Forests & Finance: From logging in Cameroon to cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire


  • Conservationists have flagged logging activity by a company in Cameroon that’s clearing forest near a national park in apparent breach of its permits.
  • A campaign since 2017 to convince farmers in Côte d’Ivoire not to clear forests for new cocoa plantations is bearing fruit, with deforestation in the country falling by 47% in 2021.
  • In Malawi, a replanting effort aims to revive populations of the endemic and threatened Mulanje cyad, an ancient tree species that grows on the mountain of the same name.
  • Forests & Finance is Mongabay’s bi-weekly bulletin of briefs about Africa’s forests.

Logging near Cameroon national park raises red flags over permits

YAOUNDE — Agroindustrial company Cameroun Vert S.A., or Camvert, is again clearing forest near Campo Ma’an National Park, raising questions over the allocation of its timber permits.

At an Oct. 26 press conference, conservation groups Greenpeace Africa, Green Development Advocates (GDA), and Support Service for Grassroots Development Initiatives (SAILD) said Camvert bulldozers have been clearing stretches of forest for new plantations in this ecologically sensitive area of southwestern Cameroon.

Camvert previously cleared forest in this same area without the required permits in 2019.

According to GDA coordinator Aristide Chacgom, the minister of forestry and wildlife granted Camvert the right to sell timber harvested in the process of extending its oil palm plantation near Campo Ma’an on Feb. 16. But at the time the permits were issued, the company did not have rights to a concession for the designated area. Camvert only secured the required presidential clearance for a provisional concession in this area on March 7.

Map of FMU 09-025, the national park, and existing plantations. Image by Mongabay via Global Forest Watch.

Community leaders and NGOs have challenged the reclassification of this important tract of forest. The concession sits to the south of areas of intense deforestation for existing palm and rubber plantations owned and operated by agroindustry giants Socapalm and Hevecam. To the west, it shares a 50-kilometer (31-mile) boundary with Campo Ma’an National Park, which is home to 26 species of medium and large mammals, including elephants, buffalos, great apes, panthers and pangolins.

“According to the regulations, the opposite should have happened; in order to give a legal basis justifying the sales of logs at this period. The minister has put the cart before the horse,” Chacgom said. The conservation groups also pointed out that four of the timber permits cover areas outside the boundaries of Camvert’s concession.

Stella Tchoukep, Greenpeace’s Congo Basin forest campaigner, told Mongabay that if Camvert is allowed to continue, up to 39,923 hectares (98,652 acres) of forest could be lost. Forest Management Unit 09-025 was selectively logged between 2005 and 2016; sustainable forestry practice would be to allow it to recover for 30 years, serving as a buffer zone for the adjacent national park.

“This forest is important for the environment and biodiversity as well as for the Indigenous peoples and local communities who live there,” Tchoukep said. Greenpeace Africa has previously said Camvert’s activities disturb foraging forest elephants and increase crop raiding of residents’ fields.

“With the COP27 on climate change and the COP17 on biodiversity [about to begin], we are asking our government not for promises but for achievements,” she added.

Reached by Mongabay for comment, Camvert project management officer Bobbo Mamoudou denied the accusations of forest clearing, but declined to comment further.

Win for Côte d’Ivoire against cocoa-driven deforestation, but not for Ghana

ABIDJAN — Côte d’Ivoire recorded a 47% reduction in deforestation in 2021, according to the United Nations Development Program, which attributed this in large part to a public-private partnership under the Cocoa and Forest Initiative (CFI) adopted in 2017.

This CFI strategy centers on a ban on further clearing of forests for cocoa plantations, aiming to improve the sustainability of cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and neighboring Ghana. CFI partners have agreed to eliminate illegal cocoa production in national parks and reserves, as well as ensure stricter enforcement of national forest policies and develop alternative livelihoods for affected farmers.

The initiative’s efforts to travel across cocoa-producing regions to explain to farmers the importance of growing cocoa without further damaging forests appear to be bearing fruit. In February, the Ivorian minister of water and forests said the deforestation in his country from 2019-2021 averaged 26,000 hectares (64,200 acres) per year, just one-tenth the average recorded between 1990 and 2015. He credited the Cocoa and Forest Initiative, as well as other programs, including REDD+, for this improvement.

“This decrease in deforestation is a positive signal that highlights the important efforts of the government to make every effort to completely reverse the trend in the coming years,” U.S.-based advocacy group Mighty Earth wrote in a report on cocoa-related deforestation.

There’s been less progress on this front in Ghana, however. Drawing on satellite images, Mighty Earth’s report showed Ghana lost an average of nearly 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres) of forest each year between 2019 and 2020. The Rainforest Trust said this was caused by a lack of control of agricultural practices, an increase in mining activity, as well as firewood collection and illegal hunting.

Planting project aims to restore Malawi’s cycads on their mountain home

Conservation groups in Malawi are raising thousands of seedlings of the Mulanje cycad (Encephalartos gratus), an ancient tree species that’s playing a key part in wider efforts to restore degraded forests around Mount Mulanje.

Around 34,000 seeds have been collected this year from plants in the wild, and around 29,000 seedlings raised in nurseries, said Carl Bruessow, director of the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT).

Between January and March, the trust’s partner, Green Malata, produced more than 18,000 seedlings and distributed them to local communities to plant.

Community involvement is key to the success of the project. This includes support from locals in looking after mature cycads.

“You can be walking inside villages and you’ll come across 6-meter-high [20-foot] cycads growing there naturally,” Bruessow said. “We keep on telling people what is special about this cycad is that it’s only found in Mulanje and does have a story about it that’s interesting.”

The cycad plays a unique ecological role by hosting a weevil responsible for its pollination, and a rare species of moth — the Mulanje tiger moth (Callioratis grandis) — whose caterpillars feed exclusively on its long, spiny leaves.

Mulanje cycads are a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List, threatened by the loss of its evergreen forest habitat on the wetter eastern slopes of the mountain and the brachystegia woodland on the drier western slopes. The cycads are now found only in a few concentrated sites of less than 1 hectare (2.5 acres) in size.

The trust is working to join these two populations together by planting cycads on either side of a tarmac road linking the east side of the mountain to the west side. “That’ll be the belt that joins the two,” Bruessow said.

It’s likely to take two years of intensive planting. The project began last year with funding from the Abu Dhabi-based Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

A phalanx of green cycad seedlings in black plastic bags at a nursery. Image courtesy Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust. 
Year-old Mulanje cycad seedlings at a nursery run by the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust. Image courtesy Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust.

The cycad conservation work comes as the MMCT is applying to take over management of the Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve from Malawi’s Department of Forestry. This will see the trust also undertake strong forest restoration work on the mountain’s lower slopes, where the woodlands have been degraded by firewood collection and charcoal burning.

“Our forest restoration strategy is around assisted natural regeneration,” Bruessow said.

“It means that these fairly degraded zones are going to be given a chance to rebound with what they have in their soil and from their root stock, and we will enrich them with plants that we see that are missing. Cycads will be one of the plants.”

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