For years, there has been a growing consensus that securing land rights for local communities is one of the most effective strategies for protecting forests and reducing poverty. This approach could have a huge impact in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), home to the world’s second largest rainforest and where around 40 million people depend on forests for their livelihoods.
Participatory mapping in the Congo Basin, and more specifically in DRC, has shown that communities have a long history of defining and implementing clear, locally-recognised customary land tenure systems in many forest areas. However, until recently there have been few formal measures covering this type of management, and those that do exist are heavily bureaucratic and ill-suited to local needs and realities.
If well implemented, new community forest legislation in DRC offers an unprecedented opportunity for communities to obtain legal rights to forests they have inhabited for generations and, as a result, to improve their livelihoods. However, for community forests to deliver equitable and sustainable outcomes there is a need to ensure that they are developed by the communities themselves, to truly address their needs and priorities. This would be a departure from top-down community forest models found elsewhere in the region.
Initiatives such as MappingForRights aim to support a bottom-up approach to community forest management by enabling communities to create highly accurate and detailed maps of their customary lands and resources.
A new briefing by RFUK, Securing Forests: Participatory Mapping and Community Forests in DRC, shows that the most effective way to develop community forestry starts with a genuinely participatory approach that reflects the community’s collective needs and priorities.
The new briefing also draws on recent experiences and investigations on the ground to identify some of the emerging challenges for community forestry, such as conflicts over land and a lack of ownership in some areas, often driven by external actors seeking access and control over forest resources.