Palm oil wiping out Africa's great ape rainforests

| 24th February 2015
Thousands of hectares of prime rainforest habitat for chimpanzees, drills, gorillas and other primates are being wiped out as agribusiness advances across Cameroon. Photo (Chimp Eden Sanctuary): Afrika Force via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Thousands of hectares of prime rainforest habitat for chimpanzees, drills, gorillas and other primates are being wiped out as agribusiness advances across Cameroon. Photo (Chimp Eden Sanctuary): Afrika Force via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
The rainforest habitat of chimpanzees and other great apes is being destroyed by the expansion of palm oil projects in central Africa, according to new evidence from Greenpeace.
If proactive strategies to mitigate the effects of large-scale habitat conversion are not soon implemented, we can expect a rapid decline in African primate diversity

Satellite images obtained by Greenpeace Africa show that more than 3,000 hectares of rainforest bordering the Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon's Southern region have been destroyed.

The cleared forest, until now home to western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and mandrills, lies inside the Chinese-owned Hevea Sud rubber and palm oil concession.

The land was granted to the company even though it lies next to Dja Faunal Reserve, which is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The plantation lies in the home district of Cameroonian president Paul Biya.

UNESCO has previously requested for an inspection to be carried out to assess if any damage has been done to the Dja reserve, but permission was denied by local authorities.

"If proactive strategies to mitigate the effects of large-scale habitat conversion are not soon implemented, we can expect a rapid decline in African primate diversity", said Dr Joshua Linder, an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at James Madison University.

"Agro-industrial developments will soon emerge as a top threat to biodiversity in the African tropical forest zone."

A growing trend of agro-destruction

The forest clearance is significantly greater than that carried out by US company Herakles Farms for their palm oil project in the country's South West region that has also deforested vital wildlife habitat and deprived local communities of the forest they depend on for their livelihoods.

A Greenpeace Africa investigation in December revealed that Cameroonian company Azur is also targeting a large area of dense forest in Cameroon's Littoral region to convert to a palm oil plantation.

A large part of the area at risk is adjacent to the Ebo forest, a proposed national park that is used by forest elephants and many primate species. These include the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee sub-species and the rare and endangered drill.

Greenpeace Africa has twice written to Azur asking they detail their plans and allay environmental concerns over the project, but no response has been provided.

Industrial-scale agricultural concessions, many foreign-owned, are often allocated throughout West and Central Africa without proper land-use planning. This frequently generates social conflicts when forest clearance takes place without prior consent of local communities.

This can result in severe negative ecological impacts and effects on endangered wildlife species as many concessions overlap with forest areas of high biodiversity value.

Headed to extinction if trends continue

The Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee is one of the most endangered primates in the world and faces numerous threats including destruction of habitat from illegal logging, poaching, the bush meat trade and the effects of climate change.

If proactive strategies to mitigate the effects of large-scale habitat conversion are not soon implemented, we can expect a rapid decline in African primate diversity

The drill is a rare ape and 80% of the world's remaining population is in Cameroon and Azur's plantation project may lead to even more habitat destruction of this already endangered primate

"Governments need to urgently develop a participatory land use planning process prior to the allocation of industrial concessions", said Filip Verbelen, a senior forest campaigner with Greenpeace Belgium.

"Projects that are being developed without adequate community consultation and are located in areas of high ecological value should not be allowed to proceed and risk further social conflict and environmental damage."

The Congo Basin is the world's second largest rainforested area. Its rich and diverse ecosystem provides food, fresh water, shelter and medicine for tens of millions of people. The conservation of these forests is vital in the fight against climate change but the area is increasing under threat from rising global demand for resources, corruption and poor law enforcement.

EuroParl palm oil vote today promises weak reforms

Meanwhile the drive to clear ever more land for palm oil plantations is being driven in part by the EU's policy to require 10% of transport fuels to come from 'renewable' sources such as ethanol from sugar and vegetable oils.

MEPs today voted to reform EU biofuels policy, placing a 6% cap on their use. However as biofuels now account for 4.7% of transport fuel in the EU, this will still drive an increase in their use, and the associated deforestation.

They also voted to require an account to be made of biofuels' full impact on climate change - but decided to wait five years before it happens, until 2020!

Kenneth Richter, biofuels campaigner at Friends of the Earth said: "MEPs are right to call for changes to the EU's disastrous biofuels policy, but the proposed reforms don't go far enough. Current biofuels policy is destroying forests, sending food prices soaring and may even be causing an increase in climate-changing pollution."

 


 

Satellite images: Forest Cover Change Assessment.

 

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