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Cameroon Government Again Opens Way for Logging in Ebo Forest

  • Cameroon’s government is again planning to open a portion of Ebo Forest to logging, despite its status as a refuge for numerous endangered species including gorillas and chimpanzees.
  • A local leader of the Indigenous Banen community, who have a claim to the territory they were expelled from in the 1950s and 60s, says most Munen are opposed to the move.
  • The same portion of Ebo was briefly opened for logging in 2020, but the government reversed course. Local politicians have remained intent on reclassifying parts of the forest.
  • Activists say the latest reclassification failed to meet legal requirements, particularly regarding consultation of local communities.

Cameroon’s government is again planning to open a portion of Ebo Forest to logging, threatening 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) of largely intact forest that is home to several rare and endangered species. The forest, in southern Cameroon, is also subject to a land claim by Indigenous Banen people.

In April, the prime minister’s office reclassified 68,385 hectares (168,983 acres) of Forest Management Unit 07-006. The government previously opened this block of forest to logging in 2020, before swiftly suspending the decision. At the time, environmentalists and most local leaders welcomed the suspension as an opportunity for consultation with nearby communities and participatory mapping to guide decisions over future access to the forest.

The latest decree permits the population to continue to collect firewood and non-timber forest products like fruit, mushrooms and medicinal plants, but it charges the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife with drawing up a management plan for logging and other activities.

Victor Yetina, chief of the Ndikbassogog 1 clan and a representative of the Association Munen Retour aux Sources, an association of Banen community members, told Mongabay that while some locals support opening logging of FMU 07-006, communities in the area are divided over the issue.

“At the moment, the Banen community is in disarray, except for a small minority loyal to the parliamentarian of Nkam. For the vast majority, it is simply unimaginable that things should remain as they are. It is therefore not an option to do anything with this Forest Management Unit. The Banen people from Ebo are opposed to the decree,” he said.

Forest cleared by a company called Greenfil for a palm plantation near Ebo in 2017: conservationists feared an influx of plantation workers would exploit the neighboring forest. Image by Greenpeace Africa.

In a statement, Greenpeace Africa campaigner Sylvie Djacbou said the April decree shows continuing problems with Cameroon’s consultation of local communities over forest management. “The classification process does not appear to have complied with the legal and regulatory provisions. The withdrawal of the classification decree in 2020 implies that any new classification process would have to take account of these populations’ right of pre-emption over this forest or else restart the consultations from the beginning, which does not seem to have been done.”

The Greenpeace spokesperson also criticized the forestry ministry for granting timber company Sextransbois rights to fell trees in the Matock-Songloulou area of FMU 07-006, pointing out that a timber concession should not be awarded without publishing an invitation to bid for 45 days, which has not taken place in this case. Djacbjou said there was a risk that a further 65,000 hectares (16,619 acres) of forest belonging to another forest management unit could also be reclassified in the same way, without consultation.

Local politicians have remained intent on reclassifying parts of the forest to allow logging. In 2022, a private group built 40 kilometers (25 miles) of road into the forest without a permit, claiming it was needed to boost the local economy and connect communities displaced from the forest itself decades ago. The forestry ministry claimed it was not aware of the road project.

Conservationists said that in addition to being built without a permit, the road would expose the forest to illegal logging. Ebo’s lowland and montane forest is home to endangered forest elephants, gorillas and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes ellioti).

Greenpeace is asking the government to revoke the latest reclassification and meet with the Banen people to discuss the future of their ancestral territory and the rich biodiversity it contains.

Source : Mongabay