James Otto does not mince words: “Permitting the sale and export of timber from oil palm concessions will mean the end of many forests.” Liberia is home to 45 percent of the remaining Upper Guinean rainforest with its incredible biodiversity, including populations of chimpanzees and pygmy hippos. Vast swathes of land are at stake, with two corporations – Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) and Sime Darby – controlling more than 600,000 hectares. “Managers are putting considerable pressure on senior policymakers to lift the ban,” explained the environmentalist of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) in Monrovia.
According to GVL, this move will help communities make use of the timber that otherwise goes to waste when a plantation is established. The company claims that no trees are felled other than those cleared for the plantations. SDI does not believe these assertions.
In any event, both GVL and the communities would need to hire loggers, which are frequently engaged in illegal activities in Liberia. The country’s timber industry as a whole is notoriously criminal.
James Otto’s warning is prompted by Liberia’s uncertain legal situation: at present, commercial logging and timber exports are banned. Were the government to permit the sale of timber from the legal clearing of forest for oil palm concessions, it would simplify the laundering of illegal timber and dramatically increase the pressure on Liberia’s forests.
Liberia committed to protecting its forests in agreements with the UN and EU. Its international obligations would then become untenable.
Fifty international holders of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize have joined SDI in calling on Liberia’s government to prevent the export of tropical timber from plantation concessions.
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