Protected areas in Africa’s great equatorial rainforests are falling well below expectations – both in terms of conserving wildlife and respecting local peoples’ rights – our new report, Protected Areas in the Congo Basin: Failing both People and Biodiversity, reveals.
Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in international support that has been spent on conservation efforts in the Congo Basin region in recent years, biodiversity continues to dwindle, whilst communities living in and around national parks almost universally see protected areas and heavy-handed policing by eco-guards as a threat to their rights and their livelihoods, and as a source of conflict.
Simon Counsell, RFUK’s Executive Director and co-author of the report said that for conservation in Central Africa to succeed, the rights of local communities need to be recognised, respected and guaranteed.
“The current approach to protecting rainforests is not only unfair on local communities, but also ineffective in protecting nature. A new, more sustainable, form of conservation is needed in Africa’s rainforests which works with local people to secure their rights and protect their environment, rather than working against them. International donors need to carefully consider whether their support to strict forest preservation is currently effective,” he said.
Our research, based on a sample of 34 protected areas across Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and the Republic of Congo, including four detailed case studies, reveals that biodiversity in the region continues to decline, that there is little evidence that the ‘guns and guards’ approach to protected areas is being effective, and that due to aggressive enforcement, conflicts and human rights abuses are widespread and the livelihoods of many local people have been severely compromised.
Our report suggests that local communities are also disproportionately and unjustly targeted by anti-poaching measures, while more damaging activities such as logging and mining are permitted to take place around and within rainforest protected areas.
"We are calling on those directly involved in protected area management in the Congo Basin to ensure that conservation projects in the region do not cause the displacement or abuse of the rights of some of the poorest people on the planet,” Mr. Counsell concluded.