In a landmark decision, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Environment Ministry has adopted the country’s first National Strategy on community forestry, marking the launch of a five-year experimental phase to ‘test’ community forestry. The adoption of the Strategy was announced by officials from DRC's Environment Ministry at a launch ceremony in Kinshasa on Thursday, May 31st.
"I am more than convinced that today's meeting will serve as a collective memory for all," proclaimed DRC's acting Secretary-General for the Environment, Benjamin Toirambe Bamoninga, during the ceremony. "Community forestry aims at sustainable forest management by local communities and indigenous peoples with a view to improving their living conditions – and as a result, fighting against poverty and climate change."
Whilst the DRC government has recently received much international condemnation for moves threatening its forests, the new Strategy represents a key milestone for community forestry in DRC, which is home to half of the Congo Basin rainforest and where an estimated 40 million people depend on forests for their livelihood. Tens of millions of hectares of rainforest are potentially available to communities.
The new National Strategy was developed through a nationwide roundtable process that began in 2015, with support from the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK), the UK Department for International Development (DfID), the World Resource Institute (WRI) and USAID.
“Creating this robust National Strategy is a great achievement for Congolese government, civil society and all other stakeholders involved in its development. Community management of forests is a viable alternative to the old paradigm of industrial logging and strict conservation in the Congo Basin,” said RFUK’s Executive Director, Simon Counsell.
A wide range of stakeholders contributed to the consensus-based document leading up to its adoption, including government agencies, civil society organisations, indigenous groups, international NGOs and local community leaders. Congolese NGO Centre d’Appui à la Gestion Durable des Fôrets Tropicales (CAGDFT) has been one of the driving forces behind the National Strategy over the last three years.
“The National Strategy’s overall objective is to promote, by consensus, a sustainable and flexible model of community forestry, established in a transparent and controlled manner, through a gradual approach and in accordance with existing laws and regulations,” explains CAGDFT’s Executive Director, Theo Gata.
Community forest pilot initiatives have multiplied throughout the country in the past two years, with more than thirty Community Forest Concessions having already been attributed. However, there are growing indications of potential diversion of community forestry to serve interests other than those of the communities. Mr Counsell added:
“We need to guard against any potential abuse of this process, and that's one of the main benefits of the new National Strategy. With so much potential to reduce poverty and prevent deforestation, it is crucial that the international community fully throws its weight behind this Strategy in the coming years.”