In mid-August the Government of Cameroon announced the cancellation of a contested logging concession for Ebo forest, thus suspending a decree adopted only weeks before that had opened 68,385 hectares for logging (FW 256). The battle is far from won, however, and donors should ask for clear answers about the legality of forest conversion in Cameroon.
Ebo forest is an intact forest in Southwest Cameroon spanning 200,000 hectares − half the size of London − on which 40 Banen communities depend to gather food and traditional medicines. The suspension of the recent decree creating a logging concession came as a welcome relief for local communities and NGOs.
That the land-use designation for the Ebo forest has not yet been specified remains a cause for serious concern, nonetheless. Worse, Ebo forest illustrates a broader, disturbing trend of large-scale forest conversion accelerating throughout Cameroon.
Other cases of forest conversion for agricultural use − Biopalm, Camvert and the conversion plan for the Ntem Valley, which together cover an area greater than the Ebo forest – pose an undeniable threat to efforts to tackle climate change, deforestation and illegal logging. The situation also undermines implementation of the FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement between the EU and Cameroon, and raises doubts about the compliance of Cameroonian timber with the EU Timber Regulation: clear-cutting of logging concessions for subsequent agricultural use raises questions about the legality of the timber resulting from the conversion.
The EU, the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) and the entire donor community should urgently discuss the legality of forest conversion and the timber resulting from it; they should also insist on increased transparency where land titles are granted to industrial commercial entities. In the meantime, the allocation of new land and logging concessions should be put on hold, while an independent audit assesses the legality of existing land and logging concessions. Once more clarity is provided, donors should support participatory land-use mapping and planning processes.