Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Local Communities Empowered as VPA Project Goes Operational

Illegal Logging in the Congo Basin is Rife
(NewsWatch Cameroon)-According to the World Bank, an estimated $10-15 billion is annually lost worldwide due to illegal logging, with close to $5 billion lost due to corruption resulting from the failure to collect taxes and royalties on legally sanctioned timber harvests. In the opinion of the officials of that institution, , such losses of state revenue prevent the timber-rich Congo Basin governments from meeting development goals.
Poor and disadvantaged communities suffer the most from poor governance of the forest sector, especially as they are denied active participation in decision-making processes concerning their land and resources.
It was against this backdrop of increasing loss of revenue and the lack of concern for the rights of indigenous peoples in forest exploitation that the project for the implementation of the Congo Basin Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) championing Peoples’ Rights and Participation was put in place.
The project also seeks to contribute to strong inclusive VPA processes that guide and frame effective implementation of Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) in Cameroon and in the Central African Republic. Moreover, it aims at ensuring that the capacity of civil society organizations (CSO) and indigenous peoples is built through contributing to development as well as through the implementation and monitoring of VPAs.
The project which will be implemented by some six NGOs and CSOs for a period of 30 months was launched in the presence of members of government and the diplomatic corps in Yaounde on Wednesday March 26, 2014.
Denis Koulagna Koutou, Secretary General at the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife who chaired the launching ceremony on behalf of his Minister pointed out that the VPA signed by the government and the EU included a clause stipulating that local communities and all stakeholders must be consulted. The launching of the Congo Basin VPA Implementation project championing Peoples’ Rights and Participation is therefore in line with government’s agreement with the EU. “During the implementation of this project, we will always have to consult the local communities and this will be through the civil society”
The VPA was signed in 2010 and was expected to go operational in 2013”, the Secretary General said. “We took time because there were some adjustments that had to be made. With this kind of commitment, you need to have tools so that you can attract the wood from the forest to the ports. We were able to do that but this project could not go well because we did not have a tool that could trace Cameroonian wood”.
According to the Project Manager, Dr. Aurelian Mbzibain, the initiative is working with the two national NGOs CED and FODER as well as with others in the Central African Republic.
As regards how the project will incorporate indigenous forest people, the project manager said:
 “Our national partners have longstanding experience in working with forest communities and it is important to understand that culturally, many of these communities have a right to self-representation. It is a gradual process of working with them to ensure that a system of representation is put in place”.
The project is led by the University of Wolverhampton’s Centre for International Development and Training in the United Kingdom, with 80% of funding from the European Union and DFID UK.
Karl Rawert, head of the Environment and Rural Development section of the European Union Delegation in Cameroon said “the EU has a longstanding engagement for the protection of the environment and particularly the protection of the rain forest in Central Africa and elsewhere”.
The Congo Basin VPA project championing Forest Peoples’ Rights and an associated Participation Project was evaluated last year amongst several others and was deemed worthy of financing by the EU.
By Ndi Eugene Ndi in Yaounde

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