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News in brief March 2017

A new Fern picture story zooms into the reality of what ‘community benefits’ truly mean on the ground. For nearly two years Cameroonian Civil Society Organisations have been campaigning for better community social benefits from logging activities. The 1994 Forest Code stated that logging companies must pay annual taxes to local communities (redevances forestières annuelles – RFA), an obligation picked up in the EU-Cameroon Voluntary Partnership Agreement’s legality grid. However, for the past two years the Cameroonian government decided not to allocate any of the RFA funds to communities (FW222); Fern’s picture story gives a visual account of the practical impact the absence of fair benefit-sharing has had on communities, and the increase in poverty. Happily, due to pressure from civil society and communities, the new finance law passed in late 2016 foresees the reinstatement of 6.75 per cent of the communities’ RFA – some progress towards civil societies’ minimum demand of 10 per cent. 

Central African Republic (CAR) once had the third largest area of rainforest cover in Central Africa. Today, tropical forest covers only 36 per cent of the country, most of which has been degraded by logging. While logging companies come and go, the social and environmental consequences of their activities are long lived for the local and indigenous communities who have nothing but the forests for their survival. With pressure from civil society groups, the CAR Government increasingly acknowledges the importance of supporting community-based forest management. An important step is its recent decision to include community forestry in its 2017 VPA roadmap, and to create a dedicated community forestry unit within the Forest Ministry. This is good news for members of the local civil society platform Gestion Durable des Ressources Naturelles, who fought hard for communities to have a say in the way forests are managed. However, more is needed to ensure that local communities gain greater ownership of their forests, including through VPA-instigated legal reforms. Fern and CIEDD, its local partner, will strive to encourage community involvement through the DFID-funded CoNGOs project, which intends to improve sustainable, equitable livelihoods for communities in CAR and, more broadly, in the Congo Basin.

Ghana’s new forest minister has issued an order clearing up key illegalities in the forest sector, a promising sign that Ghana’s long-awaited FLEGT licenses may be on their way. Issued on 10 February 2017, the order cancelled existing illegal “special permits”, halted all exports of rosewood and ordered immediate action to stop illegal mining in forest reserves. Once another draft Legal Instrument currently before parliament is passed in coming weeks, remedying most of the other remaining illegalities in the forest sector, Ghana should be ready to issue FLEGT licenses certifying the legality of its timber. Ghanaian civil society observers are heartened by these signs of ambition from the new forest minister, as well as the strong anti-corruption platform of the new president, elected in December 2016. Under these conditions, Ghana is in a good position to become the second country to issue FLEGT licenses, after Indonesia, which issued its first licenses in November 2016.

Biodiversity protection should become a political priority for Europe and not just a pet subject for nature lovers and scientists. This is the central plea of “Biodiversité: quand les politiques européennes menacent le vivant. Connaître la nature pour mieux légiférer,” by Inès Trépant. The book argues that biodiversity is not high enough on the EU’s agenda, despite ambitions laid out in the Seventh Environment Action Programme, and that profound changes in EU policy and consumption patterns are urgently needed. This echoes NGO and EU reports raising the alarm that Europe’s natural capital is in danger and that EU economic policies have a significant detrimental impact on ecosystems and human well-being. As the EU carries forward its biodiversity strategy, it is important that the EU and Member States put more effort into strengthening and enforcing existing legislation, and into developing new measures on sustainable and transparent management of nature sites.