“For WWF, partnering with Indigenous Peoples is an essential part of our conservation work.” This sentence comes from WWF’s latest newsletter from its international forest and climate team. The article is written by Jolly Sassa Kiuka and Flory Botamba who work for WWF in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kuika and Botamba explain that WWF’s partnerships with Indigenous Peoples “often include supporting Indigenous Peoples to participate on the international stage at global meetings”.
They conclude that,
Indigenous recognition is one tool we have in the fight against global climate change and in building a more just and sustainable world. Indigenous Peoples play important roles in the conservation and management of forest ecosystems, as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation. It is incumbent upon us, as conservationists, to support their empowerment and participation in processes related to our work, for the future of forests and the futures of Indigenous Peoples.
These ideals are in stark contrast with the reality of WWF’s operations in the Congo Basin. A new report from Survival International describes this reality:
In the Congo Basin, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is supporting squads of wildlife guards that abuse tribal people as well as a network of “protected areas” that is driving them from their ancestral homelands. This is not just destroying lives; it is harming conservation. By supporting projects that scapegoat tribal people, WWF is diverting action away from tackling the real causes of environmental destruction: logging and corruption.
Survival International’s report, titled “WWF and the loggers: A brief history of greenwashing in the Congo Basin” is available here.
Survival International this week awarded WWF with its “Greenwashing of the Year” award, for partnering with seven logging companies operating over almost four million hectares in the Congo Basin.
WWF has partnered with the following companies that are logging forests belonging to indigenous Baka and Bayaka “Pygmies” in the Congo Basin: the French Bolloré, Pasquet and Rougier Groups:; the Italian SEFAC Group; the Belgian Decolvenaere Group; the Austria-based Danzer Group; and the Chinese Vicwood Group.
In June 2016, REDD-Monitor sent some questions to WWF about its partnership with Rougier in Cameroon. I’m still waiting for replies to my questions.
Survival International reports that none of these logging companies “received or even sought the consent” of the indigenous peoples whose forests they are destroying. As one Baka man said earlier this year about Rougier’s logging operations in Cameroon,
We can never give our consent because we get nothing from this destruction of the forest.
Here is a Survival International video of a Baka man speaking out against destructive logging operations:
A timeline of WWF and the loggers
Survival International’s new report provides a timeline of WWF’s partnerships with industrial logging companies in the Congo Basin. The timeline contrasts the reports about the destruction and illegalities and WWF’s decisions to enter into partnerships with the loging companies. Here are some extracts:
- March 1991: A research team commissioned by WWF visits several logging concessions in southeast Cameroon. Several of these are operated by WWF’s future logging partners: SEFAC (SEFAC Group), SOTREF (Decolvenaere Group), SIBAF (Bolloré Group). It finds that,
Unquestionably, logging has led to the widespread dispersal and destruction of game and loss of forest habitat. [It provides] easy access to large areas of the forest that were used by only a very few before the coming of the logging companies.
The team hears from Baka that many more elephants are being killed since the new logging trails were opened. It recommends that WWF “focuses on the professional poachers, middlemen and consumers in urban centers and logging companies” rather than on people like the Baka hunting to feed their families.
- September 2000: According to Greenpeace, SIBAF and SEFAC have recently been found by the Cameroonian government to be logging illegally. Greenpeace notes that its own research indicates a member of the Rougier Group is also involved in illegal logging activities.
- June 2003: WWF completes its recent project of partnering with logging companies in order to promote “sustainable forest management.” An independent assessment criticises its “poorly formulated logical framework,” and notes that it had an “unsatisfactory” impact in certain areas. It also observes that its “effectiveness” in many respects was “not measurable” and that its “efficiency” was “very unsatisfactory.”
- December 2006: Cameroon’s Independent Forest Monitor finds that SFID (Rougier Group) has violated logging regulations.
- July 2008: Danzer is accused by Greenpeace of using an “elaborate profit-laundering system” in the Congo Basin, “designed to move income out of Africa and into offshore bank accounts.”
Greenpeace suspects that at least €7.8 million has been lost in public revenues, equivalent to the cost of vaccinating over 700,000 Congolese children under the age of five.
- November 2010: Friends of the Earth carries out an investigation in Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. They visit one of Pallisco’s (Pasquet Group) old logging sites and hear that Pallisco has destroyed trees that are important to local people, making the gathering of certain forest resources no longer possible. They also visit an old site of Rougier’s and hear how the company has left local people poorer.
They meet with Baka who explain how many of the trees that are prized by WWF’s logging partners are very important to the Baka for the food and medicines they provide.
- July 2011: Global Witness publishes an evaluation of WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network and finds that the scheme is “fundamentally flawed.”
Such flaws “allow some of its member companies to reap the benefits of association with WWF and its iconic panda brand while continuing unsustainable logging, conversion of forests to plantations, or trading in illegally sourced timber.”
- May 2013: The sustainability certification for WWF’s partner Danzer is temporarily suspended by the Forestry Stewardship Council. This is a result of the human rights abuses its subsidiary is reported to have contributed to in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- July 2015: Global Witness reports that SINFOCAM (Vicwood Group) illegally obtained its logging permits inside the Dzanga-Sangha Protected Area Complex in Central African Republic.
- January 2017: A team of researchers finds that the rainforest has been broken up at the same rate within logging concessions certified as “sustainable” by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as in non-certified concessions, or at an even higher rate.
WWF helped to establish FSC in 1993.
PHOTO Credit: Survival International.