How community forests can save Africa’s rainforests (and may even help prevent the next pandemic)

11 February 2021

Ever since the Kayapo people of Brazil saved their ancestral forest from a destructive mega-dam project in 1989, the Rainforest Foundation has stood behind the conviction that securing land rights for Indigenous Peoples and local communities is the best way to also protect those forests. Evidence from around the world now backs us up: deforestation is much lower and biodiversity and ecosystem services are better preserved in the forests that local communities own and manage.

2021 will be a pivotal year for international efforts to combat climate change and protect the world’s biodiversity, with high-level intergovernmental negotiations due to take place in Glasgow and Kunming. At this time, it is crucial to radically step up the efforts to secure forest peoples lands. This should be at the heart of climate and biodiversity solutions, as it is crucial to sustainable development.

Recent developments in Central Africa show very encouraging signs in this sense. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a recent BBC article shows the promise of community forests “as a bold plan to save Africa’s largest rainforest”. Similarly, in the Central African Republic the Telegraph (pay wall) shows how devolving forests to local peoples can reduce illegal wildlife trade and could even help prevent animal-borne diseases like Covid-19 from reaching humans.

Our own analyses show a clear pattern: forest loss is significantly lower on community held territories (even when these lack official recognition) than in other forms of land use, as shown in the graphs below.

The analysis compares forest loss data (relative to area) from 2001-2019 in community forest concession areas, logging concessions and DRC as a whole. Data source:  Hansen, M. C., P. V. Potapov, R. Moore, M. Hancher, S. A. Turubanova, A. Tyukavina, D. Thau, S. V. Stehman, S. J. Goetz, T. R. Loveland, A. Kommareddy, A. Egorov, L. Chini, C. O. Justice, and J. R. G. Townshend. 2013. “High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change.” Science 342 (15 November): 850–53. Data available on-line from:

This is only the beginning. Collective land rights account for only a fraction of the total forest area in the region, and now the need is to garner national and international support to scale up initiatives such as community forests more widely.

For more information on our campaign on climate justice for Indigenous Peoples and local communities in this crucial year for forests, contact us at

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