The Massaha community, located in the northeast of Gabon, is making an urgent appeal to their government to save their biocultural heritage. It is currently threatened with destruction by the Chinese company Transport Bois Négoce International (TBNI).
This Chinese company intends to build roads in the region. Given the logistical difficulties of building a bridge over the river, they plan to access the area by opening up a currently overgrown road network, which begins about 20 kilometers to the southwest and crosses the concession of another forestry company, KHLL Forestry SA. If no one intervenes, the construction of new roads will quickly be followed by the felling of trees and the destruction of the sacred forest and the biocultural heritage that remains to the Massaha community.
This community has nurtured their customary lands and sacred forest for generations through their cultural practices. But today it is threatened with destruction, despite the Gabonese government’s commitment to the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and Peoples.
Members of the Massaha community said in an official request to the government two years ago that logging risked “destroying all the foundations of their village. They don’t want to be a village without roots or history. »
They reiterated their formal request to the Gabonese authorities asking them to downgrade part of the TBNI forest concession (which includes their customary lands, sacred sites and ancestral villages) and reclassify it as a “protected area and hunting estate” within the framework of the current Gabonese legislation.
At the request of the Gabonese administration, the village recently held a general assembly, during which the village reiterated its request and proposed a self-determined management plan for the area. At the time of publication, members of the Massaha community had still not received a response to their historic initiative from the Gabonese government.
Logging continues to progress much to the disappointment of the community, including the destruction of their ancestral villages. The company is about to start logging the part of the forest that has never been logged and which is home to the village’s sacred sites. All of this is happening without any environmental impact study having been carried out, which is contrary to Gabonese law, as underlined by a note from the administration dating from June 2021.
Gabon is one of the most forested countries in the world and often considered an environmental leader in the region, known for its low levels of deforestation and its efforts to develop strong forest protection policies. Recognizing the opportunity to support this leadership, in 2019, through the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), Norway pledged $150 million to Gabon for the protection of its forests. In 2021, he made a first installment of $17 million based on results.
This must therefore push the authorities to decide to put an end to logging on the customary lands of the Massaha community and respond positively to its formal request, which is to recognize and protect its sacred forest. The ICCA Consortium calls on the Gabonese government to seize this historic opportunity, in line with its global environmental leadership, international standards and good practices in nature conservation and sustainable development.