The realisation of social development projects by logging companies in forest communities: a reality or a utopia?
November 24, 2019
Article provided by Eco-Dev - RFUK's local partner in Cameroon
Rainforests are among the richest ecosystems in the world and have a vital importance for the populations who live within them. They are home to approximately 30 million people and provide livelihood subsistence to a 75 million people. The products of these forests (fruit, mushrooms, fish, small game etc.) constitute a large part of the livelihood needs of these populations, in food and medicines.
Due to this diversified resource base, there are a number of different stakeholders active at various levels within the rainforest, one of which are logging companies. Loggers may be individuals working alone or working for a company that logs timber for trade, within the country, or abroad. Forest exploitation, when not carried out in compliance with laws and standards, can cause significant damage to the environment and can compromise considerably the livelihoods of the rural and indigenous people who live in, and depend on forests. Under agreements called Social Responsibility Agreements (SRAs), loggers are legally required to comply with, and carry out, local development projects for communities that are neighbouring the areas of rainforest being harvested. This is largely in compensation for the losses that their harvesting activities have on the community, in terms of the supply of timber and non-timber forest resources and provision of climatic services (the regulation of temperature and seasons by the forests). Although largely insufficient, this compensation system makes it possible to secure certain contributions to the local development of communities that are impacted by the logging of their forests.
The Cameroonian forest law stipulates that part of the income derived from the sale of forest products must benefit impacted communities through the realisation of social development projects. The realisation of these social development projects is a legal obligation for forest title holders in Cameroon and is managed through a regulated process that ensures the participation of beneficiary communities in the choice of investments and activities to be undertaken by the logging company, as well as the possibility to renegotiate the various agreement clauses. These projects, in accordance with related legislation, may include, for example, the development of infrastructure (community centres, schools, community housing, health centres, boreholes etc.) and the refurbishment of existing infrastructure and services (transport, healthcare, education etc.).
In practice, however, the realisation of social development projects is often considered as a compensatory and non-binding favour, of which the modalities are often decided without any real involvement or participation of the communities concerned. In this way, these legal obligations are not systematically respected. This is particularly the case for local populations in the Yoko arrondissement in the Mbam-et-Kim locality (Central Cameroon region), as evidenced by a mission report produced by EcoDev in July 2019 within the framework of the project “Embedding community real time monitoring to sustain livelihoods and forests in Central and West Africa (2018-2021)”, financed by UK aid.
EcoDev, in partnership with the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK), and the Cameroonian NGO, Forêts et Dévelopement Rural (FODER), is implementing ForestLink Real-Time Monitoring (RTM). This initiative trains and equips local communities on the collection and transmission of alerts of forest illegalities or the violation of their rights, thanks to a mobile application (Collectaur) and a custom-designed transmission kit which connects local communities with the relevant authorities. RTM also supports participating communities’ capacities to better advocate for their rights: they are supported in the monitoring of compliance to SRAs, which is highly relevant in the context of weak institutional and legal frameworks on these issues.
Ecosystèmes et Développement (ECODEV) is a Cameroonian environmental organisation that works for a world in which forest and marine ecosystems are managed sustainably whilst continuing to fulfil their natural functions and services necessary for humankind. Their core domains of work are:
- Natural resource governance
- Climate change resiliance
- Sustainable agriculture
- Participatory and responsible management
- Community health
The ForestLink Real-Time Monitoring (RTM) initiative has been developed by RFUK and deployed in Cameroon in partnership with FODER since 2015. It has resulted in the denunciation of numerous cases of non-compliance with SRAs by logging companies. In the Mbam-et-Kim locality, forest exploitation coupled with the non-compliance to legal requirements for logging, not only weakens the ecotone ecosystem (the transition zone between forest and savannah), in which these forests are located, but also accentuates the state of impoverishment of local communities who find themselves helpless in the face of uncertainties due to climate change: changes to temperatures and cropping seasons.
Local communities interviewed by EcoDev in the Yoko arrondissement of Mbam-et-Kim (Central Cameroon region) have highlighted the sense of abandonment they feel in the face of “untouchable” logging companies, particularly in relation to the realisation of social development projects.
According to a member of the community Guervoum: “The deforesting of our forests do not bring us anything. Since it started, we have been seeing logging trucks leaving every day loaded with timber and when we approach the operators to inquire about the benefits that their activities will bring to our community, we are told to contact the Mayor, who in turn has nothing to tell us of the situation. I wonder when this situation will change. Some community members are often intimidated by the administration and the outside elite when they try and make demands.”
“The need for justice is crucial and above all, urgent!” says Chretien Belibi, project manager at EcoDev.
EcoDev supports local communities in their claims to require companies to meet their commitments. By not carrying out the social development projects to which they have committed themselves in order to obtain their forest title, companies turn to illegality. This is compromising the achievement of national and international objectives such as those related to the Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) between Cameroon and the European Union on forest law, enforcement, governance and trade (FLEGT) which aim to stop illegal logging.
A number of actions must be taken to influence policies and practices at the local level, so that communities bordering forestlogging concessions benefit from the realisation of the social development projects they have been promised. Ecodev recommends:
- Increasing awareness of communities and other local actors in the forestry sector on legal provisions for logging and the recognition of the rights of local populations;
- Training and equipping community leaders in advocacy;
- Supporting communities in developing contextualised and unbiased advocacy plans;
- Establishing a multi-stakeholder consultation framework on the respect of social and environmental obligations by logging operators;
- Follow-up of resolutions taken at multi-stakeholder meetings.
The issue of Social Responsibility Agreements and the realisation of social development projects by logging companies remains one of the major challenges for forest communities. The implementation and deployment of the ForestLink Real-Time Monitoring initiative in the Yoko arrondissement is an effective way to support communities in their rights.
 Michel Merlet, 2013. Gouvernance des forêts du Cameroun. AGTER. P6
 Loi N° 94/01 du 20 Janvier 1994 portant régime des forêts, de la faune et de la pêche
 Arrêté Conjoint N° MINAT/MINEFI 000122 du 29 avril 1998, fixant les modalités d’emploi des revenus provenant de l’exploitation forestière et destinés aux communautés villageoises riveraines
 ForestLink is an innovative system that allows communities, wherever located in the world, to collect and transmit, in real-time, geo-referenced alerts of forest infractions, to authorities and relevant stakeholders – even in remote areas without mobile or internet connectivity.