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Why Congo’s rainforest is undervalued

Why Congo’s rainforest is undervalued
13 Jan
2020
The world’s second largest tropical forest receives significantly less funding than its counterparts in other countries

The Congo Basin Rainforest is the second largest tropical rainforest in the world. Stretching across 500 million acres, it is larger than the state of Alaska and spans six countries in Central Africa. Home to more than 2,500 species, including endangered wildlife such as forest elephants, bonobos and gorillas, it is a thriving ecosystem and a vital carbon sink.

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But the region’s importance is not reflected in the funding it receives. In a recent study led by Richard Eba’a Atyi, regional coordinator for the Center of International Forestry Research in Central Africa, a team of researchers analysed the levels of environmental development assistance provided to the Congo Basin when compared to that received by other tropical regions. They found that despite the its vast size, it only captured 11.5 per cent of the total funds provided in the past decade (a pool calculated to be $14.9bn), while Southeast Asia and the Amazon received 54.5 per cent and 34 per cent respectively.

‘I see a couple of reasons for this,’ says Atyi, speaking to Geographical from Cameroon. ‘One is that unlike in other regions, the Central Africa region receives only grants related to the environment. In Southeast Asia, you have grants, but additionally you may have low-interest loans. Multilateral forums such as the World Bank do not like to give grants of course, but the World Bank loan interest rate is very high in Central Africa because of the capacity of these economies to pay back. Another reason may be the perception of risk. If there are risks that the funder will not achieve what they intended, that may be something to take into account.’

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He also points to the challenge of developing high-quality proposals in a world where attracting funding is highly competitive – though he adds that this is improving in the region with more people being trained in forest sustainability. However, he is less optimistic that for-profit intuitions will re-think the risk of lending.

One tactic could be to target those countries that don’t currently focus on the region. In Central Africa, the top five bilateral donors were Germany, the United States, France, Japan and Sweden, with the EU topping the list of multilateral donors. The largest overall donor was Germany, which provided $420m – almost half the total bilateral donation. Yet, while this list corresponds with other regions in some respects, significant donors such as Finland, Denmark and the Green Climate Fund had no presence in Central Africa at all. For Atyi, it is therefore all about raising the profile of the forest.

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