DRC deforestation escalates despite resource shortages, protests, rape, homicide

John C. Cannon, mongabay.com correspondent
July 10, 2014



This article was produced under the Global Forest Reporting Network and can be re-published on your web site or blog or in your magazine, newsletter, or newspaper under these terms.

Forest loss increased nearly three-fold in some areas since 2011

Road construction, the promise of employment, and the conversion of forest to farmland – the effects of logging tropical forests are often not confined to the boundaries of the concessions, where, in the best case, a timber company has gained legal access to harvest trees. Along the Congo River in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), recent data showing probable forest loss demonstrate the often-unforeseen consequences of timber harvesting.

It’s no secret that new roads to previously inaccessible forest can have deleterious environmental consequences. Since 2001, an area in DRC south and west of a logging plantation managed by a company called SIFORCO has lost more than 37,000 hectares of forest. Perhaps more startling, since the company’s operations were coming online in 2012, Forest Monitoring for Action (FORMA) alerts using NASA satellite data show likely forest loss adjacent to the town of Bumba has increased by more than 260 percent compared to 2011. Just halfway through this year, 2014 has already seen a 16 percent increase in FORMA alerts over last year.


Logging trucks operating in the DRC's Congo basin. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace.

“All of this deforestation north of Bumba is related to SIFORCO logging,” Raoul Monsembula told mongabay.com. Monsembula is the DRC country Coordinator for Greenpeace and a fisheries researcher at the University of Kinshasa. He has visited the region around Bumba in Equateur province more than a dozen times since 2006 for a variety of research projects and assessments, and he attests that the boom is the result of people moving their farms closer to the road. And it’s more than just subsistence agriculture.

With the road built by SIFORCO to move harvested logs from the concession, farmers also have easier access to Bumba, and thanks to its location on the Congo River, to the millions of consumers downstream in cities like Kinshasa and Brazzaville. SIFORCO trucks often ferry more than just logs, serving as de facto bush taxis for farmers and their produce.

These dense human communities moving into in formerly forested areas pose major problems to wildlife, as their habitat is destroyed to clear land for agriculture and people bring with them a taste for bushmeat. What’s more, a host of tributaries lace the areas adjacent to the SIFORCO concession, emptying into the great Congo River.


Forest cleared for rice planting in central DRC. Photo by John. C. Cannon.

While Monsembula said he knows of no research on this specific part of the Congo watershed, he points to the mines, timber concessions, and farms along the Aruwimi River, another major feeder of the Congo River in central DRC. There, he said, local villages have seen their water sources dry up, affecting not only their access to fresh water but also local fisheries, a significant pillar of local economies and diets.

Forests serve as filtering mechanisms, sequestering harmful chemicals and minimizing agricultural and mining runoff. Ultimately, these contaminated waters end up in the Congo River, which carries the world’s second-highest volume of water to the sea (only the Amazon River carries more). Interestingly, a recent study led by Vera Verhaert of the University of Antwerp found surprisingly high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, man-made chemicals linked to cancer, in fish from the Itimburi River, which feeds into the Congo River near Bumba. However, the study does not directly connect this finding to deforestation.

The DRC contains Africa's largest expanse of tropical forests, and is home to many species found nowhere else, including this okapi (<i>Okapia johnstoni</i>) and bonobos (<i>Pan paniscus</i>).
The DRC contains Africa's largest expanse of tropical forests, and is home to many species found nowhere else, including this okapi (Okapia johnstoni) and bonobos (Pan paniscus).
Local populations have noticed other nefarious effects of tree loss, such as water sources running dry since there are no tree roots to hold water in the ground. In 2011, as SIFORCO was in the midst of getting the concession online, members of local villages began to protest. Greenpeace alleges SIFORCO managers bribed local police to halt the demonstrations, which they apparently did with vigor. Former Greenpeace International Campaign Officer Rene Ngongo said in a blog post that their response was so violent that one of the demonstrators was killed and multiple women were raped in the process. Several of those arrested also claimed to have seen police receiving payment for their services.

