Thoughts on Partnership Agreements between NGOs and logging companies
and on meeting the FSC criteria on sustainable logging.I read with great interest John Robinson's comments in the New York Times article on Mandarills and Bushmeat, which was recently posted on this list.
"...... but Dr. Robinson and his colleagues are taking steps while the numbers still offer hope for a creature that loves a crowd.
"Among other things, the scientists are negotiating to expand the list of criteria that a logging company must meet if its wood is to be sanctioned as 'sustainable.' By current practice, wood is certified as sustainable if a logging company cuts down only so many trees a year, avoids clear cutting and replants a certain percentage of what it takes.
"The market for such environmentally correct wood is growing faster than you can say 'chain saw.' Home Depot, the chain of home-improvement stores, has announced that it will buy sustainable wood whenever possible. Conservationists would like to append 'sensitivity to wildlife' to the certification process, a stipulation that would impel logging companies to keep commercial hunters off their roads."
Having seen John Oates' feedback on the accuracy of the statements, attributed to him, in the same article, it might be that John Robinson was not happy either with the way he was quoted.
Irrespective of that I would like to take this opportunity to raise the issue of partnership agreements between conservation NGO's and logging companies - on the bush meat front that is. And since, at least in Africa, WCS has done some pioneering work, I thought I might take advantage of John's comments to present some view points which so far have not been part of the debate.
Missing from the quoted statment was the crucial fact that not a single cubic meter of FSC certified timber comes out of Africa.
The African logging industry has for some time been involved in the DISCUSSION on the possiblity of trying to live up to FSC criteria. In the end, one of the prominent loggers in Gabon almost got certified for one section of a concession while at the same time, in another part of their operations, they were logging in a National Reserve.
Since then, prominent loggers operating in Central Africa have stated that FSC criteria are not feasible and that a new set should be put forward which, supposedly, African loggers might have a chance to live up to.
FSC criteria were discussed for quite a few years, and I am sure the same will happen with any new proposals. By then another decade will have gone by and another third of central African forests will have been logged unsustainably.
In the meantime, some of the players will continue to hide behind these negotiations which, in my opinion, are nothing more than delaying tactics. And while they are discussing a new approach to certification, there are loggers (like the one WCS is working with) who consider themselves already kind of "certified" on the grounds that "they have a close collaboration agreement with a prominent conservation NGO." Indeed, this very terminology goes into every single letter and statement they write, discussing sustainable logging and wildlife managment.
I wonder how much further the bar is going to be lowered. Should cooperation agreements be signed with loggers just because they are willing to TRY to somehow address the bush meat issue while at the same time they officially reject FSC criteria?
Let me recount the history, as I recall it, of the WCS/CIB agreement.
In 1995 on an investigative trip to Northern Congo and Cameroon, a WSPA representative and I were filming lorries carrying CIB timber and also carrying gorilla meat. We filmed gorilla legs and arms being removed from the engine compartment where they were stored. (On the next trip we witnessed a silverback gorilla being sold to a lorry driver coming from Congo.) The new road put in by CIB to transport their timber via Cameroon from Sucambo had resulted in some six new hunting camps being put up.
When some of this footage went out on CNN the reaction by CIB was to close their airstrip to a BBC crew who at the time were at Ndoki, assuming the footage had come from them.
Next it seems they decided to go on the offensive. They called all the players together at their main Northern Congo base of Pokola and signed a Protocol d'accord with all parties concerned (including officials of CIB and WCS).
The protocol first condemns the unfair media attacks on CIB and goes on saying that if they continued, the concession might be closed and and all the workers present would lose their jobs ... To avoid that it was agreed to stop the hunting of protected species (listed were only gorillas, chimps and elephants) and commerical hunting. However at the same time the people's "traditional rights to bush meat" was officially confirmed. However these rights now suddenly covered an estimated population of more than 15,000 people living at Pokola, with the logger later noting that on his arrival there were only 150 people living in the area.
There was no reference of any kind as to who would enforce the new rules; as to what would happen to the six months closed hunting season; or as to the national laws concerning cable snares and the ownership of guns, ammunition etc. Instead more than 15,000 people had their rights confirmed to traditonal bushmeat, supposedly seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Copies of this agreement were mailed to a wide range of parties by the logger, supposedly illustrating the progressivness of CIB and its problem solving capacity.
In subsequent years, media representatives and conservationists asked to be invited to see the result of this agreement. To the best of my knowledge all such requests were rejected, although Mr. Stoll of CIB keeps referring to some exclusive rights having been granted to BBC (which they do not seem to be aware of).
One US based producer was invited after confirming in writing to the ministry that they would only show "the beauty and conservation success story associated with this beautiful part of the world and would be accompanied by a WCS representative every step of the way".
In June 1999 the executive summary of a report supposedly demonstrating successful bush meat control in another section of the CIB concession was circulated. (see below)
In July of 1999, Mike Fay of WCS and Mr. Stoll of CIB took that document to Mr. Wolfensohn, the president of the World Bank. The message was that the logging CEO meetings initiated by Mr. Wolfensohn were working and that the resulting collaboration agreement had resulted in bushmeat hunting having largely been brought under control in this one corner of the concession.
