Congo to 'reforest' with plantations across one million hectares
The Republic of the Congo has announced a new program to create plantations across one million hectares (2.47 million acres) of degraded forest lands. The program, known as the national program of afforestation and reforestation (RAN), is being pushed to support various industries, carbon sequestration and to take pressure off native forests. According to Reuters, the Republic of the Congo is seeking donor and international investment of $2.6 billion for the initiative. However, plantations are controversial in conservation-terms as they store significantly less carbon and support little biodiversity when compared to natural forest. Therefore converting natural forests—even those that have been degraded by selective logging—to plantations, can significantly reduce the conservation value of an area.
"This objective will, by its scale and scope of performance, reaching about 70 percent of the national forest cover and lay the foundations for a green economy in the Republic of Congo," the Minister of Sustainable Development of Forest Economy and the environment, Henri Djombo, said at a press conference in Brazzaville. Currently around 65 percent of the nation is under forest cover according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). About 75,000 hectares of this is classified as plantations.
While dubbed as an environmental initiative—an effort to restore forests—the plan in fact looks more like an effort to attract investment in plantation products. According to a press release from the government, the plantations will use both native and exotic species.
"Through this program, developers of biofuels, pulp and paper, medium fiberboard and high density of essential oils and find investment opportunities in the plantations to meet wood-term needs of and oil industry," the press release states.
Environmentalists blame expansion of industrial plantations—oil palm, wood-pulp, and rubber—for driving large-scale destruction of forests, especially in Southeast Asia. Forest loss has further imperiled already-endangered species and emitted vast quantities of greenhouse gases.
"The sustainable management of these plantations will ensure the ecological functions and increase the forest carbon stock of the country," Djombo said. "These plantations will generate employment in rural areas and basic industrial development and increase the economic importance of the forestry sector."
Logging and illegal logging are the primary threat to forests in the Republic of the Congo, which is home to a part of Africa's great Congo rainforest, the second largest in the world after the Amazon.