Independent forest monitoring – experiences from Congo shared in Ivory Coast

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Forest laws help protect the Earth’s natural resources and the people that depend on them. Monitoring of forest activities is needed to make sure these laws work effectively. This can be achieved through independent organisations verifying documents and conducting field visits – as has happened in the Congo. In February, ClientEarth asked the Independent Monitoring body in the Congo to share their experiences with the forest administration, civil society and the private sector in Ivory Coast. Here, our Climate and Forests law and policy advisor Nathalie Faure and in-country associate Charles Baimey describe the lessons learnt:

ClientEarth invited Alfred Nkodia, Coordinator of the Independent Monitoring project in Congo, to meet various actors and stakeholders in Ivory Coast so he could share his long-term experience on the subject.

These meetings provided an opportunity to discuss the experiences and practice of independent monitoring in the Republic of Congo and envisage how to develop this activity in Ivory Coast.

ClientEarth and Alfred held discussions together with the Ivorian Director of Cabinet of the Minister of Water and Forests, SODEFOR (the public enterprise managing classified forests), the REDD + National Commission, the President of the SPIB (trade union for timber producers and manufacturers) and the European Union Delegation.

ClientEarth meets state company SODEFOR in charge of managing classified forests in Ivory Coast

ClientEarth also organised a meeting for Alfred to exchange experiences and brainstorm on independent monitoring with the civil society platform working on forest governance issues (the Ivorian Observatory for the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources OI-REN), to inform civil society’s participation in legal reforms and the Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) under the EU FLEGT Action Plan

The key points raised during the visit were:

  • What is independent monitoring: The aim of independent monitoring is to assess compliance with legal provisions on forest exploitation, through field visits and document verifications. This activity, carried out in full impartiality and independence by people or institutions not affiliated directly to the subject, will guarantee the credibility of the process;
  • History of independent monitoring in Congo: The Minister of Forest Economy in Congo initiated IM in 2006, as a response to the difficulties in and the government’s commitment to improve forest governance. IM was initially conducted by two British NGOs – Resources Extraction Monitoring and Forest Monitor, between 2006 and 2009 – before the country became involved in the VPA process. These NGOs gradually trained members of Congolese civil society organisations to whom they have passed on this activity today;
  • The existence of two types of independent monitoring in Congo: Mandated Independent Monitoring (MIM) and non-mandated or External Independent Monitoring (EIM). MIM carries out observation of forest activities in agreement and with the collaboration of the forestry administration, through the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding. This agreement allows all IM missions (both field and paper-based verifications) to be carried out in all the forests in the country, as part of the implementation of the FLEGT process. On the other hand, citizens or civil society organisations can carry out EIM activities without a mandate. It does not require the prior approval of the administration. Each model has its advantages and disadvantages;
  • The key principles of independent monitoring: Effective and credible independent monitoring requires deep analytical skills with a high degree of precision, significant financial resources, and confidence in the structure that leads it as well as its ability to carry out the activities, including – crucially – the need for autonomy vis-à-vis other stakeholders;
  • The question of the role and responsibility of the independent monitoring: In Congo, Alfred explained, it lies with the Congolese civil society platform which entrusted a member organisation to carry out monitoring activities;
  • The relationship between the forestry administration and civil society: Because there is a close collaboration between these parties in the Congo, Mandated Independent Monitoring reports are validated by a committee composed of members of the administration, civil society, and technical and financial partners. If there are any substantive disagreements on the content of the report, it remains as it is, but the forestry administration can provide some explanations or give its position on parts of the disputed report before it is made public. This position or explanation is inserted in the report in a separate box, thereby showing both positions.

Alfred Nkodia sharing experiences on independent monitoring with civil society in Ivory Coast

In the course of the discussions, Alfred highlighted the firm commitment of the Congolese Government to the implementation of independent monitoring. The principle first emanated in the Republic of Congo from a political will of the then Minister of Forest Economy. In legal terms, independent monitoring is included in the VPA and in the current drafts of the proposed new forest code and its implementing legislation.

The civil society organisations and the various actors we met appreciated this experience sharing from the Congo and all agreed that independent monitoring is a very important and necessary activity in the context of improved forest governance.

Civil society organisations said they have realised that independent monitoring requires solid training, impartiality and in-depth knowledge of the activity.

The next steps for civil society will be to reflect on the implementation of independent monitoring in Ivory Coast. This must address the framework for implementation of monitoring in Ivory Coast; that is the type of independent monitoring, the actors that should be involved, and the means to achieve this.

ClientEarth will continue to facilitate discussions with civil society organisations in Ivory Coast on the development of a model of independent monitoring that will help improve forest governance.

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Nathalie Faure