For Peanuts we will get a lot more Dead Monkeys!A few days ago I came across the meeting minutes of the Africa Working Group Forum on logging. This forum, initiated by the World Bank President, comprises chief executives of the major European logging firms active in Central Africa, representatives from various conservation NGOs and officials from the World Bank.
The main objective, as stated by a spokesperson for the loggers, is: 'A proposal for industry/NGO/donor collaboration to implement an operational programme designed to improve forest management and ensure fauna protection and forest ecosystem conservation in 13-million hectares of timber concessions - this being the area exploited by the logging firms participating in this grouping - in timber concessions in the Congo River Basin in the next five years.' The spokesperson then went on to outline the importance, within the working group, of the private sector partners (the logging companies), who have an annual turnover of US$800-million and employ more than 10 000 people in the subregion.
I put this in contrast with an earlier World Bank assessment of the first, the biggest and most celebrated of these collaboration ventures which is a wildlife management project in the German-owned CIB concession in northern Congo (Brazzaville). The World Bank's figures concerning the financing of this project are as follows:
|GEF-Congo (World Bank)||US$225 000|
|CARPE (US government)||US$160 000|
|WCS (Conservation NGO)||US$180 000|
|USAID-LWA (US government)||US$100 000|
|CIB (logging company)||US$75 000 (in kind)|
This total of US$640 000 was for a two-year period (June 1998 to June 2004) to try and get wildlife management under control in a small corner of one single 1.2-million-hectare logging concession. I hope these donors have pockets that are deep enough to expand this project to every corner of the 13-million hectares the loggers in question have under their control!
Ignoring for the moment the fact that no independent audit has ever been carried out on any of the claimed achievements and that the extent of hunting pressure might have been shifted from controlled areas to others, I pointed out to the World Bank (which estimates CIB's turnover to be in the region of US$50-million a year), that the company's contribution to the project of US$75 000 was no more than 0.18 per cent of its turnover. To place this in some context, this is proportionally less than a little old lady writing a cheque to the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society for US$50 out of a pension of US$1 000 a month and hoping to contribute to stopping the killing of apes and other protected wildlife in this corner of the Congo.
Then, with the combined logging company figure of US$800-million in mind, I again wrote to the World Bank, asking them why they did not have the leverage to get the loggers to contribute just one single, lousy, little per cent (or US$8-million) annually for better forest and wildlife management. Why were the conservation NGOs and the Bank allowing the loggers to pass the buck on the bushmeat issue for nothing in return? A one per cent commitment would have taken the wind out of my sails and out of the sails of every other critic of these collaboration agreements.
However, looking at it from the loggers' point of view, why should they reach into their pockets, as long as the donors are willing to throw money at them and the conservationists are happy provided they are allowed to sit at the same table? They can all hide behind being members of this forum and one or two little pilot projects for which the conservationists are happy to pay. Why spend the US$8-million to buy a green badge if it can all be had for free?
Conservation NGO executives in a special meeting actually confirmed that they agreed with this line of thought, and I quote: 'Loggers need to remain competitive economically and as such the marginal cost of wildlife management should be offset by donors or governments to compensate for good behaviour'! In the end, this amounts to asking the Western taxpayer to pay, so that unsustainable logging operations (FSC certification is not even part of these discussions) can remain profitable and of course be expanded.
While talking about money and putting it where one's mouth is, last year the conservation establishment celebrated the passing of the Great Ape Conservation Act by the US Congress. Supposedly up to US$5-million was going to be made available annually for great ape conservation projects. In the end, some US$600 000 was allocated for 2004. Applicants were encouraged to submit projects which did not exceed US$30 000 and were combined with matching funds.
A few weeks ago the UN got in on the act: Klaus Toepfer, the head of UNEP, spoke out on behalf of the apes and the threat from bushmeat hunting, and pledged US$150 000 as seed money to start a corresponding campaign. On the surface, getting the UN and the US government on board for great ape conservation certainly appears to be a move in the right direction. But let's look at it from another angle. The UN, the US, the EU (which hides behind its ECOFAC project in Central Africa) all have to be sensitive to the views of Western voters and taxpayers who contribute major chunks to their budgets. In this context great apes are ideal flagship species which generate the kind of emotional mass response that cannot be ignored.
So, the US government comes up with US$600 000 (which would buy a few bolts on an average jet fighter costing US$200-million), and the ball is back in the court of the conservation establishment. The UN in turn finds US$150 000 which might just pay for some two or three minutes of peacekeeping in Africa. (It would appear that the war on the environmental/bushmeat front does not qualify for a peacekeeping mission.)
My question is: why have we allowed the bar to be lowered to the ground? Can we hope to be taken seriously by the governments concerned when the loggers are bragging about their economic clout of US$800-million, while we are running around selling pilot projects for US$30 000?
If we look at the previous decade, when many of the major conservation groups were present in Central Africa, are we better off today than 10 years ago? The answer has to be a clear-cut NO. We are much worse off, certainly on the logging and bushmeat front. Have we slowed things down? Maybe. Is slowing things down a little the best we can hope for? Is that what we tell the donors? If not, when do we sit back and evaluate why things might not be working out? Is there a different and bigger-picture approach we should be looking at, one which might involve accepting that the often-advocated 'quiet diplomatic approach' has not worked?
Let's take the bushmeat crisis and the fact that it has developed during the watch of the major conservation organisations, many of them present on the ground in Central Africa. It involves some key indicator and flagship species, such as chimps, gorillas and elephants, that could be used to create a whaling or seal-clubbing kind of backlash. Based on the judgment from the court of public opinion, one could go back to the loggers, the US Congress, the UN, the EU, and make it clear to them that buying a clean conscience and a good night's sleep will in future have to come at a much higher price tag.
Let us put the ball back in their court. Let us tell them what kind of carrots and sticks are needed, so we are taken seriously. Let's have more surveys like the Species Specific Cost Analysis done by Colorado State University which shows that, depending on the methodology used, US taxpayers responded to the question as to how much they would be willing to pay in additional tax per year to prevent an individual species from being driven into extinction. The answers: for the humpback whale, low value US$10.10 and high value US$105.00; the spotted owl, low value US$34.84 and high value US$116.90. Would anybody like to calculate for President Bush what these figures would come to if multiplied by the number of American taxpayers? And guess what the amounts might be if elephants or gorillas were involved?
In another survey, which coincided with last year's National Summit on Africa, 66 per cent of the Americans questioned stated that they thought Africa was doing a good job in preserving the environment and 53 per cent of the under-35 year olds put 'protecting endangered species and preserving of habitat' up there with education as priority No.1.
Are the loggers and our politicians aware how the men and women in the street feel about these aspects of conservation? When will we start taking advantage of these views and moods? When do we accept that past approaches to conservation problems such as bushmeat have not and will not work, and start confronting our politicians with the fact that to persist with the current armoury of 'carrots and sticks' means there is no hope that the trend can be reversed in the future. Either they come up with the goods or let them take the blame for the future battles we are going to lose. One thing is certain: for peanuts we will get a lot more dead monkeys!
from August 2004 Africa Geographic
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