Thankfully the people of West Santo are not bowing to the lure of money and roads offered by a Chinese company wanting to harvest timber from their area.
That is the kind of stance communities should be taking to protect their own future from unscrupulous businessmen who think they can buy their way into the heart of landowners who still possess large tracts of real untouched paradise.
Campaign for Justice (C4J) has been able to launch its own independent investigations earlier this month into allegations that a Chinese logging investor was trying to convince landowners from West Santo to carry out logging activities in exchange for roads.
Our initial investigations have shown that the Chinese-funded logging Company – VANUATU FOREST INDUSTRY LIMITED is apparently owned by UNITY store owner in Luganville town.
The company was granted an operating license to do logging by Forestry authorities.
C4J was informed that the company did pay local chiefs in order for them to grant them permission to operate in West Santo. Representatives have been canvassing with landowners.
But the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation (DEPC) confirmed a local NGO - SUNSET-ENVIRONMENTAL NETWORK has been lobbying the landowners not to fall for the trap. The NGO is currently set up to support and encourage local communities to protect and conserve their resources. They have posted videos on their social media channel, vehemently opposing the proposed logging operations and enlisting the support of people from various communities. These include school pupils and their teachers.
Only recently, the NGO group called on the Government and especially the Chinese company not to carry out any logging activities in their area and that they will stand united to block any attempt to do so.
C4J has been informed the Chinese company had applied to cut 20,000 cubic meters of soft wood and 10,000 cubic meters of hard wood for export every year.
It appears Vanuatu Forest Industry Limited was approached by a third-party Chinese who used the company to try and acquire logging rights.
A draft of the agreement has been sighted by C4J. See link https://ceea4b87-ce2b-4f5a-8b39-e8d83e78f428.usrfiles.com/ugd/ceea4b_d3f645a2e11940a588bd7aabc7904bd3.pdf Vanuatu Forest Industry Limited claimed to be acting on behalf of Sanma Provincial Government but the province has since distanced themselves, which effectively means the end of the proposal. Well, hopefully.
C4J has had preliminary contact with the owner of Unity Store. The business owner confirmed that a third-party Chinese businessman had contacted him and used his company to try and acquire the rights to carry out logging in the area.
However, the Chinese businessman said the project did not materialize and he has since decided to stop the middleman from using his company.
The lesson we have learned from these timber traders is that they are quite canning and highly capable of manipulating government and community systems – which are often weak to gain access to resources.
C4J calls on all custom landowners, not only in Santo but throughout Vanuatu to tread cautiously with these sorts of spooky arrangements.
Equally important is the need for appropriate authorities to review all relevant laws, in particular the Forestry Act and Environmental Protection and Conservation Act of Vanuatu and tighten loopholes which allow such illicit trades.
C4J encourages custom landowners and chiefs to protect their environment for the benefit of their future generations.
We also applaud the action taken by the Northwest and West coast Santo NGO group, Sunset Environmental Network for saying “no” to illegal logging.
Santo is a priority area for national biodiversity protection targets as per the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation guidelines and policy frameworks. The Santo mountain chain is an internationally–designated biodiversity hotspot and home to an extensive list of endemic species already threatened by hunting activities.