New timber parks vital for fighting illegal logging in Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo joined East African Community in 2022. This will provide the country, which has colossal natural wealth, a huge market in adjoining countries and direct access to new roads, railways and ports — and therefore prospective global trade.
But as expansion of east African road and rail networks and fall in transportation costs ensue, eastern forests of The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will become more vulnerable to surging demand by regional and global markets. This could threaten one of the world’s richest biodiversity areas. Eastern forests of the DRC are one of the last remaining intact swathes of rainforest on the planet, second only to the Amazon. They not only help regulate climate but also provide resources — like food, medicines, materials and shelter — to millions and millions of people.
Eastern forests are also very rich in minerals and forest products. Timber is highly sought-after for its commercial value and, once roads are unlocked to harvest it, further violation and deforestation may follow. Effective administration and monitoring of timber harvesting and trade is thus required to ensure that the country’s laws are respected, a fair share of the benefits are netted and tax fraud and illegal timber exports is prevented.
DRC has one of the highest annual deforestation rates in the world. Since 2010, it has lost minimum 500000 hectares of forest every year, peaks being well above one million hectares per year. Although small scale agriculture and not timber harvesting is the largest contributor to the DRC’s deforestation rates — it remains a day-to-day activity for thousands of operators serving the local and international markets.
In 2017 the DRC initiated the legal groundwork to establish a series of “timber parks” at border crossings around the country to monitor timber exports and revenue collection, with an initial focus on the eastern borders. Timber parks can prove to be a great tool for the DRC to stem financial losses incurred due to illegal timber exports. They send a very clear hint to illegal traders that the old way of bribing your way out of the country is not feasible now or at least far more difficult to use. However, up-scaling to all major border crossings is required to deny truckers the choice of crossing at borders without timber parks.
Support of central, provincial and local governments is critical for the success of timber park model. Timber parks can definitely increase revenue collection by taxing an illegally produced commodity, but other measures are needed to ensure that forests are responsibly managed and forestry sector follows a sustainable path. Role of local, provincial and central governments becomes very important here.