By Francis Tim Mbom
Cameroon is already two years behind time in the commitment it took in 2012with the European Union to start issuing Voluntary Partnership Agreement focused on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade, VPA-FLEGT, licences for every timber or wood products leaving Cameroon for the European market.
Barthelemy Tchepnang, Director of a Limbe based NGO and one of his assistants, Charly Tonifor, told reporters in Limbe on October 17, that Cameroon, though having signed the agreement in 2010 and ratified it in 2011, was still to issue the first FLEGT licence as required by one of the clauses in the VPA-FLEGT agreement.
“The Action Plan between Cameroon and European Union shows that the first FLEGT licence was supposed to be issued in 2012,” they said. ”But this licence has not yet been issued,” they added.
They disclosed that the EU, by March 3, 2013, had to begin regulating all timber entering the European market. Thus, there is the fear Cameroon’s delay may, rather, enhance illegal logging and compromise the country’s right to export timber to the European market, if nothing is done to meet up with the VPA-FLEGT requirements.
The illegal logging and exportation of timber from Cameroon and other countries has been a major problem to European Union countries which are very keen on stamping out illicit deals within the international timber marketing sphere.
In a bid to ensure transparency, improve governance within the timber trade sector and ensure that countries and communities where timber comes from get maximum benefits from this natural forest resource, the EU initiated the VPA-FLEGT.
With timber being Cameroon’s second highest foreign income earner (about FCFA 244 billion annually) after oil, Cameroon was compelled to enter into negotiations with the EU in November 2007.
The negotiations led to the signing of the VPA-FLEGT accord in 2010 with the EU and ratification into law by the Cameroon Parliament in 2011.
The Director of the Center for Assistance to Justice and Animation for Development, CAJAD, told the press that given the need, as spelt out in the VPA-FLEGT agreement for the civil society to engage in the drive to ensure transparency and good governance in the timber logging and exportation sector, his NGO had to take up the option to join the initiative and assist it.
He said that the Government, in order to effectively implement the VPA accord, has to have a methodology and indicators that meet EU’s expectations as well as the expectations of the local communities. The methodology, he said, is the tool needed by the Government to use in monitoring and evaluating the effective compliance with the VPA-FLEGT requirements by all logging companies and other stakeholders in the timber sector.
He said his NGO, in partnership with another NGO in Yaounde, FODER, have already come up with a draft methodology and indicators which it intends to present to the Cameroon Government in the days ahead for appraisal.
Tchepnang and Tonifor said their NGOs have already been to Loumie in the East Region, Manfe in the Southwest and Pouma in the Littoral Region, where it collected data as to the needs of the local communities which it has used to build up its methodology and indicators document.
As to what these communities expect if the Government has to meet VPA-FLEGT demands, Tchepnang said the communities where timber is harvested from in Cameroon, “they will love to see the revenue from their forests used to provide social amenities in their villages, build health services and provide potable water, among other basic needs.”
The gathering, attended by journalists from the print and audio-visual media, among them Victor Epie Ngome, was coordinated by CAJAD’s Communication officer, Brice Martial Djeugoue.
Epie Ngome expressed the concern that the VPA-FLEGT covers only timber that leaves Cameroon to Europe and not to the other international markets such as the US and Asia. This, apparently, still leaves room for illegal loggers to have a field day.
But CAJAD said the EU accord is out to ensure that, before any timber leaves the forest, it must have been legally certified by Government and private monitors. In this way, illegality can be checked on all fronts, they said.