Congo: World’s 2nd-largest rainforest continues to vanish with half a million hectares lost in 2022, says report

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, which accounts for 60% of the rainforest, has a rapidly growing population which has increasing food and energy needs

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Tuesday 27 June 2023
An old truck transports huge logs of tropical timber out of the rainforest from Kinshasa to the port of Matadi in Congo in 2014. Photo for representation from iStock__

The Congo, the world’s second-largest rainforest after the Amazon, continues to retreat. The rainforest is spread across six African countries, the largest of which lost half a million hectares (mha) of forest last year, according to a new report released June 27, 2023.

The Congo rainforest is spread across Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. Sixty per cent of the rainforest lies in the DRC.

The DRC lost over 500,000 hectares in 2022, according to the report made available by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the University of Maryland on Global Forest Watch, an open-source web application to monitor global forests in near real-time.

The rate of primary forest loss in the DRC remains persistently high, according to the report. 

It noted that 4.1 mha of primary tropical forest were lost worldwide last year, an area the size of Switzerland. This is equivalent to the loss of 11 football pitches per minute, stated the WRI.

Of this, Brazil accounted for 43 per cent of the total tropical primary forest loss, at 1.8 million ha, followed by DRC (12.1 per cent) and Bolivia.


Source: World Resources Institute, June 2023

This destruction in natural forests generated 2.7 billion tonnes of CO2 — roughly equivalent to India’s annual emissions — of 43 billion tonnes emitted worldwide each year, according to the GFW.

From 2002 to 2022, DRC lost 6.33 mha of humid primary forest, making up 35 per cent of its total tree cover loss in the same time period. The total area of humid primary forest in DRC decreased by 6.1 per cent during this period.

Primary forests are forests of native tree species, where there are no clearly visible indications of human activities. These provide numerous ecosystem services, but are under continuing threat.

Key drivers 

Most of the primary forest loss consists of small clearings near cyclical agricultural areas, according to the report. Cyclical agricultural areas means land that is cleared (using slash-and-burn techniques) for the short-term cultivation of crops and left fallow for forests and soil nutrients to regenerate.

The DRC has one of the highest population growth rates in the world — 3.19 per cent. The subsequent increase in the demand for food has led to shorter fallow periods and the expansion of agriculture into primary forest.

There has been a 32 per cent rise in the DRC population without access to electricity in the past decade, according to Tracking SDG7: The energy progress report 2023, released this month. As of 2021, around 79 per cent of the population in DRC lacks access to electricity.

During the same period, there has been around a 41 per cent rise in the population without access to clean cooking fuel. Around 96 per cent of the population uses polluting cooking fuel.

Most Congolese rely on forests to meet their food and energy needs and reducing primary forest loss in the region remains a challenge, stated the WRI.

The drivers of forest loss across DRC are slash-and-burn agriculture, uncontrolled bushfires, charcoal production for local and regional markets, cattle ranching, and illegal (artisanal) logging.

Charcoal is the dominant form of energy in the region, which is generated by cutting and burning timber. 

The DRC government in Kinshasa, instead of reducing dependence on fossil fuels, announced its decision to auction oil and gas permits in critically endangered gorilla habitat and the world’s largest tropical peatlands in July 2022

In response to criticism, the government said exploiting its fossil fuel resources was an economic imperative for the DRC.

DRC is among the world’s five poorest nations according to the World Bank. In 2022, nearly 62 per cent of the population or around 60 million people, lived on less than $2.15 a day.

Economic factors may be driving deforestation. But an audit report released in April 2022 also revealed the failure of forest governance in the DRC, one of the 145 signatories of the Glasgow declaration in 2021, to halt deforestation by 2030.

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