Central Africa / Congo Basin There is an urgent need to find a solution to protect the remaining intact forests in the Congo Basin, while also respecting the rights of forest dependent and indigenous communities. Unless new conservation approaches are developed, these forests will be lost within this century.
New research published last Friday by a team of experts led by University of Maryland professor Peter Potapov reveals that between 2000 and 2013 so-called selective logging accounted for 77% of Africas total loss of Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs).[i] Home to millions of forest-dependent people, IFLs are reservoirs of biodiversity. These IFLs are not only the greatest terrestrial storage of carbon, they are also far more resilient to natural disturbance and effects of climate change than smaller forest areas.
Africa lost 101 000 km2, which is 10% of its IFL area (an area larger than Portugal) of which more than 90% was lost in the Congo Basin. At the current pace, all Congo Basin countries except DRC, will lose all of their IFLs within the next 60 years.
In a blow to accepted wisdom, the researchers found that Congo Basin logging concessions certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)[ii] had only a negligible impact on slowing IFL fragmentation.[iii] In fact, the pace of IFL fragmentation due to selective logging in Central Africa is faster within FSC-certified concessions than outside them. FSC concessions had the same or higher proportion of IFL area reduction than non-certified concessions. In Cameroon, IFL reduction in FSC concessions over the period was a staggering 84.5%. While FSC has committed to the protection of the vast majority of IFLs in its concessions, this policy initiative will only begin to be implemented this year.
Many Congo Basin Countries and their donor partners, like the Central Africa Forest Initiative (CAFI) rely on so called Sustainable Forest Management as a key pillar in their forest protection and carbon mitigating strategies. The outcomes of this study suggests that these governments and donors should reconsider their approach and instead invest in the establishment of protected areas for the protection of the most important remaining forests.
To illustrate their findings, the researchers mapped the concession of Industrie Forestière de Ouesso (IFO), owned by the Austria-based Danzer Holding and long promoted by the FSC as its flagship African operation in the Republic of Congo. Potapov et. al. found that this concession has been significantly eroding IFLs. IFOs massive logging road network has attracted new settlements and farming and in 2016 triggered what University of Marylands Global Land Analysis and Discovery team calls one of the largest forest fires ever observed in the rainforests of Central Africa.[iv]
The studys conclusions reinforce the urgent need to find a solution to protect the remaining intact forests in the Congo Basin, while also respecting the rights of forest dependent and indigenous communities. Unless new conservation approaches are developed, these forests will be lost within this century.