France writes off debt in return for African conservation promise

In a historic agreement France and Cameroon have signed the first ever debt-for-nature swap.

African rainforests could benefit from more conservation-for-debt agreements

African rainforests could benefit from more conservation-for-debt agreements

In February 2005 Central African heads of state gathered for a summit in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, to look at ways in which the regions natural resources and biodiversity could be protected without harming the already-fragile economies of the countries involved.

Among the solutions that came out of the summit was the suggestion that industrialised countries waive a portion of the debts owed them by the African states for a guarantee that the cash would instead be spent on social and environmental projects.

The agreement signed by France and Cameroon this week will see US$25 million spent on protecting the African state's tropical forests, part of the world's second largest rainforest, dwarfed only by the Amazon.

It also requires Cameroon to earmark further funds for education, health and infrastructure.

This is the first such agreement to allocate funds to natural resources.

Previously funding has only been allocated to the education and health sectors, but an emphasis was placed on the environment at the request of French president, Jacques Chirac, last July.

Through the funds the Forest and Environment Development Program, an initiative to reduce poverty while protecting and managing natural forestry resources, will be implemented.

The funds will also be used to better manage protected areas, wildlife and forest production and increase community forest resources and research capacity.

"The importance of this unique and history-making agreement lies in the combination of debt forgiveness and investment in forest conservation and local communities," said Laurent Some, director of WWF's Central African Regional Programme Office.

Conservationists hope that the landmark agreement will act as a green light for other countries to implement similar deals.

Sam Bond



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