Thinking beyond the canopy

Discussion forum 5. The Congo Basin forests facing agro-industrial and mining expansion

Focal Point: Patrice Levang
Organisation(s): IRD/CIFOR
Contact details: CIFOR, Central Africa Regional Office, P.O. Box: 2008, Yaoundé, Cameroon; Tel.: +237 22 22 74 51; Email:


For the last 20 years, most forest administrations of the Congo Basin countries have been trying to secure the remaining forests by setting fixed boundaries to a “permanent forest domain” or by gazetting protected areas. This land use and planning policy seemed successful for a while. But for the last 4-5 years, an increasing number of agro-industrial companies from all over the world have stated their interest in acquiring large land tracts in the Congo Basin. Oil palm and rubber are the major commodities to be developed in the humid forest part of Central Africa. For Cameroon alone, a total of 1.5 million ha has been demanded for oil palm and rubber expansion. The same trend can be observed in Gabon and Congo, and to a lesser extent in DRC. At the same time, large and small scale mining are rapidly expanding in forest areas often encroaching protected areas. While most governments are eager to attract international investors to develop the still marginalized forested areas of their country, conservation NGOs fear that this development will be carried out at the expense of the biodiversity rich rainforests of the Congo Basin, while indigenist NGOs claim that in the process forest people will be dispossessed of their lands and forests, and left without any resource. The objective of this discussion forum is to reconcile the positions of those who want to conserve with those who want to convert, to find a win-win solution for conservation and development.

Three key questions the panel will address:

  1. How can agro-industrial and mining development be carried out without destroying biodiversity rich primary forests?
  2. How can local people and smallholders be involved in agro-industrial development and benefit from mining?
  3. How to plan and ensure an environmentally and smallholder friendly development of agro-industries and mining in the Congo Basin countries?

Speakers: (the speaker list may change)

  1. Keynote speaker: Robert Leprohon, forest zoning and planning specialist
  2. Respondent (conservation): Rold Dieter Sprung, Conservation Director, WWF, Cameroon
  3. Respondent (conservation): Samuel Nguiffo, Centre pour l’Environnement et le Développement (CED)
  4. Respondent (development): Culbertson Enow Etta, Head of Research and Plantation, PAMOL Lobe
  5. Respondent (development) Arend van der Goes, Consultant Environmental and Social Development
  6. Respondent (development): Léonard Mpouma, Union of oil palm smallholders of Cameroon (UNEXPALM)
  7. Moderator: Clémentine Ananga Messina, Deputy Minister Delegate for Agriculture (MINADER)
  8. Rapporteur: Jaff Napoleon Bamenjo, Coordinator, RELUFA

Background reading

  1. Anseeuw, W., L. Alden Wily, L. Cotula and M. Taylor (2012). “Land Rights and the Rush for Land: Findings of the Global Commercial Pressures on Land. Research Project”. ILC, Rome.
  2. Hoyle D. and Levang P., 2012. Oil palm development in Cameroon. WWF, IRD, CIFOR.
  3. Nguiffo S. and Schwartz B., 2012. Herakles’ 13th Labour? A Study of SGSOC’s Land Concession in South-West Cameroon. CED, RELUFA.