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Suspension of Atama’s deforestation activities in Congo: Important but insufficient

Civil society hails the decision taken by the Republic of Congo to suspend the illegal deforestation activities of Atama Plantation in the forested region of Sangha (Northern Congo) where Atama planned to deforest nearly 180,000 hectares to plant oil palm. Four years after starting its activities, this subsidiary of the Malaysian Group Wah Seong Corporation Berhad, has yet to fulfil its promises to create jobs and improve livelihoods.

In fact, the company has pursued deforestation activities without proper government authorisation, causing environmental damage in forests known for their high biodiversity. CSOs have long shared their doubts about the project’s real intentions and are asking the Congolese government to properly assess the project’s relevance. CSOs further ask that the local forest administration and EU Member States’ competent authorities prevent timber from the Atama concession from entering the EU in accordance with the country’s commitments under the FLEGT VPA.

Atama is not an isolated case. Across the country, forest conversion projects for mining and infrastructure development have caused significant forest loss. The current forest legal reform provides an opportunity to address conversion timber. The government should now walk the VPA talk by establishing a clear and robust legal framework for legal, sustainable logging and trade.

Large-scale development of oil palm in Congo and neighbouring countries must not be allowed to lead to forest destruction and violation of local communities’ rights. Civil society demands fewer shallow promises and greater transparency and equity.

Photograph: Fern. Interviews taking place in Sangha, Northern Congo.