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COTE D’IVOIRE: Communities Determined to Preserve Tanoe Swamps Forest*

ADIAKÉ, Côte d'Ivoire, Aug 15 2009 (IPS) - When a major agribusiness company began clearing the rich reservoir of biodiversity of southeast Côte d’Ivoire’s Tanoé Swamps Forest for an oil palm plantation, ecologists and local communities demonstrated in favour of preserving it.

Local and international joined the resistance, but it was won primarily by local activists who sent letters of protest to the Ivorien authorities.

“The palm oil project threatened to cause the disappearance of plant and animal species found only in the Tanoé forest,” said Inza Koné, coordinator of Recherche et Actions pour la Sauvegarde de Primates en Côte-d’Ivoire (RASAP-CI), an Abidjan-based NGO working to protect primate species.

The Tanoé forest is situated between the Ehy lagoon and the Tanoé River, the natural frontier between Côte d’Ivoire and its eastern neighbour, Ghana.

Koné explained that the three most endangered primate species in West Africa are found in the forest: the Miss Waldron’s red colobus, the Diana roloway and the white-naped mangabey. These three also feature on the list of the world’s 25 most threatened species.

According to RASAP-CI, the forest also contains 179 bird species, among them roughly sixty in need of protection, and 279 species of plants, including 33 of concern to conservationists.

“We were shocked that a project to destroy this forest was launched without an environmental and social impact assessment being conducted. Because the environmental regulations in force in Côte d’Ivoire are very clear on this point,” says Koné, who led opposition to the oil palm project.

Towards the end of 2007, word got out that Palmeraies de Côte d’Ivoire (PALM-CI), a major Ivorien palm oil processing firm linked to the international Unilever Group, was planning to set up a 40 million dollar agro-industrial project in the 6,000 hectare forest

The project was expected to have created a thousand jobs in agriculture, and 300 industrial processing jobs. Unfortunately for PALM-CI, the plan met a categorical rejection by ecologists and from riverine communities.

According to an employee from the conservation department of Côte d’Ivoire’s environment ministry who requested anonymity, the authorities had already designated the forest a nature reserve in April 2007. Government therefore opposed the project, which local and foreign investors first tried to set up by means of an agreement with the local council, in Adiaké, the district in which the Tanoé forest is found.

“We could never compensate for the loss of this forest and the cost of the damage done by this would be a thousand times larger than the benefits it would bring,” Koné explained to IPS.

Koné says RASAP-CI’s mobilisation and rejection of the project is not intended to oppose the economic development of the country but to preserve nature. Beyond the animal species, the importance of this forest – one of the last remnants of intact forest in southeastern Côte d’Ivoire – extends to climate change.

“The fact that this forest is in a wetlands, means it plays a double role as a carbon fixer and so a crucial role in avoiding global warming, as well as the mitigating reduced rainfall and the (consequent) lowering of output from small farmers,” Koné said.

“(The forest is) a symbol for us, and we are happy to have contributed to its protection,” said Patrice Abwa, a 45-year-old fisherman from Kadjakro, a riverine village in the Tanoé forest. “There is also the water which allows us to fish. The region has enormous resources which come with preserving the forest.”

For Abwa, “The financial incentives promised by investors in the palm oil project were significant, but after listening to many explanations showing the benefits of preserving the forest as well as the potential future conflicts over land, we changed our opinion without hesitation.”

Abwa’s views are supported by Mathieu Yao, 45, a local palm oil producer. “Our invovlement against this vast project was in our personal interest. We live well off small-scale agriculture and fishing and each person is conscious that their output, each year, must maintain this forest.

“We have chosen to defend it,” he said. “We lose out economically, but we gain ecologically.”

The riverine communities of the Tanoé project a strong desire to self-manage their environment. They have therefore voluntarily engaged in actions to make this a nature reserve. It’s a first in this West African country.

“All the local inhabitants have understood the value of this forest and we think that the will to protect it will stay alive in each of them,” says Yao.

*Not for publication in Italy.

*This story is part of a series of features on sustainable development by Inter Press Service (IPS) and the International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ), for the Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development (

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