Logging companies may assist rural development: Study
Logging companies play a key role in developing forest regions in Central Africa, a CIFOR report studying the impact of commercial forest management says.
Services in forest regions are scarce. However, because logging companies possess concessions of about 8.5 million hectares, which overlap with village land use, they have a significant presence that can be utilised for rural development, says Guillaume Lescuyer, the principal scientist of the article, “Logging concessions and local livelihoods in Cameroon: From indifference to alliance“.
“Tweaking regulations by getting logging concessions to include credible socio-economic surveys, which identify the needs of local communities, in their formal forest management plans, would help companies on the path towards integrating the needs of local communities,” Lescuyer said. “Monitoring these regulations needs to be thorough to obtain more optimal results.”
The study suggests that logging companies could integrate the needs of local communities by promoting business development strategies and the economic development of those communities.
It says that concessions can be utilised to open up rural areas, in conjunction with the state’s efforts to extend road networks, so rural communities can more easily transport products to urban market centres to accommodate the increase in food production and hunting.
Second, concession regulations could be made to facilitate the dissemination of better crop varieties and equipment, and new farming techniques, to local communities by subsidising fertilisers and implementing nurseries, for example.
Last, logging companies can work with communities to provide the latter with greater access to forest resources by recognizing communities’ rights to certain resources or certain areas outside the concessions. The article shows that in two villages, about 25 percent of rural household incomes rely on these resources.
It also says this option may prove most difficult and controversial. For many political elites in Yaounde, Cameroon, the issue of who owns the customary rights to land and resources is a sensitive one.
“From their point of view, this option would jeopardise the formal authority of the state over the management of forest and land for the benefit of the whole country,” Lescuyer said.
The rules to manage the ecological, economic and social sustainability of forests are, however, sufficient, the article recognises. But macro- and micro-level analyses show that the direct impacts of sustainable forest concessions on local livelihoods are low as implementing the rules are at best superficial, or not followed.
For example, regulations stipulate that logging companies must involve local people at various stages of the management process and compensate the communities with an amount equivalent to 10 percent of the annual forestry fee.
The report notes this is not adhered to. Further, the impact these rules have on local livelihoods is minimal.
Lescuyer also believes logging companies are important to defuse the tension associated with clarifying forest tenure rights, and this would also benefit them by decreasing the level of opposition to their logging activities from affected communities.
“Logging companies should first acknowledge that they are harvesting timber in areas that have traditionally been managed by local communities,” said Lescuyer. “This does not have to result in formalising traditional ownership of forest lands, and it should not mean that local communities can claim whatever they want from the logging company.”
Rather, he says, “It should serve as a basis or stepping point for initiating discussions between the two groups of stakeholders and in improving the livelihoods of affected populations.”
Lescuyer said there was a high correlation between promoting rural development and increased deforestation rates.
“Stakeholders should commit to assisting economic development only as long as it is restricted to non-permanent forest areas. In Central Africa, there is still room for such arrangements without intruding into areas with high-conservation value,” he said.