Kinshasa: WWF and the DRC government’s protected areas authority have agreed to reconsider the status of a controversial protected area after meeting yesterday with representatives of local communities who were threatened with loss of their lands and access to natural resources on which they depend for their livelihoods and survival.
Supported by Rainforest Foundation UK, six customary chiefs and 6 delegates representingmore than 50 communities from Lukolela territory, Equateur province and Inongo territory,Bandundu Province, spent two days raising their concerns about the Tumba-Lediima Reserve  with representatives of Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN), the DRC Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism, and WWF. The Reserve, which covers nearly 2 million acres and contains over 100 villages with as many as 100,000 inhabitants, has seen a number of conflicts between conservation agencies and local populations since it was established - without proper consultation with local people – in 2006.
Many of the communities were able to show detailed maps of their ancestral territories inside the park, which they have produced with the support of the RFUK .
DRC Programme Coordinator for RFUK, Jeanne Mangani, said: “This is an important step for the recognition of rights of communities living in and around the Tumba Lediima Reserve, and we hope it will set a precedent for a more people-friendly approach to protected areas throughout DRC”.
Jean Denis Mambenga Lomata, a local chief, presenting a map of his community’s territory and traditional wildlife protection practices, said: “Here is a sacred site, where people are forbidden to go. Our ancestors ordered that nobody should hunt, fish or gather anything there.”
Commenting on a recent law in DRC allowing communities to claim ‘community forests’, Patrice Idwa Masimango, representative of Masobe village, said: “There are too many overlaps on our forests. First the logging concessions, then the agro-industrial and REDD concessions, then the reserve… Where will be able to get our own community forest, as it is now laid down in the new decree passed on August 2 this year?”
In a joint statement from this week’s meeting , it was agreed that:
- The status and demarcation of the reserve should be revised, and different usage zones should be established in compliance with the aspirations of communities.
- There is a need to establish lasting mechanisms for representation of all stakeholders in the management of the reserve and continuing dialogue;
- Local communities should play a central role in conservation strategies.
The development comes on the eve of the 10-yearly World Parks Congress in Sydney, where one of the key issues to be discussed is the relationship between strictly protected conservation areas and local people . The results of a new study released this week by RFUK on 34 protected areas in the Congo Basin shows that consultation and involvement with, and compensation and benefit-sharing to, local and indigenous communities have been insufficient and often completely lacking in the region .
 The 741,000 hectare (or 1,831,297 acres) Tumba-Lediima Reserve created in 2006, lies in the western part of DRC, partly in Equateur and Bandundu provinces. It is part of the National Protected Area Network of DRC which is managed by ICCN (Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation) and which must, by law, reach 17% of the national territory by 2023.
 Link to final statement – only in French declaration-finaleatelier-gestion-participative-2014.pdf
 At the previous World Park’s congress, in South Africa in 2003, the ‘Durban Accord’ created an international agreement calling for ‘a new paradigm for protected areas’ in which the rights and interests of local peoples should be fully integrated with conservation goals.
 See the full briefing here.