Workshop was an “expression of our vision of participatory management of natural resources in Gabon” – Brainforest

April 15, 2014

Workshop was an “expression of our vision of participatory management of natural resources” in Gabon - Brainforest

Indigenous and forest peoples from the Gabonese rainforest joined civil society organisations, the new Gabonese Ministry of Forests and the Environment and Protection of Natural Resources at a national workshop in Libreville, to discuss the value and challenges of participatory management of the country’s natural resources.

Over the two days, (5 and 6 February) more than 60 participants, including Gabonese government representatives, community members, national and international civil society organisations, (including Brainforest and Association Gabonese des Nations Unies, supported by international NGOs like The Rainforest Foundation UK, FERN and Client Earth), academics, the Gabonese National Parks Agency (ANPN) and forest logging companies, took part in order to share views on the current legal framework related to forest communities’ rights, and experiences from the field.

The aim of the meeting was to examine the gaps between actual laws and their implementation in the field in order to address the extent to which they are able to respect and protect forest communities’ rights in practice. The workshop also identified and analysed the positions and interests of all the actors - from local communities to the private sector and local authorities - and gave RFUK and its main partner organisation in Gabon, Brainforest, the opportunity to support the communities at the workshop to present their views and discuss them with policy makers.

Presentations, discussions, experience sharing, debates, and working sessions resulted in a series of recommendations to improve the legal framework for the protection of community rights in natural resource management in Gabon, as well as more generally on aspects of existing forest law that has an impact on local and indigenous communities.

The recommendations focused on ‘benefit sharing mechanisms’ that would allow communities to partake in the benefits stemming from the legal exploitation of the forest and natural resources in or around the lands they occupy, or have had access to. At present, communities receive little or no benefit from the exploitation of resources on their traditional lands. A proposal for the revision of the forest law will be presented to the Minister of Forest, Environment and Natural resources Protection on behalf of the participants and will be made available on the RFUK website soon.

RFUK’s Coordinator for Rights and Legal Capacity Building, Laurence Duprat, said that through bringing community members into direct discussions with policy makers, the workshop served to highlight the reality of the challenges that these communities are facing, in order to start to improve the legal framework to better protect communities’ rights.

“All stakeholders were able to express diverse points of view peacefully and collaboratively, allowing everyone to understand the complexities of the forest sector and how the rights of communities could be better promoted” she said.

Programmes Coordinator at Brainforest, Protet Essondo said that the workshop was an expression of Branforest’s vision of participatory management of natural resources by the various stakeholders including the forest communities.
“For the first time we were able to gather the administration, the private sector, civil society and representatives of communities to discuss the concrete steps that can be taken to ensure a positive impact on the living conditions of forest communities,” said Protet.

The Community Legal Fieldworkers (CLFW) Project

  • The CLFW Project in Gabon started in October 2011 and its aim is to promote the rights of forest communities and indigenous peoples through legal capacity building.
  • This project was developed in partnership with Gabonese partner NGO Brainforest, and started with the selection and training of three CLFWs who have been placed directly within forest communities, living and working with them on a daily basis to train them on legal knowledge, and support them to claim their rights. They have also supported these communities to develop legal action plans to address their concerns, and develop dialogue with local authorities, national parks, and logging companies.
  • The project has primarily involved training community members on rights to land and natural resources, but also on non-discrimination, and citizenship for indigenous peoples – challenges which exacerbate these communities’ problems of access to land and resources.
  • Through the project, around 20 key community members have also been trained as paralegals so that their communities can continue to exercise their legal knowledge  when entering into dialogue with logging companies, building community associations with legal recognition to start negotiation with private sector entities that work around their lands, gaining the right to participate in national parks management and building legal cases dealing with human/animal conflicts that affect their plantations and crops.
  • The project has also supported the provision of identity documents such as birth certificates that allow them to have access to basic public services like education and health.
  • This initiative has also involved the national academic sector and technical support from experts who have been part of an ongoing mentorship process to ensure a comprehensive support is available to the CLFWs in the field.
  • The CLFWs have worked using a participatory approach with gender mainstreaming and on human rights-based principles.

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