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Historic first as communities in Democratic Republic of Congo gain legal rights over their local forests

20 September 2018

Community members of Bosende, in Equateur Province, celebrate the news this week that their community forest application has been approved. | Photo credit: GASHE

The Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) is celebrating, as a group of local communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is being granted legal rights to protect their local rainforests. In what represents an important achievement for the rights of forest peoples in DRC, five communities in the country’s western Equateur Province saw their community forest applications approved this month by the provincial government.

During a special ceremony to award the community forests this week, Kiri Asubwa, a member of the village of Mibenga, declared: “Some thought our forests had been sold off, but today we have this title that secures our land. We now have our community forest. Let us unite to use this forest that has been granted to us.”

With funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), RFUK and its Congolese partner GASHE (Group d’Action pour Sauver l’Homme et son Environnement) have been working with local communities for over a year to help them establish legally designated community forests. Allowing communities to protect their local forests has been shown elsewhere to be the most effective way to conserve them. As much as 75 million hectares of forest in the DRC (or three times the size of the UK) could potentially come under community control in the future.

The five communities supported by RFUK and GASHE together represent over 10,000 people, and their newly awarded community forests total 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres, or about five times the size of Manhattan). These five community forest concessions are amongst the first in DRC to be granted, and many more applications are expected over the coming years.

“The approach we put in place to support these communities was effective because it put communities themselves at the centre,” said Julien Mathe, Director of GASHE. “If community forestry in DRC is to succeed, it must be done by and for communities themselves. We hope that the communities we’ve supported will serve as a model for others throughout the country.”

DRC is home to more than half of the Congo Basin rainforest, and an estimated 40 million people depend on the country’s forests for at least part of their livelihood.

“For decades, forest communities in the Congo Basin have had little to no rights over their forest lands. In order to reduce poverty and prevent rampant deforestation, it is vital that the Congolese government give its full support to community forestry, which can bring lasting benefits to local people,” said RFUK’s Executive Director, Simon Counsell.

*For more information on RFUK’s Community Forests projects, click here.

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