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Congo Signs Historic Rainforest Preservation Pact

FILE - The Dzanga-Ndoki National Park and Dzanga-Sangha dense forest special reserve are located in the rainforest in the southwestern part of the Central African Republic, Congo Basin.

The Republic of Congo has signed an historic $200 million agreement that aims to reverse the rapid deforestation of its vast rainforest, the world's second largest behind the Amazon.

Congo is the first nation to sign a pact with the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), a seven-month-old program designed to renew forest protection efforts in the Congo Basin.

The initiative was launched last year by five other African nations and European donor countries. It requires participating nations to create investment plans to identify and attack activities that are contributing to deforestation.

Forests in the Congo Basin cover about two million square kilometers, about the size of the Central American country of Mexico. But the forests in the Congo Basin are shrinking by about 5,600 kilometers a year due, in part, to the expansion of palm oil plantations.

The environmental group Global Witness says Congo's largest logging companies are routinely violating national laws that are designed to protect the country's forests.

President Joseph Kabila has promised to reform the agricultural industry in his country, which is rich in minerals and fertile land.

Timing of the agreement coincided with Earth Day, during which more than one billion people around the world participated in activities to promote environmental protection.