Helping communities manage forests they rely upon can improve their livelihoods and enhance the protection of forest resources. For over five years, ClientEarth has been working on the revision of forest laws in the Republic of Congo. We have helped civil society to introduce proposals around community forestry in the legal reform process. Here, our Forests Law and Policy Advisor, Tanja Venisnik, talks about our current work in Congo, including community forestry and a field mission to the Sangha region.
Congo is a densely forested country where numerous communities, including many indigenous groups, depend on forests for their livelihoods and well-being. However, the participation of local communities in forest management remains low. A number of studies have shown that by putting in place suitable laws and helping people manage their forest resources, community-led forest management can improve the living conditions of local communities and the quality of forests.
We have been supporting the Congolese network of civil society organisations working on sustainable forest governance (Plateforme pour la gestion durable des forêts (PGDF)) and its legal working group (LWG) to develop a clear vision for community forestry in Congo. Our aim is to help develop laws and regulations that will ensure fair and sustainable community livelihoods and enhance community rights.
With our assistance, the network and the LWG have been engaging with the Ministry of Forests to input into various drafts of the Forest Code and its implementing decrees, including on community forestry. This topic has been identified as a priority by Congolese civil society. Our legal work has been accompanied by advocacy to raise awareness among decision-makers of the importance of community management of forest resources.
In February 2017, we organised a round table with Congolese parliamentarians in collaboration with the network and the international NGO, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). We discussed the legal proposals around community forestry and agreed that to be truly successful, community forestry has to be developed and led by the communities themselves.
The LWG continued to look into the legal issues around community forestry and presented recommendations to the broader network during a workshop in August. This workshop tackled a broad range of technical issues like the duration and size of community forests, land and use rights of communities in those areas and the representation of vulnerable groups in community forestry management bodies.
Later that month, ClientEarth joined the international NGO Forest People’s Programme (FPP) and the Congolese NGO Organisation pour le Développement et les Droits Humains au Congo (ODDHC) for a series of community consultations in the Sangha region.
We consulted with Bantu communities and indigenous groups living in areas within forest concessions. These are areas which have been designated by logging companies for communities to pursue activities like farming, fishing and hunting.
We collected information about the challenges communities are facing such as access to land and natural resources and participation in forest management.
These discussions provided a valuable insight into the power imbalances between Bantu and indigenous communities, and the overwhelming need to manage forest resources. Historically, indigenous groups have been marginalised and are often discriminated against. There is a great sense of mistrust between the communities, which can represent a serious challenge for the development of joint community forestry initiatives.
Decision-making within forest concessions tends to be dominated by local authorities and forestry companies, with little space for community participation and inputs. The future of community forestry in the Congo will depend on how well these issues are tackled. ClientEarth will continue to advocate for laws that enhance community participation in forest management and strengthen community rights.
In addition to providing legal support to the network and conducting community consultations, we carried out research on legal frameworks governing community forestry in five Congo Basin countries (Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Gabon). This work aimed to highlight the key aspects of community forestry models in the region and help the development of a model in the Republic of Congo.
Last September, we presented the results of that research at a regional meeting of experts that was organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the Ministry of Forests and the Commission of Central African Forests (COMIFAC) in Brazzaville. This work will help steer further thinking on community forestry in Central Africa.
Together with the civil society network and the LWG, we will continue to develop our analysis of legal options for community forestry in Congo and seek laws that better protect forests and the people that depend on them.