Poaching / bushmeat trade
Wildlife is an important resource for the livelihood of rural people in the forests. It is a relatively cheap and high-quality food source requiring little investment and brings a quick return. However, the over-exploitation of wildlife for both local and commercial purposes is one of the most serious threats to wildlife and biodiversity in the African continent. Local populations rely on bush meat to survive, while poachers decimate wildlife populations to supply an ever-growing international demand. The ivory trade has already led to the virtual extinction of both the Forest Elephant in Central Africa and the Savannah Elephant in Southern Africa.
An unsustainable level of bush meat trade already exists and continues to be on the rise to feed an ever-increasing human population. It has been estimated that the Congolese population alone consumes over 1.5 million tons of bush meat each year. The bush meat trade threatens both local wildlife and the livelihoods of the traditional people living in the forest and dependent on wildlife mean for their survival.
The sale of timber (often referred to as “blood timber”) has now surpassed that of diamonds . Logging companies do not conduct themselves in ecologically sustainable way; they are generally not socially equitable and are often logging illegally.
Logging has increased significantly following the return of peace to the region and now a major employer of thousands of workers who rely on the logging companies for basic healthcare and other services.
A major cause of deforestation in the Congo Basin is as a result of local subsistence activities by farmers and villagers who rely on forestlands for agriculture and fuel wood.
Logging largely exasperates this issue as farmers and colonists are able to gain access to previously impenetrable forest by following logging roads. Furthermore, with increasing human population densities, agricultural cultivation is expanding in the forests of the Congo Basin, which often results in complete deforestation.
The sustainability of the forests and biodiversity in the Congo Basin are becoming threatened by an increased in mining activity.
Mining for coltan, a mineral that is fundamental for the manufacturing of mobile phones and many other electronic devises, coupled with current poor practices has been causing serious environmental degradation.
Mining for gold and diamonds is also becoming more common in the Congo Basin, causing the same negative result. Digging for diamonds and panning for gold often take place in small streams that are in turn within fragile ecosystems. The direct impact of mining is often localized however serious indirect impacts such as sedimentation, pollution and poaching can be quite widespread.
Gabon has one of the largest iron ore deposits in the world near Minkebe but thankfully this has not yet been exploited.
Oil & Gas
The oil and gas industry affects the economies of various countries associated with the Congo Basin. As well as the risk of major oil spills occurring; general pollution, caused by the industry, is also considered a serious issue. Moreover, similarly to logging, indirect impacts such as poaching resulting from the opening up of new areas of forest, also threatens the forest.
Fish represents an importance source of protein for local communities. As a result, fisherman from many parts of Central Africa often settle inside protected areas and heavily fish sensitive areas such as nurseries and spawning areas, which has a negative effect on fish populations.
Commercialisation, use of destructive techniques, and increased human population pressures on rivers, lakes and lagoons has resulted in increased fishing.
Due to the presence of life threatening diseases in Central Africa, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and Ebola it is difficult to maintain local human capacity to address forest, conservation and environmental issues.
Human activities pollute ecosystems around the world. Pollution (and chemical dumping) is likely to cause adverse affects on the environment due to weak environmental protection and pollution controls, coupled with the increase in urbanisation and industrialisation.
Toxic chemicals and metals that enter the environment can have detrimental affects. Organisms may absorb them through their skin or ingest them in their food or water. Animals higher in the food chain accumulate these toxins in ever increasing concentrations. As a result, top predators such as birds, fish and mammals will have high level of toxins in their bodies, which increases the risk of disease, birth defects and genetic mutation.
Climate change seems likely to have devastating long terms effects on the biodiversity of the forests in the Congo Basin with many species sensitive to even the smallest of changes. Th changing climate affects the growth and productivity of forests through changes in temperature, rainfall, weather and ultimately the length of seasons. Furthermore, increased levels of CO2 can heavily affect plant growth.
Population increase & Urbanisation
Increased human population is the root cause of any threat to the forest, due to the increased demand for natural resources. With such rapid population increase predicted in central Africa it seems that Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and DRC will suffer most.
Increased waste, sanitation and pollution, as a result of urbanisation, indirectly threatens the forest. This is a particular threat given that the services in many cities are unable to deal with the population growth. This inevitably leads to increased environmental issues.
Displaced people and conflicts
War, conflict and civil unrest has forced many people to leave their homes and live off the land or move deep into the forest away from danger.
Lack of good governance and institutional capacity
Corruption and lack of good governance can seriously hinder any progress towards policy changes, conservation or sustainable natural resource management in the forests. In addition, poor governance can leave to corruption, particularly with regard to the granting of logging concessions. This contributes to poor business practices and lack of incentive to move towards sustainable forestry.
As a result, the above generally leads to limited government budgets for conservation, which in turn leads to insufficient staff numbers, poor training and low morale at forestry and wildlife departments rendering them ineffective.
Lack of awareness of scale of the problem
The people who rely on the forest, and its natural resources, believe that the forest is ‘endless and its resources will never run out’. Although there seems to be political commitment at a high level, there is a serious lack of understanding by the general public and local government officials as to the threats of the forest.
Lack of NGOs and CBOs
The lack of capacity of local NGOs and local community-based organisations indirectly affects the ability to contribute to sustainable and natural resource management. There seems to be a disconnect between decisions made at a national level and the decision-making processes at the local village or community level. Using the knowledge, skill and values possessed by many of the local people living in and amongst the forest would greatly assist in sustainably managing the natural resources.
Lack of data, monitoring, and evaluation
A serious obstacle to conservation and sustainable development is a serious lack of knowledge regarding the status of biodiversity in the forests. This is largely as a result of the above-mentioned issued.