CONGO: La vente de la forêt équatoriale- un scandale du temps moderne. The Guardian

Le quotidien britannique The Guardian de ce mercredi 11/04/07 dénonce le scandale de la vente d'une étendue de la forêt équatoriale congolaise aussi grande que le Royaume-Uni pour quelques machettes, 20 sacs de sucre et 200 sacs de sel distribués aux chefs coutumiers.

Vingt compagnies américaines et européennes ont depuis 2002 signé environ 150 contrats leur octroyant la propriété de la forêt vierge pour l'exploitation du bois pour une durée de 25 ans. Les modiques dépenses effectuées pour obtenir ces concessions représentent à peine dix mille livres sterling,soit un peu moins de vingt mille dollars américains. Toutes ces firmes sont représentées par la Congolese Timber Industries Federation dont la secrétaire générale se trouve être la belge Françoise van de Ven. Chose triste et grave, le rapport écrit à ce sujet critique la Banque mondiale qui encourage l'exploitation des essences forestières du Congo alors qu'elle est consciente de la nature corrompue de ces contrats. Le rapport craint que les conséquences sur l'environment de cette exploitation barbare puisse affecter l'équilibre écologique mondiale.

Nous vous prions de trouver ci-dessous l'intégralité de l'article en anglais.

RESISTANCE CONGOLAISE

Selling off the rainforest - a modern-day scandal

John Vidal in Kisangani
Wednesday April 11, 2007
The Guardian

Vast tracts of the world's second-largest rainforest have been obtained by a small group of European and American industrial logging companies in return for minimal taxes and gifts of salt, sugar and tools, a two-year investigation will disclose today.

More than 150 contracts covering an area of rainforest nearly the size of the United Kingdom have been signed with 20 companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the past three years. Many are believed to have been illegally allocated in 2002 by a transition government emerging from a decade of civil wars and are in defiance of a World Bank moratorium.

According to the report, the companies, mainly from Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Singapore and the US, are already stripping from the 21m hectares (52m acres) of forest, primarily to extract African teak, which sells for more than £500 a cubic metre and is widely used for flooring, furniture and doors in Britain.

According to the 100-page study, compiled by Greenpeace International working with Congolese ecological and human rights groups, if all the forests identified for logging are felled, it could "release" up to 34bn tonnes of carbon - nearly as much as Britain has emitted in 60 years.

To gain access to the forests for the next 25 years, the European companies have made agreements with village chiefs, offering bags of salt, machetes and bicycles, and in some cases promised to build rudimentary schools, the report states.

Yesterday the companies admitted that many of the agreements that they have signed with local communities in return for gifts needed to be reassessed.

"Many of the criticisms are valid. The companies are now going to re-evaluate all the agreements made with communities," said Francoise van de Ven, secretary general of the Congolese Timber Industries Federation, which represents all the international firms named in the report.

Hilary Benn, the UK international development secretary, said: "50 million people rely on the rainforest of the Congo for food, shelter and livelihoods. We rely on it as an ecological handbreak for our rapidly changing climate."

The report criticises the World Bank for encouraging logging in Congo in the knowledge that corruption was rife. It refused to comment until the report has been published.

http://environment.guardian.co.uk/conservation/story/0,,2054146,00.html

Vast forests with trees each worth £4,000 sold for a few bags of sugar
· Congo village chiefs not told value of concessions
· World Bank blamed over deals causing 'catastrophe'


John Vidal in Kisangani
Wednesday April 11, 2007
The Guardian


Lamoko, 150 miles down the Maringa river, sits on the edge of a massive stretch of virgin rainforest in central Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On February 8 2005, representatives of a major timber firm arrived to negotiate a contract with the traditional landowners.

Few in the village realised that the talks would transform all their lives, but in just a few hours, the chief, who had received no legal advice and did not realise that just one tree might be worth more than £4,000 in Europe, had signed away his community's rights in the forest for 25 years.

