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REDD+ to the rescue of Central Africa’s forests? Not yet, study says

The economics of conservation still aren't working for smallholders.
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An oil palm plantation in southwestern Cameroon. Flore de Preneuf/PROFOR photo
An oil palm plantation in southwestern Cameroon. Flore de Preneuf/PROFOR photo

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NAIROBI, Kenya—Enforcing sustainable logging and assigning a monetary value to the carbon stored in forest concessions managed under the REDD+ mechanism will not be enough to curb deforestation in Central Africa.

Across the Congo Basin it is more profitable to cut down the forest and replace it with cash crops, and REDD+ schemes (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) are of little help to reverse this trend, according to a new study.

Scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and CIRAD, a French agricultural and development research center, worked together to investigate the profitability of different uses of forest land in the Republic of Congo and Cameroon. The research was part of the FORAFAMA project to support the sustainable management of forests in the Congo Basin and the Brazilian Amazon Basin, funded by the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM).

Research revealed the extent to which concessions in Cameroon and Congo are threatened by the push for agro-industrial plantations, primarily rubber and oil palm.

In Cameroon, for example, 10 forest logging concessions, 14 forest reserves and six protected areas are under threat from existing industrial plantations seeking to expand. The threat is smaller and less immediate in Congo, involving just two significant projects to promote cocoa and oil palm plantations. But it is likely that in both countries, future agro-industrial projects will intensify the risk to and the loss of, permanent forests.

The negotiations at the next COP in Paris will have a crucial influence on the carbon price

Guillaume Lescuyer

Guillaume Lescuyer, a CIRAD scientist working with CIFOR, and one of the authors of the study, says that new ways must be sought to increase the financial value of logging concessions to lessen the threat.

“Unfortunately, with the current prices on the carbon markets, REDD+ does not bring significant additional benefits,” he said. “It is more promising to look at agroforestry or artisanal logging to be combined with industrial logging to enhance the financial values of concessions. Organizing a credible multiple-use forest management inside logging concessions is a major challenge.”

WHY AGRO-INDUSTRIAL EXPANSION?

There are many reasons for the dramatic expansion of cash crop production—both industrially and by smallholders—in the two countries.

“First of all, industrial agriculture is seen as a major driver of economic development strategies that countries in the Congo Basin have adopted in recent years,” Lescuyer said. “It’s seen as a way to generate formal employment opportunities, increase government revenues and exports, and as a contribution to national development.”

Many national and multinational companies are ready to invest large amounts of money in agro-industrial oil palm and rubber projects in the region and profit from rising prices for these commodities on international markets.

But there is more to it than that.

Cash crops also offer the opportunity to secure—and sometimes to grab—land holdings, with the aim of making a profitable investment.  As a result, projects involving agro-industrial expansion can garner favor with national authorities and other potential investors.

Cash crops are generally more profitable than logging if the timber from a forest concession is harvested sustainably, the study found. In Cameroon, for example, the rubber from one hectare of an industrial plantation was nearly six times as valuable, at USD 8,045, as the timber from a hectare of a sustainably managed forest concession, with a value of USD 1,408 (see below):


The price is right: Value per land use

Use of forest land
in Cameroon
Net present value (USD)
per hectare
Rubber (industrial plantation) 8,045
Rubber (smallholder) 3,759
Oil palm (industrial plantation) 2,999
Oil palm (smallholder) 5,699
Cocoa (smallholder) 427
Timber (from sustainably managed concession) 1,408

With the exception of smallholder cocoa production in Cameroon, cash crops were more profitable than timber harvested from sustainably managed concessions.

REDD+ AND PROFIT

Given the importance of the forests in the Congo Basin in mitigating climate change, the study highlights that even when the value of the carbon stored by a hectare of sustainably managed forest concessions is added to the value of the timber, the economics of the production don’t change. The net present value of carbon stored on a hectare of forest concessions is just USD 113, still not enough to give sustainably managed forest concessions a financial edge over agro-industrial expansion in the Congo Basin.

However, Lescuyer indicates that it is too early to discard REDD+ for the benefit of sustainable forest management in the Congo Basin.

“For REDD+ to be able to come to the rescue of the forests in the region, there is a need for the value for carbon on the global market to increase dramatically,” he said.  “The recent commitments of China and the U.S. to better tackling climate change are a good signal. The negotiations at the next COP in Paris will have a crucial influence on the carbon price.”

For more information on the topics of this article, please contact Guillaume Lescuyer at g.lescuyer@cgiar.org.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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