The Congo Basin, located in the Central African Republic, is the largest rainforest in the whole of Africa, second only to the Amazon in the world. It covers an area of 3.7 million square kilometers traversing Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon- six countries in total. 99 percent of the forest area consists mainly of the naturally regenerated forest.
A lot of rare plants and endangered animal species find their home there in the rainforest. More importantly, 8 percent of the world’s forest-based carbon and carbon dioxide are held within the leaves of the rainforest, thus making it a major contributor to atmospheric cleansing. However, it is unfortunate that indications from studies show that at the end of the century, given the rate of deforestation, the Congo Basin rainforest might cease to exist.
The University of Maryland (UMD) in the United States collected data via satellite for 14 years, between 2000 and 2014. After the data analysis, the results were published in the magazine, Science Advances. They showed that 165,000 square kilometers of the Congo basin was lost between the 15 years period.
It makes one curious as to why this happened. Ecologists asked questions in that regard: What are the causes? Did it happen due to similar reasons for the deforestation in South America and Southeast Asia which were done for soy, palm oil and other commodity crops due to industrial pressure? Or are they due to commercial logging, which is fast becoming an environmental threat in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea?
Their questions were answered by the study. It showed that the major factor responsible for up to 80 percent of the forest loss, among other factors is small-scale subsistent farming. Many people in the region involve themselves in small-scale farming and thus, to get lands, they have to fell trees. Surprisingly, many of the tree felling activities in this area, up to 132,000 square kilometers, was done manually, using axes.
The reason why this happened, according to researchers, is basically because of the high poverty rate in the region. Most of the people in the region live below $1 every day. This high poverty rate is largely due to unstable political condition and incessant conflict which the region has come to be known with. Of the six countries through which the rainforest spans, most of the forest’s area is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
What’s more, the population of the people living in the forest’s area of DRC is way more than the population of the five others combined. Unfortunately, the people in this area, and the Central Republic of Africa are among the poorest of the world. These countries have some of the lowest GDPs, life expectancies, and education levels in the world; they have some of the lowest human development index – about 10 percent – in the world.
With a level of poverty this low, the people definitely live to survive each day. As the survival options are few, they will have to go for the available best option – farming. This they do on a small scale, producing crops just to get by the year. Since many of them have no education, there is little knowledge about agricultural practices. Hence little is known about conserving the soil’s nutrient. Once a portion of land becomes unproductive, they move to another. Another portion of land means felling of trees; thus deforestation continues to advance.
While this is the main cause in DRC and CAR, the case is slightly different in Gabon. About 60 percent of the deforestation occurring in the Congo Basin area within the borders of Gabon between 2000 and 2014 is due to industrial selective logging. Selective logging occurs when certain species of trees are selected for cutting instead of the conventional clearcutting. In Gabon, logging is one of the most important economic activities as many families earn their income from logging related activities, making it a major cause of deforestation in the region.
According to the United Nation’s prediction, there is a high tendency of the human population in the Congo Basin Region increasing by the end of the 21st century, five times the current population. Thus, if measures to put to check tree felling activities are not taken, there will most likely be nothing like the Congo Basin left that time – 2100 AD.
The research report also indicated the emergence of large-scale tree felling for industrial Agriculture. Although at the time of this study, it accounts for only 1 percent of the total deforestation, observation has shown that it is on the rise particularly in coastal countries. If this isn’t controlled, in the next few years, it will probably gain prominence to be a major contributor to deforestation in the area.
The researchers recommended that the governments in the region should incorporate land use planning which will discourage the use of natural forest land for agriculture. “Land use planning that minimizes the conversion of natural forest cover for agro-industry will serve to mitigate this nascent and growing threat to primary forests,” according to the researchers.