In February, some 250 representatives of governments, NGOs, private companies, and international organizations met in Brussels to discuss the future of forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Despite the contentious nature of the issues on the agenda, participants agreed on the importance of at least three priorities: maintaining and extending the current moratorium on new logging concessions; completing a review of the legality of existing logging permits; and initiating a participatory land-use zoning process.
A new report published by the World Bank, CIFOR, and CIRAD, in collaboration with 11 local and international NGOs, supports the Brussels consensus. Forests in Post-Conflict Democratic Republic of Congo: Analysis of a Priority Agenda assembles the scanty available information on the status and trends of the Congolese rainforest — the world’s second-largest — as the country emerges from a generation of war and mismanagement. The report analyzes the forest’s contribution to the livelihoods of some 40 million people, as well as to globally significant biodiversity conservation and carbon storage. It further outlines the threat posed by the prospective revitalization of the logging industry.
The report provides rough order-of-magnitude estimates for the economic value of various forest-based goods and services in the DRC. It concludes that the value of annual flows of products such as fuelwood and bushmeat from the forest far exceeds the value of timber extraction. Non-timber forest products are critical to the livelihoods of the rural poor, while logging has historically contributed few benefits to the public. Surprisingly, the market value of timber produced by the formal industrial sector is estimated to be only $60 million per year, lower than estimates for both informal sector logging and watershed protection.
The report warns that peace and economic recovery, not forest sector policy, will drive the resurgence of the logging industry as transport and other infrastructure constraints are removed. Since 2002, the government of the DRC has rescinded 163 non-compliant logging contracts, releasing more than 25 million hectares of forest into the public domain, and has suspended the allocation of new concessions. As a result, there is now a brief window of opportunity to consolidate a policy and regulatory framework to guide the sector toward more socially equitable and environmentally sustainable outcomes.
But the magnitude of such tasks as participatory land-use planning, law enforcement, and equitable revenue management appears large in the face of extremely limited human and institutional capacity. In Brussels, the Congolese government expressed its readiness to engage with innovative mechanisms to mobilize global finance, but these seem distant compared to the urgent need for concrete proposals to pay for the ecosystems services rendered by the country’s forests.
The future of forests in the DRC will depend on the sustainability of the government’s political commitment to reform, and the sustainability of the international community’s commitment to help.
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For more information on the The International Conference on Sustainable Management of the Forests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, go to http://www.confordrc.org/
To download a copy of Forests in Post-Conflict Democratic Republic of Congo: Analysis of a Priority Agenda visit http://www.cifor.cgiar.org/Publications/Detail?pid=2188
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