Community Forests Bring Tangible Change: Reflections of Local Leaders from the DR Congo
Octubre 4, 2022
Local representatives from the provinces of Equateur, Maniema, North Kivu, South Kivu and Mai Ndombe have all spoken on how securing their lands with community forests has brought palpable change for their communities. To sustain and build on the progress made, they also request continued support, and that promises of increased climate and biodiversity funding for indigenous peoples and other local communities reach their localities.
Speaking at the 9th National Roundtable on Community Forests, held in Kinshasa on 29 and 30th September 2022, they provided vital first-hand evidence of how the process is developing on the ground. More than one hundred NGO members, government representatives, academics, diplomats and representatives of the donor community had the opportunity to listen to their inspiring stories.
“Managing our community forest together we have been able to build a health centre and schools. We need continued support to do more. You speak of billions in funding. They should reach our province!” said Loshisha Upuka Freddy, groupement Yenge Chief, Maniema province.
Gustave Embele, community leader from Ilinga in Équateur province, added,
“We feel stronger to defend our land. We have rejected the illegal incursion of a logging company on our territory, as well as a carbon company that wanted to force us to sign a completely abusive contract.
Before we had our community forest we were used to working individually, but we have learnt to collaborate, to get organised to sell our products and we are happy with the results. To continue down this route, we request support to continue building our capacities.”
Pistuki Bwenza, community leader from Ilebo, Équateur province, continued on this theme:
“Cocoa production is very important for us and training from ASSECCAF [the Association of cocoa and coffee exporters in DRC] has helped us a lot. Before, each producer sold their cocoa on their own, as they could. Now we know that we need to be organised to sell together and obtain a standard, better price.”
With the Congo Basin constituting one of the world’s greatest biodiversity reserves, the participants also underlined the role of community forests in protecting fauna and flora in the region.
"With support from the organisation Mbou Mon Tour, we have improved management in our community forests and the population of bonobos has doubled in a few years. Some tourists come and that allows us to save funds to build schools and pay the teachers. But this work involves six communities only. Our neighbours also require support," said Mondziu Nyoka, community leader from Embirima, Maï-Ndombe province.
With nearly three million hectares now under community forest management in the country, the importance of integrating these areas in wider land-use planning processes was emphasised by Anastasie Bahati, representative from the organisation Strong Roots, one of the main promoters of community forests in South Kivu:
“Thanks to the Congolese government and the NGO Strong Roots, we now have 13 community forests covering more than 250,000 hectares in South Kivu. We now request ICCN to finish demarcating the protected areas neighbouring these concessions, to prevent conflicts over the use of resources. We also ask for continued support so we can continue to manage these forests ourselves, not through external actors.”
For decision makers and donors wishing to support effective climate and biodiversity solutions in DRC, the message is clear: the legal certainty and collective power of community forests provide a strong foundation where forest protection and livelihood activities are more likely to succeed. We just need to make sure that the funding reaches the ground.
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.