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Relief in the Forest

Cameroon Government Backtracks on the Ebo Forest

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Centre pour l’Environnement et le Développement (CED) commends the Cameroon Prime Minister’s recent actions to suspend logging projects in the Ebo Forest, one of the last intact forests in central Africa. The area includes ancestral lands for local communities, among them the Banen people. The Ebo Forest is also home to many endemic species as well as the critically endangered Preuss’s red colobus (Piliocolobus preussi) and the rare and tool-crafting Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes ellioti).

In July, Cameroon’s Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute signed Decree 2020/3216, which converted a forest area of 68,385 hectares (almost the size of New York City or 96,000 football fields) into a logging concession (Forest Management Unit). The decree was the result of an unusually fast gazettement process undertaken during the Covid-19 crisis, with the inability of communities to express their voices due to the restrictions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. Local non-government organizations and communities have actively opposed the logging project, stating a loss of community rights, livelihoods, and unique forests. Community leaders have voiced their dissent but have been ignored. The decree was reportedly in violation of Cameroonian forestry law (1994) that states the government must consult communities prior to making land use changes.

“Suspending the logging project in the Ebo Forest is a substantial step towards upholding the needs of local communities, preserving unique biodiversity. The case highlights the fragility of the current rule of law in Cameroon and the broad discretionary powers granted to senior officials,” said Lisa Handy, Director of Forests of EIA.

The rapid change in classification of the Ebo Forest is rare and does not instill confidence in the government process. Samuel Nguiffo, Secretary General of CED, based in Yaoundé, observes that “local communities are skeptical of quick decisions and may be on edge at pending threats to their forests. What can they trust to be the stable state of the Ebo Forest in the administrative process and the Cameroonian government’s vision for their forests?”

Timber is Cameroon’s second most important export commodity following the crude oil industry; it contributes to both local and national economies. Under pressure to boost the economy due to the adverse impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and the armed insurrection in the Anglophone Regions, fast-tracked allocation of logging rights can seem an attractive option for a government seeking increased financial flexibility in the short term. However, logging in Cameroon is still for the most part an opaque activity tarnished by frequent corruption and scandals, with well-documented negative environmental and social impacts as described by Nepcon. Every part of the supply chain contains wide ranging risks of illegal logging activities. In fact, the Covid-19 crisis serves to remind us of the risks associated with the destruction of forests in a world already stressed by climate change.

Rapid, non-consultative decisions to harvest the last remaining intact forests in the region will come at significant cost to local people and exacerbate the negative impacts of a changing climate.

Contact for the press: Lindsay Moran, Head of Communications, EIA, lmoran@eia-global.org

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