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Research Report

Cameroon’s hidden harvest

Charlie Pye-Smith
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2010
Pages: 32
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-4)

    Timber traders in Bertoua, the provincial capital of Cameroon’s East Region, face two main problems, according to Amadou, a local trader. The first – and you’ll hear the same complaint in markets throughout the country – is the shrinking supply of timber. During the past two decades, several local sawmills have closed down, which means that he and his colleagues have become increasingly reliant on timber supplied by small-scale chainsaw millers, most of whom are operating illegally.

    ‘But the biggest problem we face,’ says Amadou, ‘is harassment by government officials and their demand for informal payments.’ This is a polite...

  2. (pp. 5-8)

    CIFOR began researching illegal logging in Cameroon in 2003. Originally, the focus was on the industrial timber sector, including comparing export figures with production on large-scale forestry concessions. However, it soon became apparent that something was missing from the reams of data gathered by MINFOF.

    ‘There was absolutely nothing about the domestic supply of timber, although you only had to travel around Yaoundé to see that this was significant,’ Cerutti says. ‘Roadside timber markets were springing up and expanding all over the city to satisfy the construction boom.’

    CIFOR’s research also revealed discrepancies between harvesting and export figures. Exports frequently...

  3. (pp. 9-12)

    CIFOR researcher Edouard Essiane has to shout to make himself heard above the noise of the chainsaw.

    ‘You can see what a dangerous occupation this is, now you’re out here in the forest,’ he yells. ‘There’s a big risk of injury, and we frequently hear of people being seriously wounded or killed, either by their chainsaws or falling trees.’

    Most chainsaw millers, he adds, will be deaf by the time they are 40.

    With rain streaming down his back, a young man from the village of Djemiong, in East Region, skilfully slices planks from the trunk of a sapele tree...

  4. (pp. 13-16)

    It is mid-morning at Montée Parc Market, the largest of the 25 timber markets in Yaoundé. A MINFOF official sits on a large pile of planks, eating sandwiches and casually chatting with some of the merchants. He and two other officials who are doing their rounds are a familiar sight here, as they come every day to take their payments. You can tell which merchants have paid up, as their timber has been stamped with the officials’ hammer.

    ‘On average, we have to pay around 200 CFA a plank,’ one of the timber merchants explains. ‘If you don’t pay up,...

  5. (pp. 17-23)

    In 1998, MINFOF’s powers to collect taxes from forestry operations were passed to the Ministry of Finance (MINFI), which now collects 15–20 billion CFA (€23–€30 million) a year in forestry taxes, largely from industrial timber concessions. The figure would be considerably higher if reforms were introduced for the domestic timber sector.

    Isabelle Abouem, coordinator of MINFI’s Forestry Revenue Enhancement Programme, lists three compelling reasons why the government should consider formalising the domestic timber sector.

    ‘First, there is the fiscal argument,’ she says. ‘CIFOR’s research has given us an insight into how much timber is being traded for the domestic and...