Washington, D.C. - Timber companies in West and Central Africa will join World Wildlife Fund in an ambitious effort to halt illegal logging that is devastating the region's forests, including the world's second largest rainforest, the Congo Basin.
The West and Central Africa Producers Group announced today by WWF initially includes timber companies from Cameroon, Gabon, and Ghana that commit to work with WWF and other partners to achieve environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable forestry practices in their logging concessions and mills. The forests of Central Africa are home to indigenous cultures such as the BaAka pygmies, half of Africa's remaining elephants, endangered lowland gorillas and chimpanzees, buffalo, mandrills and numerous other threatened species.
"The same companies that produce almost a third of the world's log exports must be part of the solution to forest crime in West and Central Africa. The members of WWF's Producers Group will be leaders in helping turn the rising tide of illegal logging, the bushmeat trade, forest fires, habitat and species loss, and harm to local livelihoods," said Bruce Cabarle, Director of the Global Forest Program at WWF-US.
Forests in West and Central Africa, including the rich but threatened forests of the Congo Basin, fall prey at an increasing rate each year to a range of regulatory and economic forces. Faulty legal frameworks encourage uncontrolled and poorly planned logging, while poor law enforcement and attractive financial rewards lead to illegal logging. According to a June 2002 WWF report, The Timber Footprint of the G8 and China, in 1997 most large timber companies in Cameroon were reported to be involved in illegal trade, contributing to an estimated loss of tax revenues to the government of more than 50 percent.
In Gabon, almost 75 percent of planned legislation for the forest sector never becomes law, and several logging concessions on the government's list of valid permits occur in protected areas like national parks. Roads built by loggers operating illegally or without sufficient regulation in the region provide access to sensitive forest areas leading to increases in forest fires and species loss due to bushmeat hunting.
Today's announcement occurs against the backdrop of a meeting of the Africa Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (AFLEG) process, a high-level multi-country coordinating group of government ministers focusing on strategies to improve forest governance, monitoring, and law enforcement. WWF will call on the ministers meeting in Yaounde, Cameroon to adopt measures aimed at improving the forest sector practices of government, the private sector, and civil society. The AFLEG process is critical to the success of WWF's Producers Group by putting in place effective policies and legislation and ensuring their enforcement. Only through good governance at the national level, with better monitoring and law enforcement in the forests, will the efforts of committed private sector companies be possible.
WWF formed the Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) in recognition of the important role that global markets play in the health of forests. The network brings together groups of producers and buyers of forest products committed to achieving increasingly responsible and certified forestry practices. Through the GFTN, which is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, WWF is working with U.S. and European buyers of forest products from West and Central Africa to institute responsible purchasing policies. WWF has also played a role in promoting transboundary forest protection efforts in the Congo Basin and supported the AFLEG process in cooperation with The World Bank, U.S. State Department and other partners.
"The forests of West and Central Africa are of global economic and environmental importance, and they are the cornerstone for economic development and healthy livelihoods in the region," said Cabarle. "Through initiatives like our Global Forest & Trade Network and the Africa Forest Law Enforcement Group, WWF is working with partners from diverse sectors including environmental groups, business, development aid banks, and government to create realistic solutions to real forest threats."