Cameroon signed a VPA with the EU in 2010, although work towards implementing the agreement has been beset with obstacles including a retraction of space for meaningful civil society participation in governance and legal reforms. The VPA entered into force on 1 December 2011.
Cameroon has around 20 million hectares of forest, which is almost half of its national territory. Most of this forest area has been permanently allocated to long-term forest production or conservation, with a smaller area intended for community forestry. The forest sector contributes around 6% of GDP. Cameroon is Africa’s largest exporter of tropical hardwood to the EU, most of which is sown timber that goes to Italy and Spain.
Latest VPA update:
The implementation of the VPA is playing out in a volatile context: a violent conflict in the Southwest continues and Presidential elections resulted in the contested victory of Paul Biya, confirming his seventh term in power. Nonetheless, implementation of the Cameroon-EU VPA seems to be regaining momentum after nearly two years in which hardly any progress was made, political engagement to drive the VPA process forward was lagging meaning that illegal logging was rising.
The long-awaited process of revising the VPA legality grids was put back on the rails in September 2018. A critical report published in 2014 by Cameroon’s Independent Auditor, as well as a series of pilot projects had revealed that the eight legality grids that form an integral part of the Cameroon-EU VPA are difficult, if not impossible to implement. The Auditor noted that some indicators in the legality grids would not verify timber legality; therefore in 2016 and 2017 the suggestion was made to revise all legality grids and adapt the verifiers and indicators where needed.
Civil society warns that if the revision of the legality grids removed essential social and environmental elements, it would ultimately undermine the whole VPA. In this respect, the participation of civil society and communities in this process is of great importance. The September 2018 meeting brought together all relevant stakeholders from the government, the private sector and civil society to define the next steps of the revision process and outline the plan of action. The revision process is to be launched in early 2019.
A stock-taking and planning exercise to assess the Cameroon VPA’s strengths, weaknesses and challenges, and to define future actions is also programmed for early 2019. It aims to clarify what the VPA process hopes to achieve, and produce a detailed workplan for 2019, a sevenyear workplan, and a workable monitoring and evaluation framework. This would help to keep the VPA focused on goals, keep all stakeholders engaged and prevent other essential issues, such as conversion timber, from falling between the cracks.
In the past six months little progress was recorded regarding transparency and access to information. Through Annex VII of the VPA, Cameroon has committed to make forest-related information publicly available. The Ministry of Forests established a dedicated website that posts about 80 per cent of the information. This website set an inspiring precedent for the Congo Basin region. The website has been frequently out of order but has been operational for the past six months. Foder, a Cameroonian CSO, recently evaluated implementation of the transparency annex; their report reveals, among other things, that 73 per cent of the information that ought to be made public is available.
However, many pieces of the puzzle are still missing, including some information which communities need to be able to claim revenues they are due. Despite a January 2016 decision operationalising the manual of procedures’ provisions regarding public availability of Annex VII information, no new information seems to have been uploaded on Ministry of Forestry website since early 2016. Providing regular updates, and making all of the required information accessible remain challenging, and must be prioritised in the VPA implementation roadmap to be developed in early 2019.
Last updated in December 2018.
A brief history of VPA negotiation and implementation, from a civil society perspective.
In 2013, civil society groups in Cameroon issued an updated assessment of the challenges of implementing a VPA in the country.
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