‘A study by the University of Wolverhampton’s Centre for International Development and Training (CIDT), has revealed that global climate goals and livelihoods of forest communities are at risk due to increased illegal logging in the forests of the Congo Basin. With the financial assistance of the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme, and the EU funded project RALFF led by Conservation Justice, CIDT carried out a survey of frontline communities impacted by the pandemic in the Congo Basin as part of its Citizen Voice for Change project (CV4C); which seeks to strengthen civil society independent forest monitoring and law enforcement in the region. The CV4C programme is co-funded by the EU and FCDO.
“We were particularly interested in understanding the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on forest illegality and on the livelihoods of forest communities and indigenous peoples”, said Dr Aurelian Mbzibain, the lead author of the study and manager of the CV4C project. He added,
“We surveyed 7000 forest dependent community members in three CV4C project intervention countries – Cameroon, Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo. The survey results clearly showed that forest dependent communities in the three countries are facing significant hardships, with the majority reporting a reduction or a total loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, Government lockdown measures made it difficult for these communities to maintain access to forest resources that they depend on for their livelihoods.”
Habiba Mohamed, a researcher on the project, explained that women participating in the study reported the most significant losses in income, and difficulty managing household expenses and their roles as caregivers.
“Findings show that the pandemic has hit women from forest dependent communities the hardest, economically, socially and psychologically”.
Many women reported an increase in fear and anxiety as informal social support groups have been banned as part of social distancing. There were also some reports of increased domestic and gender-based violence.
In addition to livelihoods impacts, the study highlights the pandemic’s influence on forest illegality. Most respondents across the three countries perceived a decline in the presence of forest control officials on the ground. Dr Mbzibain explained that consequently, “the majority of respondents had the impression that illegal logging was increasing. Not just because of the lack of government control, but also due to the perceived rise in artisanal logging by chainsaw loggers and exploitation beyond permit boundaries”. Whilst the world watches the pandemic, global climate goals are being compromised when it comes to fighting deforestation.
In respect of the illegal wildlife trade, the study had an intriguing finding, as Dr Mbzibain explains: “Our initial hypothesis was that illegal logging was likely to go hand in hand with illegal wildlife trafficking, however most respondents believe that wildlife trafficking in their communities has, in fact, declined”. Respondents had different explanations for this perception: poachers’ fear of COVID-19 as a zoonotic disease; the decrease in demand for game meat from urban areas and the limited access to transportation due to lockdown.
Finally, the report presents a set of recommendations for various key stakeholders, corresponding to the clear need for action to strengthen forest law enforcement, including a stronger role for civil society independent forest monitoring actions.