Community Forests change lives: How a Congolese community won rights to their forest

20 December 2019

Ilinga received its official community forest title in September 2018
In September 2018, the community of Ilinga received its official community forest title. The community, whose traditional name means “Unity”, is one of eight in Equateur province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), supported by local NGO GASHE[1], as part of Rainforest Foundation UK’s DFID-funded Community Forests project. The 3,393 hectares forest that had been traditionally owned and managed by the community for generations is now legally recognised as one of the first community forests in the country, and has been granted to them in perpetuity. 
While securing this forest is, in itself, an achievement in a country where communities’ land rights are often violated, ensuring that the community forests (also known as “CFCLs”) are managed inclusively and improve local livelihoods whilst preserving biodiversity is a crucial next step. 
From January 2019, GASHE worked closely with the people of Ilinga to set up three local governance committees and draft a Simple Management Plan (SMP), which was submitted to the local authorities in September 2019 and approved shortly after. 
The process to develop the SMP was community-led: GASHE worked alongside 28 local planners and committee members who were trained on the roles and responsibilities of the local committees, good governance, and tasked with the collection of data. Progress was recounted regularly to the community members through 20 assemblies, including one for the approval of the finalised plan. The result of this work is a plan that aims explicitly to protect forest cover and biodiversity, and building a stronger and more inclusive community in which resources will be invested for the benefit of all.
A socio-economic study, resulting from 217 household surveys, includes information on social, ethnic and age groups, current food sources and income-generating activities, locations of cultural sites, and access to public services (schools, health centres, roads). Following data collection for the socio-economic study, the local planners conducted several resource-specific inventories to assess potential for the exploitation of timber and non-timber forest products (also known as NTFPs – for example for food, medicine or construction), as well as animal populations. 
Community members conduct a timber resources inventory
Community members conduct a timber resources inventory
Based on the results of the socio-economic study (which highlights current land uses and needs of the community), the inventories (which identify potential resources), and a detailed analysis of soil types and suitability for specific activities, the community developed a land use plan. This divided their land into three zone types dedicated to rural development (25 percent of the concession), production (30 percent) and protection (45 percent).

                         Soil types drawn by community members to assess suitability to various uses                                    

Whilst the land use plan shows the multi-use purpose of the concession, traditional restrictions on hunting, fishing and farming have been reinforced to preserve biodiversity and respect forest renewal cycles. The attribution of the largest part of the concession to protection also shows commitment to preserving resources for future generations.

The community also identified and costed development priorities, with roads and transportation being primary concerns. The SMP states that some of the needed infrastructure could be paid for by communal income generating activities, such as cash crops. 

Ilinga’s land use plan emphasises the multi-use purpose of the concession


Even though more financial and technical support is needed to make this vision a reality, the community of Ilinga is already making significant progress on its own: a recent field mission led by GASHE found that the community had already started generating communal revenues through cassava farming and sustainable charcoal production. Those revenues are in turn being used to build an office for the Local Management Committee. 
The case of Ilinga demonstrates how Simple Management Plans can provide local communities with a better understanding of the resources they currently have and will need in the future, as well as help them to work cohesively towards common, sustainable development goals. 
Nonetheless, some challenges remain: 
- The capacity of the local administration to review and approve the Simple Management Plans needs to be further strengthened. In addition to meeting other legal requirements, SMPs should be inclusive, sustainable and “multi-use”, and the administration needs training and tools to be able to assess against those criteria. 
- It should be made as easy as possible for communities to draft their own SMP. Some current requirements (for example the systematic inventories) can be technical, lengthy and costly, and may make drafting SMPs impossible without significant external support. 
Despite those challenges, for the people of Ilinga, the SMP has opened up new possibilities for a brighter, collective future. “Everything we know about our forest is represented in this document – and it will help us improve our lives”, said Gustave Embele Botumba Nkoy, President of Ilinga’s Local Management Committee. 


The RFUK-led consortium project Community Forests in DRC (2016-2019) aimed to establish a successful model of community-based forest management, one that focuses on the rights, needs and priorities of local communities, including those of marginalised groups such as indigenous peoples and women. The community forest project, implemented by a consortium of Congolese and international NGOs (APEM, CAGDFT, GASHE, Réseau CREF, PREPPYG, InCap and Well Grounded), supported the setup of nine pilot sites in the provinces of Equateur and Nord-Kivu, the development of a robust policy framework for community forestry and capacity building of the DRC administration. It was financed by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID).

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