Thursday, April 12, 2007


"Vast forests... sold for a few bags of sugar." Ring a bell?

The new rumble in the jungle sees swathes of Congolese forest exchanged for a pittance. In one 2005 deal a logging company promised to build community buildings and "said it would give the chief 20 sacks of sugar, 200 bags of salt, some machetes and a few hoes."

The revelation will be formally announced today (audio) following a two year investigation. The Greenpeace report will criticise "the World Bank for encouraging logging in Congo in the knowledge that corruption was rife."

Given that European companies were involved in the Congo deals you would have thought the lessons of history may have had relevance. Not so when massive profits are in the offing.

To lend some scale to this rort the following is useful:

1. Late last year Graeme Hart sold a large chunk of monocultured forest land in the North Island. 290,000 hectares was sold for about NZ$1.5bn.

2. The 1884 Port Nicholson sale to Wakefield included payment of a large amount of goods and 300 pounds. There may have been as much as 30,000 hectares of Wellington included, and inflation adjusted the 300 quid might be worth NZ$100,000 today.

3. One 2005 Congo deal saw "hundreds of hectares" exchanged for no more than gifts to the tune of approx NZ$28,000.

All the more reason to check the origin of timber in your furniture when you're buying. And that's not even touching on the carbon impact of logging virgin forest.

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