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Forestry Minister debunks Greenpeace allegations

The Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, Philip Ngole Ngwese, says allegations of deforestation of the Dja Wildlife Reserve made by…

The Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, Philip Ngole Ngwese, says allegations of deforestation of the Dja Wildlife Reserve made by the nongovernmental organisation, Greenpeace, are unfounded, just like many other previous ones made by NGO to tarnish the country’s image.

 The Minister was speaking July 5, 2017 at the Senate following claims by Greenpeace on agricultural activities in the Dja reserve and fears raised by some Senators.  Minister Ngole Philip Ngwese, giving clarifications on concerns raised by Senator Pierre Flambeau Ngayap of the NUDP party, made it quite abundantly clear before the Upper House of Cameroon’s Parliament that a 2015 joint UNESCO/IUCN reactive monitoring mission noted no threat of deforestation to the Dja Wildlife Reserve thus the allegations of Greenpeace are groundless and unsubstantiated.

Below is the Minister’s full reaction to the Senate on Greenpeace allegations below:

I wish to thank Senator Pierre Flambeau NGAYAP for his interest in the activities of the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife. The Senator is right to express worries about allegations made by Greenpeace, which is alarmed by what it believes to be deforestation of the Dja Wildlife Reserve.

As a matter of fact, this NGO believes that Sud-Cameroun Hévéa Company has destroyed 5,930 hectares of forests in this Reserve. Consequent on that “observation”, Greenpeace is actually requesting the Government of the Republic, and I quote: “to suspend the contracts with SUDCAM until the terms and conditions of granting and implementation are established, together with the zoning and participatory land development, as well as a transparent and reliable procedure to ensure that local communities give free, prior and informed consent.”

Senator Pierre Flambeau NGAYAP is questioning whether the Government is refuting these allegations, and wishes to know actions taken to protect the Reserve.

I wish, from the outset, to reassure the Senator that these allegations are unfounded, just like many other previous ones made by Greenpeace to tarnish our country’s image.

To buttress this point, I deem it necessary to begin with a brief geographical description of the Dja Wildlife Reserve, before disproving the hollow allegations by Greenpeace.

As a matter of fact, the Dja Wildlife Reserve, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1987, comprises two key elements: the central core spanning a surface area of 526,004 hectares, and the buffer zone which, alongside the River Dja, constitutes a safety strip around the central core. The buffer zone separates the central core from the living areas and those likely to be used for human activities. The strip varies between 7 and 10 km in the targeted area, which is the threshold that cannot be crossed.

Where then does the problem that Greenpeace seems to see stem from?

By Decrees N° 2013/089 of 13 March 2013 and 2015/011 of 14 January 2015, the President of the Republic granted three land concessions to  Sud-Cameroun Hévéa, which extends in the Meyomessala, Meyomessi and Djoum Sub-divisions, for a total surface area of 58,930.5871 hectares. The said concessions are located out of the buffer zone I have just described.

Two environmental and social impact studies were conducted and approved in 2010 for the first two concessions. The third impact study was conducted in 2015 for the third concession. All of them were sanctioned by a certificate of environmental compliance. The environmental and social management plan (ESMP) resulting from these studies is effectively being implemented by the investor of the said plantations, under the supervision of relevant State services.

With the updated map resulting from the interpretation of the satellite images and information on the bush fires, it can be asserted that no deforestation activity is taking place in the vicinity of the Dja Wildlife Reserve which, I must repeat, is a UNESCO World heritage site.

In fact, the clearing of SUDCAM plantations estimated at 5,930 hectares denounced by Greenpeace is taking place out of the buffer zone, which constitutes the safety zone around the Reserve proper. Nothing prohibits this.

Suffice it to point out that SUDCAM has set aside 13,000 hectares for high conservation value within these concessions, in order to preserve biodiversity and create wildlife migration corridors.

It may also be argued, and rightly so, that although they are mono-specific, current SUDCAM plantations are first and foremost forest plantations from a technical and legal perspective.

Besides, I wish to point out that the granting and exploitation of SUDCAM concessions comply with procedures and regulations in force, in particular concession deeds duly signed by the President of the Republic and the specifications which are monitored by the relevant Services: the Ministry of Environment, Protection of Nature and Sustainable Development for environmental issues; the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development for agriculture related aspects; the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife in respect of vegetation cover and protection of wildlife; the Ministry of State Property, Surveys and Land Tenure, responsible for ensuring the integrity of granted land concessions; the Ministry of Social Affairs which ensures the interests of local communities are taken into consideration.

To further allay Senator Pierre Flambeau NGAYAP’s worries, it should be made quite abundantly clear, that a joint UNESCO / IUCN reactive monitoring mission went on the field in late 2015 to evaluate whether activities carried out by SUDCAM are in compliance with the prescriptions of the environmental and social management plan. The mission noted no threat of deforestation to the Dja Wildlife Reserve. This means that the allegations of Greenpeace are groundless.

In the light of the foregoing, the Senator may conclude with me that there is no basis for considering the suspension of SUDCAM’s operating contracts as called for by Greenpeace.

In any event, the Government of the Republic remains vigilant in monitoring the implementation of the specifications of the contract with Sud-Cameroun Hévéa Company.

And it is precisely because the Government does not want to leave anything to chance, that on 7 April 2017, it published an international notice for expression of interest to conduct a strategic environmental and social evaluation of infrastructure development projects around the Dja Wildlife Reserve, with the aim of taking into account their cumulative impact on this Reserve and as such devise mitigation measures.

 In conclusion, the misgivings of Greenpeace and other NGOs and Associations acting in like manner, are in contradistinction with current Government synergy of action on sustainable biodiversity management issues in our country. The review of the forestry policy and its implementation instruments, which are in keeping with the Growth and Employment Strategy Paper, conforms to the mining code and all measures in the offing on the occupation of lands in Cameroon.

The Government is called upon to leverage economic development requirements to conservation achievements, to which it freely subscribed. I must point out here that, the State of Cameroon has set aside more than 20% of the national territory for conservation.  In so doing, it has exceeded the 12% target set by the United Nations to States. I have no inkling of a doubt that Senators will help raise public awareness on such fabrications that some stakeholders tend to be peddling around of recent to jeopardise the economy of tropical timber producing countries, and particularly that of Cameroon.

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