In the wake of these events, Danzer, a Swiss company that used to own SIFORCO, lost its Forestry Stewardship Council certification in May, 2013. According to a report by the Forest Peoples Programme, Danzer has worked to fulfill promised development projects for local populations to ameliorate its relationship with them, and it appears as though Danzer will regain its certification soon. But the protest incident in 2011 shows how difficult it is to adequately take into account the myriad effects industrial-scale logging can have.




Even more complicating is the attempt to balance the benefits of SIFORCO’s road construction with the potential harm to the environment. Monsembula says the current reconsideration by the Forestry Stewardship Council only took into account the companies’ handling of “social issues,” not the impact that their operations would have on the environment.

Having access to the road does provide the opportunity for local farmers to move beyond subsistence farming and begin selling their produce at market. Economically, that’s a good thing. More cash in farmers’ pockets mean they have more control over their children’s education and healthcare and the chance to diversify their diet beyond subsistence crops like cassava and rice. Weighing these concerns against the results of environmental destruction has few easy answers, Monsembula admitted.

“It’s a crazy dilemma,” he added.


Satellite data from the university of Maryland shows the loss of tree cover in the area around Bumba, DRC, between 2001 and 2012. The area outlined in green lost nearly 37,000 hectares of forest during this time period. (Accessed on 4 July 2014). Map courtesy of Global Forest Watch. Click to enlarge.

He said that organizations such as the European Union have more robust certification rules that integrate environmental and social considerations into the decision of whether timber from the DRC can be sold in the EU. Monsembula said that, even though DRC does have forestry laws on the books, “due to various reasons” – rife corruption among them – “no one can follow them correctly. The problem is the implementation of the law.”

In fact, a recent report by the Chatham House, a think tank focused on international affairs based in London, figures that less than 10 percent of the industrial logging in the DRC is legal or sustainable. Absent the DRC government’s ability to assess environmental and social impacts of the harvesting of its own resources, the burden of regulation falls on the countries that buy these resources.

And while much of the timber harvested in the DRC can’t be imported to Europe because of EU regulations, that lack of demand is quickly compensated for by China, which doesn’t have “strong legislation against [buying] wood from countries like DRC,” according to Monsembula.

“That is the problem in the near future,” he said.


The Congo River is the world's deepest river with depths of more than 220 meters (720 feet), and is the ninth-longest at 4,700 kilometers (2,920 miles) in length. Photo by John C. Cannon.













The Global Forest Reporting Network is a joint effort between Mongabay.org and World Resources Institute (WRI) that sources data-driven, forest-focused stories from an international network of journalists.

REPUBLISH THIS ARTICLE

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

We strongly encourage anyone to republish this article online and in print, as long as you follow some simple guidelines:

  • You have to credit the author and Mongabay.org as listed in the original piece, ideally in the byline, with a link back to the specific article URL [in this case: http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0710-cannon-gfrn-drc-congo.html] on Mongabay's website.
  • This article is published under the Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-ND 4.0) Creative Commons license. That means you cannot edit or change the material, except to reflect relative changes in time, location and basic editorial style (For example, "yesterday" can be changed to "last week," and "London, UK." to "London" or "here", and "organization" to "organisation"). To request material edits contact us.
  • You can print the first few sentences of the article and then say: “Read the full article on Mongabay.com” with a link back to the article page on our site.
  • If you are republishing online, you must link to us, include the original links embedded in the story, and embed our view counter in your republished version. See below for embed instructions.
  • It is okay to put our articles on pages with ads, but you cannot sell our material separately.
  • Pay attention to photo permissions. If a photo in the original piece is credited as belonging to either Mongabay or the author of the piece you are republishing, you have permission to use the photo as is, unchanged, with the same caption/credit as used in the original piece. If an image is copyright of another photographer or illustrator and you would like to reproduce it, contact us. Some sources don't allow their images to be republished without permission.

Read more about our Republishing Guidelines.

Instructions for embedding the required view counter.

The view counter consists of a one pixel image, which is activated by using the following code in your page where the article runs:
    <img src="http://www.google-analytics.com/collect?v=1&tid=UA-12973256-1&cid=grn&t=event&ea=open&cs=news&cm=gfrn&cn=/2014/0710-cannon-gfrn-drc-congo.html?n3ws1ttr">
The pixel, which is hosted by Google, will not meaningfully affect your page load.

