The Congo rainforest of central Africa
The vast forest of the Congo Basin is the second largest tropical rainforest on earth and the lungs of Africa. Its incredibly rich and diverse ecosystem provides food, fresh water, shelter and medicine for tens of millions of people, and is home to many critically endangered species including forest elephants, gorillas, bonobos and okapis. Of the hundreds of mammal species discovered there so far, 39 are found nowhere else on Earth, and of its estimated 10,000 plant species, 3,300 are unique to the region.
It also helps to sustain life across the whole planet. An estimated 8% of the earth’s carbon that is stored in living forests worldwide is stored in the forests of the DRC, making the country the fourth largest carbon reservoir in the world. The Congo Basin rainforest plays a critical role in regulating the global climate and halting runaway climate change, for the benefit of the entire biosphere.
But the forest, and the people and animals that depend upon it, are under threat as the unquenchable global thirst for natural resources, crops and foodstuffs means African lands are, more than ever, a target for investors.
The increased international demand for commodities and natural resources has led to large scale industrial logging, which is devastating the rainforest and the people and animals that live there.
Greenpeace opened an office in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008, to step up our work for the protection of the Congo’s intact forests, as well as of the rights and livelihood of the indigenous and local peoples depending on them.
Since then, we have been working on the ground to document and expose the plundering of the Congo basin by international logging firms, and advocating for the stricter regulation of forest concessions and for maintaining the existing moratorium on logging activities.
Palm oil’s new frontier
The Congo Basin is the target of several international palm oil developers, who are looking to expand their operations in Africa. Concession contracts are currently being negotiated for a million hectares of land in Cameroon alone. Most of this land is located within the rainforest region, meaning that palm oil plantations would be a major cause of wide-scale deforestation if allowed to go ahead.
Though not significant global producers, palm oil has a long and rich history in Africa and the lives and traditions of local communities on the continent. When done sustainably and within well-managed and diverse agroforestry systems, the production of palm oil can help ensure food security for millions of Africans as well as boost growth and stimulate local economies.
People and forests first
This is a crucial time for the Congo Basin: as palm oil expansion in Africa is only just beginning, we have a small window in which to stop its magnificent standing forests from suffering the same fate as Indonesia’s rainforests, which have been decimated by endless palm oil plantations. Action must be taken now to ensure that palm oil in Africa does not develop at the expense of the livelihoods of local residents, local food security and biodiversity.
By following a low-carbon development path, the Congo Basin region can protect its forests, respect the rights of its forest communities and achieve food sovereignty and economic development – all while helping above all to protect the global climate.