Is Nordsudtimber getting into the palm oil business?
(The folllowing is an excerpt from a larger report on Norsudtimber available here)
While conducting satellite analysis of Norsudtimber concessions, Global Witness uncovered evidence of plantations in two of its concessions. As shown in chapter 3 of this report, one of the ecological risks associated with industrial logging is that, as the stock of high-value trees gets depleted, the incentive to transform the concession into a plantation – and by doing so cause deforestation – increases. This is potentially disastrous for DRC’s forests and raises further questions about the legality and environmental impact of Norsudtimber’s operations in DRC.
The two concessions are 064/14 (Sodefor), and 048/12 (La Forestière du Lac). It would appear that in concession 064/14 – which Forabola first gained the logging rights to in March 2003, but is now logged by Sodefor - the plantation is being operated by the Toronto-listed Feronia. The UK Government owns just under 38% of Feronia, through its development finance arm CDC Group plc. Feronia acquired palm oil plantations in DRC from Unilever in 2009. Our analysis indicates this plantation is around 13,500 hectares or over 18,000 football pitches in size. The imagery suggests what appeared to be secondary forest, which may already have had some high tree canopy, in 2013, which was then clear-cut in the period between 2013 and 2016. In their response to Global Witness, Feronia and CDC Group stated that they were not deforesting or clearing forest as this area does not qualify as “forest”, having previously been planted with oil palm and other agricultural crops such as cocoa and lain abandoned for almost 20 years. Feronia and CDC Group said the land was “considerably overgrown” and that Feronia has “a very strict policy against deforestation”, only replanting on previously planted areas and undertaking field audits regularly to conform with this approach.
Communities complained about the lack of time to prepare for and conduct negotiations, misrepresentation of their community, and lack of necessary documents
It is unclear whether Norsudtimber’s subsidiaries are or have been involved in any way with the activities of Feronia in 064/14, but they do take place in their concession.
Satellite imagery of concession 048/12 also indicates that clearing for some kind of plantation is taking place, although on a much smaller scale (a few clearances of less than 10 hectares). Although local communities are allowed to farm within logging concessions, our satellite imagery shows larger areas of forest than communities would generally clear-cut for this purpose and also follows a grid-like pattern which is unlike community slash and burn practices. Sources in DRC confirmed that palm oil plan- tations were being developed in the concession, but this – and whether Norsudtimber companies were involved in this activity – could not be independently confirmed.
According to DRC law, when a forest is under a logging con- cession contract, no other industrial permits can be granted within the concession, and therefore any type of industrial forest clearance activity would be illegal.
In its response to Global Witness, Feronia recognises that part of its Lokutu plantation is overlapped by “a number of forestry concessions”, but that it is undertaking agricultural activities under valid agricultural land titles and is not in breach of DRC law.
According to a report by the NGO Earthsight, no permit for forest clearance was issued by DRC authorities to companies be- tween 2002 and 2017.28 The same Earthsight report quoted a for- mer senior o icial at the Ministry of Environment who described the country’s agricultural sector as a free-for-all, with companies being allowed to clear forest without required deforestation per- mits or impact assessments and without paying relevant taxes.
Global Witness asked Norsudtimber whether it was responsible for the plantations in its concessions, but it did not respond.