×




Related articles

Oil, wildlife, and people: competing visions of development collide in Virunga National Park

(07/07/2014) What does SOCO's withdrawal really mean for the future of Virunga National Park? - Part II. Located in the eastern DRC, Virunga is the first national park created in Africa, a World Heritage Site and home to mountain gorillas, of which fewer than 900 remain. As such, SOCO's announcement to suspend activities followed in the wake of a concerted campaign led by WWF to "draw the line" to save Virunga from devastation by prospective oil drilling.


New report: illegal logging keeps militias and terrorist groups in business

(06/30/2014) Released last week by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) during the first United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, a new report found that together with other other illicit activities such as poaching, illegal deforestation is one of the top money-makers for criminal groups like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab.


Grenades, helicopters, and scooping out brains: poachers decimate elephant population in park

(06/15/2014) Over the last two months, poachers have killed 68 African elephants in Garamba National Park representing around four percent of the population. Poachers have used helicopters, grenades, and chainsaws to undertake their gruesome trade, and, for the first time, the park has recorded that the criminals are removing the elephant's brains in addition to tusks and genitals.


Hope in the Heart of Darkness: huge population of chimpanzees discovered in the DRC

(05/20/2014) A recent study describes a new population of chimpanzees, which forms a continuous cultural group inhabiting an area of at least 50,000 square kilometers (19,000 square miles). The population, estimated to consist of many thousands of individuals, shares a unique set of learned skills that are passed on from generation to generation.


Dams be damned: study finds large dams are too expensive

(05/19/2014) Hydroelectric power, supplied mostly from dams, provides approximately 20 percent of the world's electricity, an amount of energy equivalent to 3.6 billion barrels of oil. However, a recent study by researchers at Oxford University has found that large dams cost so much money and take so long to build that they may not be economically viable.


NASA detects surge in deforestation in Malaysia, Bolivia during first quarter of 2014

(04/21/2014) Forest disturbance in Malaysia, Bolivia, Panama, and Ecuador surged during the first quarter of 2014, according to NASA data.


Okapi-killing warlord shot dead in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

(04/17/2014) The head of an informal militia and poaching group, Paul Sadala a.k.a. 'Morgan,' was killed on Monday after surrendering himself to the army in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A well-known elephant poacher and terrorist, Morgan became most famous for leading an attack on the Okapi Wildlife Reserve station in 2012.


Emissions from rainforest logging average 16% of those from deforestation

(04/08/2014) Carbon emissions from selective logging operations in tropical rainforests are roughly a sixth of those from outright forest clearing, finds a new study that evaluated 13 forestry concessions in six countries. The study analyzed carbon losses from elements of logging operations, including timber extraction, collateral damage to surrounding vegetation, and logging infrastructure like roads and skid trails.


Nearly 90 percent of logging in the DRC is illegal

(04/08/2014) The forestry sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is completely out of control, according to a new eye-opening report. Put together by the Chatham House, the report estimates that at least 87 percent of logging in the DRC was illegal in 2011, making the DRC possibly the most high-risk country in the world for purchasing legal wood products.


Europe not doing enough to stop illegal logging imports says Greenpeace

(03/04/2014) Europe is failing to fully enforce its one-year-old EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), alleges Greenpeace, with illegally-logged wood still slipping into the continent, especially from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).


Africa to build world's largest dam, but who will benefit?

(12/17/2013) The Congo River traverses the continent of Africa, ending its journey in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where it spills 1.5 million cubic feet per second into the Atlantic Ocean. Now, plans are underway to harness this tremendous force of water in what promises to be the world's largest hydropower scheme, The Grand Inga.


Sky islands: exploring East Africa's last frontier

(12/04/2013) The montane rainforests of East Africa are little-known to the global public. The Amazon and Congo loom much larger in our minds, while the savannas of East Africa remain the iconic ecosystems for the region. However these ancient, biodiverse forests—sitting on the tops of mountains rising from the African savanna—are home to some remarkable species, many found only in a single forest. A team of international scientists—Michele Menegon, Fabio Pupin, and Simon Loader—have made it their mission to document the little-known reptiles and amphibians in these so-called sky islands, many of which are highly imperiled.


