Illegal Logging Grows in DRC – Along With Corruption and Harm to the Environment


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Patrick Kasonda, who works for an artisanal logger, carries wood beams from a work shop to a buyer’s location in Kisangani. Kasonda says he carries more than 50 wood beams a day. Francine Ishay Mulumba, GPJ DRC
Democratic Republic of Congo

DRC is home to one of the largest rainforests in the world. Logging is a source of income for many locals, but the cost of a license is expensive, and bribery and corruption are rampant. Conservation organizations are working to combat illegal logging by educating the community on the impact deforestation has on the environment, and by putting a spotlight on corrupt licensing officials.

KISANGANI, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — When Fatuma’s husband died five years ago, she turned to logging, one of the more lucrative businesses in DRC’s northeastern Tshopo province. The 36-year-old mother, who requested that only her middle name be used for fear of arrest, says she makes up to 157,000 Congolese francs ($100) a month.

“Today, I can finally be able to take care of my children through the sale of trees,” she says.

But as business thrives for Fatuma and others in this densely forested part of the country, legal and environmental risks loom.

Logging is regulated by the Ministère de l’Environnement, Conservation de la Nature et Tourisme, the ministry in charge of environmental conservation and tourism. Artisanal loggers are required to pay a fee of 943,000 francs ($600) for a permit valid for five years. But Fatuma says the fee exceeds her monthly income.

Logging without a permit is a crime punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of 10,000 ($6) to 500,000 francs ($318), or both.

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Artisanal loggers at a work shop in Kisangani, the capital of the Tshopo province, sell different types of wood.

Francine Ishay Mulumba, GPJ DRC

DRC has the second-largest rainforest in the world, with millions living and depending on its trees for their livelihood. Logging is driving deforestation, officials say. But small-scale loggers, at times unlicensed, continue to cut and sell trees. The process to acquire a permit is costly and corrupt, they say.

Logging is especially common in the Congo Basin, a rainforest that spans Gabon, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and DRC, among other countries. More than 60 percent of the forest is found in DRC.

Logging in the Congo Basin has minimal impact on forest degradation and deforestation, according to a 2013 report from the World Bank. Annual deforestation rates in DRC have historically been low, but they increased to nearly 2 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to the Central African Forest Initiative.

Industrial logging concessions in the Congo Basin, often foreign, account for up to 60 million hectares (148 million acres) of the 300 million hectares (741 million acres) of total forest area, according to Yale University’s Global Forest Atlas. Officials and local experts say that artisanal loggers are growing in number in this part of the country and that their activities are unsustainable.

Logging is becoming increasingly harmful to the environment, says Bob Samuniange, an inspector at the provincial headquarters of the Ministère de l’Environnement, Conservation de la Nature et Tourisme. Indigenous plants and tree species, including Afromosia, are now hard to find because they are popular among loggers, he says.

Two types of woodcutting permits, commonly called Permis de Coupe de Bois Artisanaux, are available to artisanal loggers. Samuniange says five-year permits costs 943,000 francs ($600).

Artisanal loggers are required to pay a fee of 943,000 francs ($600) for a permit valid for five years. Logging without a permit is a crime punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of 10,000 ($6) to 500,000 francs ($318), or both.

But some cannot afford the permits. While logging without the required documentation creates an income for some, experts say informal timber production has limited economic growth across Africa.

In Kisangani, the capital of the Tshopo province, up to 100 people cut trees every day, Samuniange says. Loggers sell the wood to builders to make furniture and other household items or to be used as a source of energy.

Antoine Kobongo, president of the Association des Exploitants de bois artisanal de province de la Tshopo, a local association of artisanal loggers, says some who are logging illegally are rarely caught, because they give locals money to stop them from telling authorities.

“Whether or not you operate legally, you have to pay something,” he says.

“When loggers arrive, they give us money and cloth to buy our silence out of fear that we may come forward to report their wrongdoing in our forests,” says Irène Mafi, who lives close to a forested area. Loggers also bribe tribal chiefs with goats, sugar, coffee and building materials, Fatuma says.

Officials are collecting bribes, too. A forest inspector with the Ministère de l’Environnement, Conservation de la Nature et Tourisme, who requested not to be named for fear of losing his job, says some of his colleagues accept money from unlicensed loggers. Other times, they ask for extra money when issuing permits, he adds.

“Corruption is the major cause that will make our forest disappear on the map, if nothing is done to stop such behavior,” he says.

Regulating logging is a challenge because of bribes, Samuniange says.

“The task of cracking down on illegal loggers looting our forests is not an easy one, because they act with the collusion and support of surrounding communities,” he says.

Others are making efforts to curb illegal logging. Alphonse Mahindo, coordinator at the provincial office of Tropenbos International, a Dutch-founded nonprofit, says educating the public is the key. Through campaigns, his organization is raising awareness among locals about forest management and responsible logging practices. Mahindo says authorities should also be held accountable when caught collecting bribes.

“We aim to keep an extra close watch on logging,” he says. “We want to see fraud reduced – and perhaps even eradicated.”

Ndayaho Sylvestre, GPJ, translated the article from French.

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