New Report Highlights Abuse of Congolese Logging Permits

5 November 2012

According to a report released by Global Witness late last month, foreign logging companies have found a way to bypass laws intended to combat industrial logging in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The report found that a number of so-called artisanal logging permits - licenses meant explicitly for small-scale logging by Congolese locals - have found their way into the hands of large foreign firms. These firms use industrial means, including heavy machinery such as bulldozers and log loaders, to continually overharvest the Congo's rainforests.

Home to over half of the Congo Basin, the world's second largest rainforest, the DRC has been a long-time target of international loggers. In an attempt to halt deforestation at the hands of foreign companies, the Congolese government stopped granting new industrial logging concessions ten years ago. Since that time, artisanal permits have grown overwhelmingly in value.

The new report by the NGO Global Witness, entitled ‘The art of logging industrially in Congo', testifies that "at least 146 artisanal logging permits have been issued for timber extraction in [Congo's] Bandundu Province alone since 2010," many of which grant "the authorisation to carry out industrial logging." Although the issuing of these permits often breaches the DRC's laws in as many as ten different ways, the report points out that the Congolese officials themselves are the ones granting permits to foreign companies.

According to one of the report's authors, Colin Robertson, "the abuse of these permits means the freeze on new logging concessions is undermined and new areas of Congo's rainforests are open for business."

Though stressing the responsibility of the Congolese Government to halt this trend of illegal activity, Robertson added "it's not surprising in a post conflict country where the administration has been really weakened."

The report points to the role and responsibility of layers in foreign markets to combat the issue. The abuse of the artisanal permits most often focuses on Wenge, an endangered species of wood highly demanded in China, where it is used to make flooring and furniture. Many of these products are, in turn, exported to the US and Europe. Therefore, the report recommends that "international buyers of timber and timber products should ensure that they can trace the origin of wood [imports]" if they are aiming to comply with the EU and US timber regulations intended to combat illegal logging.

While foreign action would undoubtedly help, Robertson insists the issue cannot be solved until the Congolese government itself can effectively enforce the laws it has created, "and ensure that forest law is respected both by loggers and its own officials." In the words of Robertson, "the door to Congo's forests has [already] been shut to new industrial loggers, but they are coming straight in through the window."

ICTSD Reporting: "Widespread abuse of logging permits opens up Congo's forests to more destruction," GLOBAL WITNESS, 25 October 2012; "Wild West" timber trade threatens Congo forests: report, WORLD ENVIRONMENT NEWS, 29 October 2012; "The art of logging industrially in the Congo," GLOBAL WITNESS, October 2012.

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