28 percent of potential bonobo habitat remains suitable

(11/27/2013) Only 27.5 percent of potential bonobo habitat is still suitable for the African great ape, according to the most comprehensive study of species' range yet appearing in Biodiversity Conservation. 'Bonobos are only found in lowland rainforest south of the sweeping arch of the Congo River, west of the Lualaba River, and north of the Kasai River,' lead author Jena Hickey with Cornell told mongabay.com. 'Our model identified 28 percent of that range as suitable for bonobos. This species of ape could use much more of its range if it weren't for the habitat loss and forest fragmentation that gives poachers easier access to illegally hunt bonobos.'


Elusive giraffe-relative - the okapi - now listed as Endangered

(11/26/2013) The discovery of the okapi shocked the world in 1901. African explorer, Henry Stanley, called it 'donkey-like,' while others thought it a new species of zebra, given the stripes. However, this notoriously-secretive rainforest ungulate proved to be the world's only living relative of the giraffe, making it one of most incredible taxonomic discoveries of the Twentieth Century as well as one of the last large-bodied mammals to be uncovered by scientists. But the future of the okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is increasingly in doubt: a new update of the IUCN Red List released today has raised the threatened level for the okapi from Vulnerable to Endangered.


Deforestation alerts for Madagascar, DRC, Bolivia during Q2-2013

(08/16/2013) Loss of forest, woodland, and savanna increased sharply in Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Bolivia during the second quarter of 2013, reports a new assessment by NASA scientists.


Meet Thor's shrew: scientists discover new mammal with a superior spine

(07/30/2013) In 1917, Joel Asaph Allen examined an innocuous species of shrew from the Congo Basin and made a remarkable discovery: the shrew's spine was unlike any seen before. Interlocking lumbar vertebrae made the species' spine four times strong than any other vertebrate on Earth adjusted for its size. The small mammal had been discovered only seven years before and was dubbed the hero shrew (Scutisorex somereni), after the name give to it by the local Mangbetu people, who had long known of the shrew's remarkable abilities.


NGO hits out at study for downplaying logging threat in Congo rainforest

(07/23/2013) Global Witness has called in question conclusions reached in a study on logging in the Congo rainforest. The group, which has published a series of investigative reports on abuses by logging companies operating the world's second largest tropical forest, said that a review published Monday in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B '[presents] a misleading and inaccurate picture of the present and growing threats to the Congo Basin rainforest.'


Deforestation rate falls in Congo Basin countries

(07/22/2013) Deforestation has fallen in Congo Basin countries over the past decade despite a sharp increase in the rate of forest clearing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to a new study published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B as part of a set of 18 papers on the region's tropical forests. The special issue, which was put together by Oxford University's Yadvinder Malhi, covers a range of issues relating to the rainforests of the Congo Basin, including deforestation, the impacts of global change, the history and key characteristics of the region's forests, and resource extraction, among others.


Forest certification body revokes Swiss logging company's certificate over alleged Congo abuses

(05/21/2013) The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a body that certifies forest management practices, has revoked all certificates granted to the Danzer Group, a multinational logging company, over alleged human rights abuses by one of its former subsidiaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), reports Bloomberg.


Why responsible tourism is the key to saving the mountain gorilla

(05/13/2013) The sunlight poured through the canopy, casting dappled shade over Makara, a large silverback mountain gorilla, as he cast his eyes around the forest clearing, checking on the members of his harem. A female gorilla reclined on a bank of dense vegetation of the most brilliant green, clutching her three day old infant close to her chest, and elsewhere, two juvenile gorillas played around a small tree, running rings around it until one crashed into the other and they rolled themselves into a roly-poly ball of jet black fluff that came to a halt a few meters in front of our delighted group.




CITATION:
John C. Cannon, mongabay.com correspondent (July 10, 2014).

DRC deforestation escalates despite resource shortages, protests, rape, homicide.

http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0710-cannon-gfrn-drc-congo.html