Yaoundé, 20 August 2014 - Large quantities of wood extracted from forest "conversion" projects are reaching international markets illegally, in full knowledge of Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry (MINFOF) and the European Union (EU), says Greenpeace Africa.
The failure to fully monitor and regulate timber from such projects is undermining international agreements Cameroon has with bodies such as the EU, including its Voluntary partnership Agreement (VPA), part of the bloc's Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plan.
Greenpeace Africa obtained evidence that Uniprovince, a company owned by US agribusiness company Herakles Farms, has cut at least 10,000 m3 of commercially valuable wood. While official documents from the port of Douala show that a shipment of over 3000 m3 has already left Douala for the Chinese port of Zhangjiagang.
The Herakles Farms project in the country's South West region has proved highly controversial since its announcement in 2009 and attracted the opposition of local residents, civil society and international NGOs who say it threatens an area of important biodiversity value and the livelihoods of communities who live there.
"Sadly it comes as no surprise to Greenpeace Africa to see this wood find its way to China despite all the evidence of its illegality" said Irène Wabiwa, Forest Campaign Manager.
In a report published last May, Licence to Launder, Greenpeace Africa documented how Uniprovince obtained a Vente de coupe permit to log without public auction, in violation of Cameroonian law.
"Three different Cameroonian state prosecutors were given information proving Uniprovince's illegal logging operations, but no action has been taken to our knowledge," explains Wabiwa. "The Cameroon's Ministry of Forestry and the EU, in charge of the implementation of the FLEGT Partnership Agreement, were also repeatedly informed; but unfortunately, it did not prevent the wood from being exported."
On August 19th, Greenpeace East Asia submitted the evidence to the competent authorities in China, asking them to investigate about the Chinese company that is involved in importing illegal timbers from Herakles Farms/Uniprovince.
Regrettably, the case of the illegal logging title obtained by Uniprovince is just the tip of the iceberg. There are strong indications that the allocation of thirteen Ventes de coupe permits earlier this year, to a variety of timber companies for operations in the Kribi area, failed to respect procedure.
A large proportion of wood from Cameroon's Vente de coupe logging operations is destined to China via the port of Zhangjiagang, taking advantage of the fact that the country doesn't yet have legislation in place to prevent the imports of illegal wood.
"If these operations continue with total disregard for the law, it will undermine the credibility of the FLEGT partnership agreement ratified in December 2011, accelerate forest destruction and deprive communities who depend on the forest for their livelihood in Cameroon" warns Wabiwa.
Cameroon made a commitment to verify the legality of all timber and derived products covered by the agreement whether these are sold on the internal markets, exported to the EU or to markets outside the EU.