To mark World Biodiversity Day, we have released the second video in our Rainforest Parks & People vlog series. In this video, we asked local communities in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) a simple question: “What does the forest mean to you?”
The answer we kept hearing was very clear, and it was best summed up by Jean-Marie, chief of the Tafutuma 'groupement': “The forest is our future, it is our life”...
While hundreds of millions of dollars are being poured into nature conservation programmes each year, there is little real effort being made to better understand how local rainforest communities interact their environment. In fact, conservation programmes (designed mainly in Europe and the US) often regard local communities as threats to biodiversity – and as people who should be ‘educated’ about their own environment. This all overlooks the fact that these people are natural conservationists with detailed knowledge on how to preserve biodiversity.
By failing to work in genuine partnership with traditional forest communities, conservationists are missing an enormous opportunity to better protect ecosystems. This is especially true concerning indigenous groups: while indigenous people represent only 5% of the world’s population, they occupy lands that hold around 80% of the world’s biodiversity!
As part of our work in Africa’s Congo Basin rainforest, we have worked with thousands of these forest people across hundreds of communities. You only need to spend five minutes with many of them to understand how deeply their customary practices have internalised the idea of conserving biodiversity.
Communities zealously conserve forest areas considered to be sacred and have strong prohibitions against hunting animals with special significance, such as bonobos and leopards, or cutting down certain tree species. As a deputy chief from the village of Mpoka explains: “Here, it is forbidden to cut wood, even though the village is nearby. If you ever see a tree with bark peeled away, it has only been done to make traditional medicines…”
For these communities, protecting the rainforest’s biodiversity is not just a cultural norm, it’s an existential imperative. That’s why it is so important to prevent the forced displacement of forest dwellers and to support them in taking control of their lands.
For more information on conservation in the Congo Basin rainforest, visit our interactive website on Rainforest Parks & People.