years to mature.

“What we see in the market these days are immature logs and the qualities of most boards on the market are questionable. “

Rehabilitation efforts

As part of efforts to encourage tree planting, President Muhammadu Buhari launched the “Keep Kaduna Green Project” in 2016, as part of the national ambition to cover at least a quarter of the country with forests.

Nigerian authorities say some 576 million trees are felled each year without being replaced, causing deforestation.

Half of the country’s forest cover has been destroyed in the past 40 years, according to the presidency.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says Nigeria has just under 10 percent of forest cover, or some 9 million hectares, but is losing about 2.3 percent per year .

Mr Buhari then admitted that there had been gradual desertification, erratic flooding and drought in parts of the country.

In Ekiti state, farmers have protested persistently against the indiscriminate harvesting of timber.

Ezekiel Ojo, a cocoa farmer, has denounced an increase in the number of timber contractors felling trees in the region with impunity.

According to Mr. Victori Oyerinde, environmental expert in Abuja, illegal logging is endemic in Nigeria’s tropical rainforest ecosystem due to its richness in desirable tropical hardwood species and fertile land.

Since 2016, Nigeria has launched a series of national tree-planting campaigns in six southwestern states (Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Ekitii and Osun) and Edo state in the south, where more 70% of logs are produced. .

Community elders were asked to be the local eyes and ears for those who cut down trees without replanting them. They work with security guards known as Amotekun to track down illegal loggers.

The challenge, however, an official admitted, is how to fight the lure of the money offered by China.

The danger, according to a Stanford University study earlier this year, lies in viruses that pass from animals to humans, like the one responsible for Covid-19, which could become more prevalent as clearing of forests leaves behind empty lands.