The first official ‘Community Forest’ has been allocated in the Central African Republic (CAR) in the Congo Basin, giving local people the rights to manage and protect their forest.
In what represents an important achievement for forest peoples in CAR, a country where 80 per cent of the rainforest has been handed over to logging companies, three communities in the southwest saw their community forest application approved last week by the Ministry of Forests.
Supported by local CAR organisations and the Rainforest Foundation UK, (RFUK), the villages of Moloukou, Moale, and Lokombe applied jointly to take control of almost 15,000 hectares of the Lomba forest. The project was funded by the UK’s Department for International Development.
The area is part of a concession held by an industrial logging company, where, until recently, it was legally impossible to allocate a community forest. Over a year of advocacy by RFUK and its local partners resulted, in January 2018, in an unprecedented authorisation. Then, with an arrêté signed on 25 April 2019, for the first known time in the Congo Basin, communities regained rights to forest which had been under the control of loggers.
CAR civil society member and RFUK consultant, Bienvenu Kemanda, said: “I wish to congratulate the CAR government for this breakthrough decision, as well as the communities who relentlessly overcame all the (legal) challenges they faced during the application process. Like pioneers, these communities will now manage their resources to make this experience a long lasting success, and to set an example for many others who have been unable to secure their rights due to land saturation.”
Executive Director for RFUK, Simon Counsell, said: “This decision is a very important first for the Congo Basin. Such recognition of communities’ rights to their resources is a game-changer for them and for the protection of tropical forests. It is an opportunity to test the co-management of resources where forests have already been allocated to loggers, and to inform a much needed legal reform. We hope it will pave the way for other rainforest countries to adopt similar, innovative community-based approaches to forest conservation.”