29 September 2005

Cameroon: Civil Society Mobilises Against Illegal Forest Exploitation

Some 30 Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, have called on government to give them a chance in the fight against illegal exploitation of forests in Cameroon. The call was one of the resolutions the CSOs took after attending a two-day workshop in Yaounde on September 22.

A Yaounde-based NGO, Centre for Environment and Development, CED, organised the workshop in collaboration with the European Community Forest Platform.

Organised within the framework of the forest law enforcement, governance and trade, the workshop sought ways on how civil society could be part of the collective endeavours against the illegal exploitation of forests.

It served as a forum through which environmental NGOs could become part of the European Union-initiated voluntary partnership agreement, tailored to fight the illegal exploitation of forests.

Within the context of this agreement, producer and buyer countries of timber would resolve to mutually fight against the exportation of illegally exploited wood. This means that only wood that has been legally exploited would be bought in the European market. The agreement is, therefore, to make sure that all timber exploited should have a legal stamp to testify that they were exploited in conformity with the laws of the countries concerned.

The European Community Forest Platform, which is linked to some 30 NGOs in Cameroon, initiated the onslaught when it was discovered that timber-producing countries were losing a great deal to illegal exploitation.

According to a survey by the World Bank, illegal exploitation was not only plummeting biodiversity, but also inflicting a great loss on the countries concerned. It was stated that a successful collective fight against these ills would stem the tide of corruption and racketeering that surround the illegal exploitation of forests, to the chagrin of local populations and governments.

Speaking during the occasion, a senior official of the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife, Denis Koulagna, said government was fully committed to arresting the illegal exploitation of Cameroon's forests. He saluted the European Community Forest Platform initiative, pledging that government would work hand-in-glove with the civil society and draw a road map to the signing of the voluntary partnership agreement.

Stressing the importance of agreements, a resource person from the German Technical Cooperation, GTZ, Flaurent Thies, said the losses illegal exploitation of forests was inflicting on government were enormous.

According to Mrs. Edith Abilogo of CED who coordinated the workshop, the illegal exploitation of forests is a major impediment to the development of local communities.

One of the participants, Miss Miranda Watat, said the issues surrounding the illegal exploitation of forests were complex and needed the full involvement of the civil society for a solution.

Perhaps, that is why participants called on government and the European Union to put in place mechanisms for the funding of civil society in the struggle.

According to them, the voluntary partnership agreement should involve all the stakeholders, including representatives of the local communities.

They suggested that the civil society be involved in the legalisation process of forest exploitation.

Besides, the participants recommended that the partnership agreement should not only cover timber, but all other forest products that are being exported out of the country. Some participants observed that Cameroon could easily come out of its present economic predicament, if the authorities concerned succeed in crushing the illegal exploitation of forests.

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