Rainforests for a steal

Stephen Beard Apr 11, 2007


SCOTT JAGOW: A report out today from Greenpeace says huge tracts of rainforest were sold to logging companies for virtually nothing. This land is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The companies made agreements with village chiefs, even though Congo banned such agreements five years ago.The villagers were paid with bags of salt, machetes, crates of beer and bicycles.Greenpeace’s Stephan Van Praet says the chiefs were taken advantage of.

STEPHAN VAN PRAET: The local chiefs are the victims of the system. They don’t know the value of the timber that is exported and often the logging companies come to negotiate these contracts in presence of the official authorities. They are under pressure of those authorities, so in fact the contracts are signed without really having a good knowledge about the value of the timber.

And Greenpeace says the rainforests are worth a lot more to the climate and to Congo’s economy anyway. For more on this, we turn to our European correspondent Stephen Beard. Stephen, what’s the scope of this problem?

STEPHEN BEARD: Greenpeace says that some 20 logging companies, have gained access to a huge area of rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, about the size of the U.K.. And Greenpeace says that if these companies go ahead and fell that area of rainforest, it could have huge climatic repercussions. It could add something like 34 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. That’s the amount of carbon that would not be absorbed if these trees were felled.

JAGOW: So what are the companies after? What are they trying to get from the land?

BEARD: Primarily African teak which is a pretty valuable commodity. It sells for more than $1,000 a cubic yard here in Europe. It’s used for flooring, furniture and doors.

JAGOW: So how are the companies interpreting this?

BEARD: The companies are represented by a trade association in a statement. The trade association says many of these criticisms are valid and we need to reevaluate some of these agreements.

JAGOW: OK Stephen, thank you.

BEARD: OK Scott.

JAGOW: Stephen Beard in London.

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