Massaha’s fight to protect their ancestral forests in Gabon

March 8, 2022

RFUK, Forest Peoples Programme and Greenpeace Africa have today written to the Gabonese Minister of Water, Forests, Oceans, Environment, Climate Change and Land-use Planning, Lee White, to call for an immediate halt to illegal logging in the village of Massaha’s ancestral forests, and to support its claim to establish a community-managed protected area.

The community’s repeated requests to the ministry to address multiple reports of illegal logging by the company Transport Bois Négoce International (TBNI) in its forest management concession unit FMU-2, located on the Makoko-Mekambo road, have been largely met with silence. The alleged illegalities include a lack of social and environmental impact studies, a failure to establish a fair benefit-sharing arrangement with the village and destruction of sensitive sites (a full list has been compiled in a table that is annexed to the letter).

“The area that is in TBNI’s permit contains our ancestral villages. It’s an entire history that risks being stolen. Thus our alarm call. We have faith in the Ministry.”

H.B Betotobiaya, Gabonese evening news April 14, 2021

Destroyed ancestral village.
Destroyed ancestral village.

Apparently emboldened, the company and its subcontractor Wan Chuan Timber Sarl (WCTS), are now moving to exploit the intact forest to the South of the Liboumba River. This threatens up to 11,300 hectares of the community’s ancestral land, several sacred sites and an area of significant bio-cultural importance with populations of the African Forest Elephant, Lowland Gorilla, Chimpanzee and Giant Pangolin recorded there.

Faced with these threats, we fully support Massaha’s ongoing efforts to establish a community-managed protected area there. This kind of initiative offers an important alternative to the militarised strict conservation model prevalent across much of Gabon and the wider region that has led to severe human rights impacts.

This comes at a time when Gabon’s efforts to present itself as an environmental leader in the region have been called into question. Last year it was awarded an initial payment of $17 million from the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in 2016-17, even though data from the FAO and Global Forest Watch shows that primary forest loss actually increased in these years, with deforestation reaching its third highest level since 2001. There are also several big extractive industry, agribusiness and infrastructure projects earmarked for ecologically sensitive parts of the country while plans to make Gabon the first country to certify all of its logging concessions to the FSC label have been delayed to 2025. 

Joe Eisen, RFUK Executive Director, said

“The situation that Massaha is facing belies Gabon’s status as a so-called environmental leader in the region. We therefore urge the government to immediately cease logging activities in the concession until such time that the alleged legal breaches have been fully investigated and fully support the community’s legal claim to protect its ancestral forests.”

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