It would appear that little reference was made to the fact that this new "successful" pilot project avoided considering what was happening at Pokola with some 15,000 people and instead focused on some small villages with a few hundred people.
It would also appear that the full report to go with this "executive summary" is still not yet available. However one of the report's author confirmed, in an E_mail, that I had indeed identified a problem area when I asked if the elephant guns confiscated were still under lock and key. You can take some snares from the little guys but the elephant guns do not belong to the little guy.
I had also wondered what the displacement factor associated with this "success" story might be. Any sensible hunter would go next door after having a snare line confiscated.
Several media representatives, including journalists from CNN and ZDF asked again to document this new success story. They were denied on the grounds that the partners in this project had decided to carry out this project under the exclusion of any media.
Curious about this lack of transparency, we sent a local hunter with a small camera in to document what he would find. He did not get to Kabo but filmed extensively at Pokola where it became very clear that little had changed. Yes, there were barriers and, yes, there were rangers in uniform. But everybody knew how to beat and corrupt the system. Our representative was told to depart on the first lorries, before the barriers were manned at 7.00 AM; or, if he preferred, any meat he bought could be delivered behind the barriers. He was offered a gun and cartridges--no license required. One of the rangers confirmed, on camera, that there were of course "those who cheat" and that he led hunting parties every weekend to do some sport hunting. The most telling aspect, to me anyway, was however our man filming hundreds of liters of diesel fuel being stolen out of a CIB ferry.
What chance has a logger got to control bush meat if vital operating supplies, shipped in at great cost over thousands of kilometers, cannot be controllled?
Our investigator found everything very much the same as he was used to in the logging concession he hunted in Cameroon.
Around the same time as our investigator was looking around I received a proposal by another major conservation NGO to raise some US $6 million to help mitigate the bush meat problem in this same logging concession. And then the Ape Alliance was talking about matching up loggers with various conservation NGOs, once again, all supposedly based on the above success story.
I see a very disturbing trend in all this. If any German manufacturer (CIB is German owned) anywhere at home pollutes the environment and gets caught, not only will there be a fine, but corrective measures are not a voluntary option.
However for loggers in Africa, solving the bush meat problem, that they have created in their own concessions, does not seem to be considered part of the cost of doing business. Instead, the conservation establishment is ready to have the buck passed and accept responsibility, not only to mitigate the problem but also to find the money to pay for it. To me this is absurd. No multinational logger would be operating in the physically difficult and institutionally corrupt environment of Central Africa if the financial rewards were not substantial. While the loggers are raking it in, the conservation donor in the West is asked to clean up their mess.
In addition, and much more seriously, the loggers are now suddenly able to hide behind their conservation partners on the bush meat front and now it seems even the sustainable logging one.
In short, the loggers have solved a major PR problem with a well executed collaboration agreement. Any future bush meat criticism will be countered by quoting their new credentials--which surely must make them good boys. Even logging sustainably is no longer a problem. The very leverage we had of exposing the loggers' central role in the bush meat trade and forcing them to make some of these changes has been lost in return for a few unaudited pilot projects.
Moreover, major players like Mr. Wolfensohn (who probably like nobody else has the leverage to link environmental performance with donor money) are told: "We got it licked; it is nothing you need worry about any more."
If I were a logger I would open the champagne. Having overcome a major PR problem, having passed the buck on a major operational problem, having successfully divided the conservation establishment, at virtually no cost to oneself, must be getting as close to the dream deal as it gets.
During a recent loggers' CEO meeting in Zurich, attended by some representatives from the Ape Alliance, CIB suggested that a delegation of conservationists visit their project and assess their success story. Fine! Sounds good. However, the invitation came with some heavy conditions: WCS/CIB would decide who and how many could be part of the delegation; they had to come at a predetermined time suitable to CIB/WCS; they would be landing at a specific airfield with the company aircraft from which they would also take off; they would only be allowed to spend 4 days on the ground.
If ever there were any preconditions for window dressing, these surely must be them. I suggested that a counter proposal be made that would come somewhat closer to real auditing. No such luck.
I do not know how we got from (a) setting the conditions in form of the FSC criteria to (b) the other side calling all the shots. Isn't there another option? The FSC criteria are comprehensive and concise. However, most significantly the auditing is contracted to third parties and paid for by logging. Loggers have to prove to independent auditors that they deserve the certificate.
Why can't this formula be applied to wildlife management as well? Surely criteria can be established and agreed on. If necessary the conservation establishment can even assist in setting up a corresponding auditing body. But whatever the formula, whatever the criteria, the dirty work of actually sorting out the mess should be left to the ones who created it.
There is a very good chance that things have progressed too far already. Perhaps the only realistic assessment will be that it is impossible to live up to the FSC criteria in a Central African context, and perhaps the same is true for wildlife managment. Perhaps if we want sustainabilty we simply cannot endorse logging in Central Africa in any form or way. However we may no longer have such an option--in the current setting where loggers and conservation NGO's are equally needy to declare success.
I hope this opinion is accepted in the spirit it was written, and I hope that if it leads to any discussion, it can be done without being turned into a personality issue.
There is a trend developing here which I consider very disturbing. If the rest don't, I will keep my peace.
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