Following the success of two previous such gatherings at our trustees’ home, we hosted a salon on the Future of Africa’s Forests last Tuesday evening.
Simon Counsell, Director of Rainforest Foundation UK provided an excellent overview of threats to forests and their inhabitants in the Congo Basin – particularly as the palm oil companies that were once responsible for widespread deforestation and biodiversity-loss in Malaysia and Indonesia are beginning to operate there.
Silas Siakor, a campaigner from Sustainable Development Institute then discussed the situation in Liberia, telling us about the challenges faced by communities on the ground whose land is being signed off by the government to large palm oil companies without their knowledge or involvement.
While the information about the risks of and processes around deforestation was overwhelming at times, both speakers gave reason for hope. They described how communities are mobilizing, growing in strength and becoming more vocal – often effectively so. In Liberia, for example, around 70,000 hectares of forest have been authorized for palm oil expansion; only 10,000 hectares have been cleared and developed into plantations thanks to the concerted efforts of communities.
It was reassuring to hear that supporting communities in this way can prove so powerful in preventing deforestation. The speakers highlighted the other necessary interventions including the protection of land-rights, agricultural reform, improved forest governance, better consumer information – all of which are supported or planned within our philanthropic portfolio.
The discussion that followed was incredibly wide-ranging – guests were able to bring their own professional perspectives into play when discussing the problems in more detail. We hope to build on the energy, passion and thoughtfulness we encountered on Tuesday to raise greater awareness of and support for addressing some of the largest drivers of tropical rainforest deforestation today.
Since the salon, there have been further developments in other parts of the Congo Basin. Just this week, after years of controversy surrounding a proposed palm oil plantation in Cameroon, the Cameroonian government has ordered Herakles Farms to suspend all logging at its main worksite at Talangaye, in the Nguti region of the country.