Two landmark community forests awarded in the buffer zone of the Lomami National Park in DRC
October 19, 2022
In exciting news, two forest communities in the Maniema Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo have finally won the legal right to manage their ancestral lands, by setting them up as 'Community Forests.' These important legal titles give communities formal recognition and collective rights to the forests that they have traditionally lived in, and protected, for generations. This also marks an important policy victory in that they have been allocated on the edge of the Lomami National Park, paving the way for other communities to establish community forests around the country’s protected areas.
The awarding of a Community Forest title is the end result of a long and complex process. In order to submit a formal application, communities must first map their traditional lands and establish inclusive governance bodies to manage them. For this to be successful, it is essential that perspectives from the whole community are taken into account – especially members of different clans, and marginalised groups such as indigenous peoples and women.
Working with the Maniema communities of Kakungu and Mbuli, RFUK and our Congolese partner Geofirst, supported them in carrying out participatory mapping of the area in 2018 and 2019. This provided a detailed understanding of the way local clans manage these lands, which GeoFirst then built upon to support the land claims of communities with clear traditional links and authority over their territories. Local and Provincial authorities then reviewed each application, making sure that the area was not in conflict with other forest users before granting final legal recognition of the community’s rights for perpetuity. Thanks to this work, both applications were easily approved, and there will be a formal handing over ceremony in the coming weeks.
Our experience promoting community forestry in DRC shows that this level of preparation – which requires dedication, knowledge of the context and facilitation skills – is an essential precondition to avoid conflict and ensure sustainability. Yet even though this marks a significant achievement in securing the rights of these communities, in another way it’s just the beginning. Now that Kakungu and Mbuli have formal recognition of their forests, the next step is for them to develop a “Simple Management Plan.” This will define the uses for which the new Community Forest will be devoted to, as well as how it will be managed in a sustainable and equitable way – such as for agriculture, income-generating activities, conservation and cultural purposes.
Community Forestry promotes the empowerment of communities for the management of their traditional living spaces and the sustainable use of natural resources. This collective approach strengthens social cohesion by reducing conflicts and promoting inclusive dialogue for the purpose of fighting poverty and preserving ecosystems. – Alphonse Wala, Executive Director of GeoFirst Development
In the DRC today, there are currently more than 150 community forests, covering nearly 3 million hectares. But the community forests of Kakungu and Mbuli are particularly special because they lie in the buffer zone of the Lomami National Park. This is the first time that Community Forest titles have been formally recognised in such an area, and they create an important precedent for securing community rights in places which many actors have argued should remain under state control and strict conservation rules.
Since its establishment in 2016, the Lomami National Park has had a controversial history with communities who lost part of their traditional territories for its creation, and were excluded from the decision-making processes that affect their lives. Alongside our partners GeoFirst and APEM, RFUK are working to address these issues between park authorities and local communities, ensuring they can continue to access and use the resources of their traditional lands that lie within the buffer zone. The newly awarded Community Forest titles in Kakungu and Mbuli are therefore a key step to achieve this, and prove that communities can live prosperously whilst also contributing to shared conservation goals that preserve the rich fauna and flora of the park.
The “Forests for the Future Activity" is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). It is implemented by RFUK and its partners, namely CAGDFT, APEM, GASHE, GeoFirst Development, PREPPYG and RCREF. The contents of this article are the responsibility of RFUK and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.