In return for his signed permission to log thousands of hectares for exotic woods such as Afromosia (African teak) and sapele, the company promised to build Lamoko and other communities in the area three simple village schools and pharmacies. In addition, the firm said it would give the chief 20 sacks of sugar, 200 bags of salt, some machetes and a few hoes. In all, it was estimated that the gifts would cost the company £10,000.

It was the kind of "social responsibility" agreement that is encouraged by the World Bank, but when the villagers found out that their forest had been "sold" so cheaply, they were furious.

They complained to the local and central government that there had been no proper consultation, that the negotiations had been conducted in an "arrogant" manner, and that people had been forced to sign the document. They demanded that the company pull out.

Since February 2005, logging roads have been driven deep into the forests near Lamoko and the company has started extracting and exporting trees, but the villages have yet to see their schools and pharmacies.

"We asked them to provide wood for our coffins and they even refused that," said one man who asked to remain anonymous.

The Lamoko agreement is just one of many contracts, or concessions, that European companies have signed with tribal chiefs in the DRC as the country begins to recover from a decade of civil wars and dictatorship.

But according to a Greenpeace report released today, Lamoko did better than many communities. Some contracts seen by the Guardian show only promises of sugar, salt and tools worth about $100 (£55) in return for permission to log. Others have reported that pledges made three years ago have still not been fulfilled. The report, which took two years to compile, claims that industrial logging backed by the World Bank is now out of control. "Younger people feel that elders have failed to look after the long-term interests of the community," it says.

Last week many community leaders told the Guardian that their villages would sink into destitution if logging went ahead. As many as 40 million of the poorest people in Africa depend on the Congolese forests and all the concessions handed out by the transition government in May 2002 are in inhabited areas. More than a third are home to pygmy communities.

"If the trees go, then we will have nothing. We will be consigned to poverty forever. The forests are our only hope. If they go, we only become poorer", said one man who lives near Kisangani. Like most people in the area, he did not want to give his name for fear of intimidation from local authorities, who are known to be mired in corruption.

"The companies are obliged to employ local people, but they bring in their own people and we are left at best with unskilled jobs that pay the minimum wage - less than 50p a day," said another man.

It is believed that 20 foreign-owned forestry companies are active in the DRC, and that Chinese and other logging groups are also seeking to gain concessions. The companies should be prevented from doing so by a moratorium negotiated by the World Bank in 2002 as part of an initiative to control the forestry industry.

Most of the major logging companies, including Danzer, Trans-M, TB, NST, Olan, and Sicobois, have concession contracts signed after the World bank moratorium, but although there is an investigation into their legality the majority are expected to be rubber stamped this year.

"Most of the companies have benefited from the World Bank's failure to ensure that the moratorium it negotiated with the transitional Congo DRC government has been enforced," said Greenpeace's Africa forests campaigner, Stephan van Praet.

The companies, which export both logs and sawn timber, supply wood all over Europe but considerable amounts are thought to be shipped to Britain, mostly as finished products such as flooring, windows, furniture and doors.

African teak wood is protected by global agreement and cannot be exported from some tropical countries such as Cameroon, which have few trees left, but there are still no restrictions on its export from the DRC.

Greenpeace and other international forestry groups say the fate of the Congo forests depends on the World Bank and other donors, including Britain, rejecting industrial logging, demanding a comprehensive land-use plan for a country that is effectively lawless, and insisting that the government tackles corruption.

The bank accepts that logging could destroy the forests in a short time, leading to immense social problems.

"If we do nothing it is certain that the forests will disappear and poverty will increase. Not one dollar of tax that has been collected has returned to the provinces," said Kankonde Mukadi, the forest officer for the World Bank in Kinshasa.

There is also concern because rainforests provide important carbon reserves. Up to a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions are now linked directly to tropical deforestation, the report says.

Special report
Congo

http://environment.guardian.co.uk/conservation/story/0,,2054204,00.html