In a historic development, three communities in the Central African Republic (CAR) were recently given the legal right to protect almost 15,000 hectares of their local rainforest, in the country’s very first community forests .
The customary territories of the villages of Moalé, Lokombé and Moloukou had been allocated by the government some years ago as an industrial logging concession. The country’s entire area of rainforest is covered by such concessions or strictly protected areas, meaning there is no space at all legally available for the use of communities. But with RFUK’s support, CAR’s government has, over the past decade, been progressively working towards enabling forest communities to manage their own forests in order to preserve the environment and to contribute to their own development .
The breakthrough came in April this year with the legal recognition of three community forests, the use of which will be shared with the logging company which still has a legal right to the timber.
In May, with financial support from the Rainforest Fund and the British Department for International Development (DfID), we held a workshop in the country’s capital Bangui with 60 participants, including community representatives, to hear what had been learned from the initiative so far. Community members spoke about the importance of community forests:
“The forest belongs to our ancestors, it belongs to us – that’s why we wanted a community forest,” said François Mossaba, the president of the Customary Council of the Lomba Community Forest. “The way our ancestors preserved the forest is the best…we want to continue preserving it in this way,” he added.
Whilst the community forests are a very promising development, the meeting also heard that there is a need to improve the country’s laws to enable more villages to secure the customary rights over the lands and resources they depend on for their livelihoods.
“There is a need to scale-up community forests and ensure greater chances of success both in terms of protecting the environment and securing the customary rights of local communities and indigenous peoples,” said Marjolaine Pichon, RFUK’s CAR Coordinator.
According to Mrs Pichon, some legal reforms are essential because, at the moment, obtaining a community forest is the only legal option for communities to secure property and management rights over the resources of their customary territories. Also, villages in the southwestern rainforests of CAR would have to apply for a special exemption in the law, as all their lands are already allocated to logging companies or protected areas.
During the workshop, participants agreed on the need to:
Encouragingly, all stakeholders – communities, CAR civil society, government and local authorities, donors and the private sector – are committed to community forestry and to contribute to the revision of the forest laws, in accordance with the roadmap developed during the workshop. Testimonies and statements from the community representatives were among the highlights of these discussions, allowing other stakeholders to grasp the realities experienced by the people living in the forest environment.
A further 11 villages in the Lobaye region of CAR will request community forests as a result of our ongoing project with them.