This does not bode well for the country’s 16.5 million hectares of forests, which are increasingly giving way to palm oil plantations, hydroelectric dams, precious metal mines, and the infrastructure required to access them.
This so-called development has given rise to a wave of land grabbing. Communities have been forced out of their ancestral forests and had their land handed to foreign businesses, mainly logging companies. This has deprived indigenous communities of the food, medicine and income that the forests provided them.
To address these issues, Global Witness pioneered an Independent Forest Monitoring project in Cameroon. We accompanied government officials into the forest to observe illegal logging activities and assess how well forest control services were operating. In response to requests by local communities, we also carried out independent observation missions. We published 122 field reports in total which presented evidence of widespread illegalities.
On top of carrying out independent observation missions, we taught forest communities how to monitor their forests, understand local laws, and blow the whistle when trees were taken illegally or without community consent. These activities paid off, resulting in a significant reduction in illegal logging during our four-year engagement there.
A decade on, however, this positive trend seems to have reversed. Illegal logging is again rampant, and recent years have given rise to the widespread abuse of permits intended for the sort of small-scale logging necessary for development projects. An unpublished 2011 analysis by Global Witness on the impacts of industrial-scale logging in Cameroon confirmed claims by local groups that it had contributed scarcely anything to local development. Our findings instead shed light on an industry that had left vast areas of forests degraded, and large numbers of people impoverished and uprooted from the forest they live in and depend upon.
On 1st December 2011, the Government of Cameroon signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU, a legally binding trade agreement to en¬sure the legality of timber and timber products. The government of Cameroon urgently needs to make sure that this agreement is stringently enforced to ensure that its forests are preserved for the benefit of the rural poor and the regional and global climate.