New RFUK Research Shows Link Between ‘Sustainable Forest Management’ and Deforestation in DRC

May 5, 2021

A new study published by RFUK establishes a clear link between selective logging and deforestation in the world’s second largest tropical forest.

Despite being synonymous with high-level corruption, illegal practices and poor relations with local communities, selective logging of timber from tropical rainforests has long been promoted in the Congo Basin as a form of sustainable forest management, and an environmentally preferable alternative to the total loss of forest through clearance for agriculture.

Our research explored this ‘use it or lose’ approach, calculating the forest loss in 60 logging concessions and eight ‘control’ areas in DRC, and found that the reality is more likely ‘use it AND lose it’. Key findings showed that:

  • There is a clear link between the establishment of commercial logging operations, and a ‘cascade of deforestation’ which can occur as much as 10-15 years after logging roads open up new forest areas to settlements and other uses. In such cases, small-scale farming may not be an underlying ‘driver’ of deforestation but a proximate cause of it.
  • Much of what has been described as deforestation is actually a system of forest loss and regrowth from rotational agricultural practices that form part of the ‘rural complex’.
  • There is an unexplained phenomena which leads to a spike in forest loss in DRC’s forests every 5 years or so. A tentative explanation offered is that the periodicity coincides with regional climate effects of the El Nino cycle.

These initial findings confirm a relationship between the existence of logging concessions and subsequent deforestation, and point to the need for more detailed and nuanced assessments of deforestation within former and current concessions as well as emerging drivers such as infrastructure development and agribusiness expansion. Already however, the overall higher-than-average deforestation occurring within concessions – in some cases by a factor of three or more – has serious implications for policy-making efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+) in DRC as well as the national logging moratorium. The evidence indicates that rather than the unjustifiably optimistic ‘use it or lose it’ maxim being applied to commercial logging in forests such as those in the Congo, the term ‘use it and lose it’ should be applied.

However, despite the upwards trend of deforestation in concessions, there are hopeful findings from the initial analysis of areas now designated as community forest concessions. There it was found that the rate of deforestation was 23% lower than the national average and 46% lower than in logging concessions, offering a better alternative to current practices, and an avenue of possibility to explore as a mainstream policy option.

RFUK Director Joe Eisen said, 

“This research further debunks the myth that industrial logging can somehow be made sustainable in DRC and elsewhere in the tropics. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent on propping the industry would be better used to empower those you live and depend on these forests.”

To view the briefing in English, click here.

To view the briefing in French, click here.

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