Despite continued illegal logging and conversion of forests, a recent decision by Republic of Congo (RoC) Minister of Mines offers a glimpse of hope that positive change is possible for forests in that country.
In December 2016, the Minister of Mines took the groundbreaking decision to suspend all mining permits in the Sangha, a dense forest region in the North of the country. The decision followed independent reports, including from Fern’s local partner Forum pour la Gouvernance et les Droits Humains (FGDH), that gold mining is taking place in logging concessions, causing major environmental havoc.
Released late last year, the FGDH report found that open-pit gold-mining was carried out in parts of Chinese company SEFYD’s Jua Ekié concession - without any prior information or consultation with the most affected communities. The report further shows that mining activities are destroying vast forest areas, slashing local livelihoods and forcing communities to relocate. Earlier accounts also raised concerns that mining permits were being awarded in protected areas such as Odzala-Kokoua National Park. FGDH recommends that SEFYD be required to conduct a social and environmental impact assessment, and that authorities ensure that communities’ concerns are properly addressed in the logging contract. FGDH also urges the government to take measures to tackle conflicting land uses.
FGDH’s work contributes to independent forest monitoring, a key feature of the VPA, and draws attention to the numerous governance challenges affecting forests and local communities. It is crucial that Congolese authorities act upon such reports, as they seem to have done by suspending Sangha permits, and that the EU helps to strengthen forest governance through adequate support to independent civil society monitoring.
Image: FGDH workshop in RoC. Indra van Gisbergen