About a year and a half ago, a community in northeastern Gabon embarked on a first-of-its-kind initiative to request the declassification of a logging concession area. As part of the effort, the villagers sought to instead reclassify it as a protected area to safeguard its ecological and heritage values. Now, they’ve finally been listened to, with the central African nation’s environment minister recently announcing a ban on commercial logging in the area.
From logging to protected area
The logging concession was initially given to logging company Transport Bois Négoce International (TBNI). The firm started intensifying the felling of trees soon after the community requested to turn the forest into a protected area. After months of mixed signals from the government, the Massaha village has now finally received a positive response.
The move came soon after the environment minister himself, Lee White, came to visit the rural community of Massaha. He talked with the community and visited abandoned sites of several ancestral villages, as well as a sacred site where the villagers performed a spiritual ceremony. The community also showed him how the logging has affected the ecosystem in the area and how they risk having their ancestral sites destroyed by commercial activity.
“It is not just the forest that speaks to me, but the ancestors as well,” White said after the ceremony. “We came to Massaha to get a better understanding of the community’s request. They are concerned that the forestry activities will destroy their sacred sites, so we came to reassure them.” Following the visit, the minister announced that he recognizes the concerns raised by the villagers and that the logging company has been ordered to halt logging and leave.
An important precedent
The government must now determine how to protect the forest. The legal status that the authorities will decide on will represent an important milestone for conservation in Gabon, as it will be the first time a protected area will be established in the country at the request of a local community.