In November and December 2017, the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) brought together participants from three Central African countries to train them on how to use innovative mapping tools in order to support community forestry. The workshops were attended by participants from Gabon, the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic (CAR).
The workshop series took place in Brazzaville (Congo), Libreville (Gabon) and Bangui (CAR) and was organised as part of an international project, supported by the UK Department for International Development (DfID). In total, 58 people from civil society and government participated in the 3 to 5 day workshops.
The aim of the workshops was to give those involved in community forestry – including governments and NGOs – the necessary tools to support communities across the Congo Basin as they seek to set up and manage their own community forests.
"As a ministry executive, [my] work does not take into account, or only partially, the needs of local populations. This workshop is for me the opportunity to address this,” said Julien Yanguere, a participation representing CAR’s Ministry of Forests. “I have now been equipped with the necessary tools, and I will make proposals to my superiors so that communities can participate in decision-making.”
The purpose of community forests, more generally, is to enable local communities to secure formal rights over the forest resources within their customary territory, so that they can improve their livelihoods and sustainably manage their environment. Supporting communities to map their traditional territories is seen as an essential first step in the process of setting up an officially-recognised community forest.
Since 2011, RFUK has helped over 900 communities across Central Africa map over five million hectares of tropical forest, with the aim of helping them enhance their land and resource rights.
As RFUK’s CAR Coordinator Marjolaine Pichon explains, “Over the last decade, our MappingForRights initiative helped show not just the extent of community land use in the Congo Basin, but also how much knowledge and expertise these communities have when it comes to managing their land and natural resources. In this way, participatory mapping is perfectly suited to support the set-up of legally-recognised community forest areas in the region.”
Each community will have different challenges, different priorities and different traditional practices. This is one reason why administrative procedures, including those related to the application process for community forests, need to be simple and flexible, in order to be make the whole process as accessible as possible for forest communities.
The experience of community forestry in some countries – such as Cameroon – demonstrates that lengthy and costly procedures can not only create insurmountable barriers for local and indigenous communities living in remote areas; they may also have a potentially negative impact on both community development and environmental protection. The exchanges during these mapping workshops highlighted that any initiative intended to benefit local and indigenous communities must first and foremost be based on local realities, which are extremely diverse across the Congo Basin.
For more information on RFUK’s community forests project in CAR, click here.