Lamoko is a small village on the Maringa River deep in the heart of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The village sits beside a giant swath of virgin rainforest containing high-value species like African Teak and Sapele. Back in 2005 a couple of representatives from a major timber firm showed up to negotiate a logging deal. You might know how this ends.
The local people were never told that one individual tree in this expanse of rainforest could go for as much as $8,000 USD (4000 pounds). The chief, who negotiated the deal with no legal advice or otherwise any sort of consul, signed away the rights to log the forest in return for 20 sacks of sugar, 200 sacks of salt, some machetes and a few hoes as well as the construction of a three humble looking schools and pharmacies in the village. All in all, it cost the corporation $197,000, or about 49 individual trees. Considering there were thousands of ancient trees sitting on the thousands of acres the corporation traded for, you can bet the community is furious.
The shocking part of these types of deals is that they are encouraged by the World Bank as a form of “social responsibility.” While the logging started mere weeks after the deal was negotiated, its been two years and still the village has no schools or pharmacies. But who can they complain to? The World Bank won’t pressure the corporation to follow through, the local government has no power over such a timber firm, and the national political structure is in such shambles that even if the national leaders got involved there is little they could do. But it’s not just Lamoko suffering from these shady timber deals:
But according to a Greenpeace report released today, Lamoko did better than many communities. Some contracts seen by the Guardian show only promises of sugar, salt and tools worth about $100 (£55) in return for permission to log. Others have reported that pledges made three years ago have still not been fulfilled. The report, which took two years to compile, claims that industrial logging backed by the World Bank is now out of control. “Younger people feel that elders have failed to look after the long-term interests of the community,” it says.
And when you consider this fact, the importance of the forest stretches far beyond the ecological and into the humanitarian:
As many as 40 million of the poorest people in Africa depend on the Congolese forests and all the concessions handed out by the transition government in May 2002 are in inhabited areas. More than a third are home to pygmy communities. “If the trees go, then we will have nothing. We will be consigned to poverty forever. The forests are our only hope. If they go, we only become poorer”, said one man who lives near Kisangani.
The World Bank has failed to enforce its logging moratorium (are we really that surprised?) it signed with the current Congolese government and leadership. And so the people pay…
Rhett Butler over at Mongabay has a great writeup discussing the Greenpeace report and how they’ve been pressuring the World Bank to shape up.