Community Forestry in DRC is a solution to tackle both poverty and climate change: that’s why it needs to be in focus at COP26
October 28, 2021
On 14 October at the 8th annual Multi-actor Roundtable on Community Forestry in Kinshasa, the Congolese government, as well as representatives from donor countries, community leaders and a large contingent of national and international civil society organisations, affirmed that local forest communities and indigenous peoples should be at the centre of climate action.
As expressed by Mr. Athanasse Lingodja, a community leader from the province of Maniema,
“securing our lands through community forestry has reinforced traditional governance. It has strengthened social cohesion. It has enabled us to manage our resources in a sensible way.”
This is particularly significant in a country where, until very recently, forest communities did not have legal means to assert their collective rights over ancestral lands, making them prey to displacement and dispossession from extractive industries and exclusionary conservation projects.
Establishing social justice is thus one of the many challenges the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is facing, after colonial rulers built the country around the imperative of extracting natural resources for exportation, leaving very little benefit for the local population. As an independent country, the political economy of the DRC has followed a similar pattern.
Breaking with this legacy, the community forestry legal framework in DRC is now the most innovative in Central Africa. The 2002 Forest Code, and bylaws adopted in 2014 and 2016, opened up the possibility for communities to obtain large concessions in perpetuity (‘Concession Forestière des Communautés Locales’ - CFCL) over the land they traditionally owned, following a free and decentralised procedure. Also, avoiding the pitfalls community forests elsewhere in Africa experienced when focussing primarily on logging, in DRC these spaces can be devoted to “multiple uses,” enabling forest peoples to draw on their traditional practices to manage their lands in a diversified and sustainable way.
While this provides unprecedented opportunities, high-level and well-coordinated support is needed now more than ever for community forests to realise their potential. Communities are currently managing over a hundred CFCLs covering more than 2 million hectares in nine provinces (according to the Community Forest Database). Whilst this is a great achievement, it is only a very small portion of the 155 million hectares of forests in DRC. One of the reasons behind this limited scale, is that international funding for community forestry remains minimal, and represents a fraction of what is currently allocated to conservation and REDD+ projects.
But the tide is turning
Launched in 2015, the Roundtable on Community Forestry has never been so momentous and clear in its political message supporting land rights and social justice, or as central to climate action, as this year when officials from the highest level of the Congolese government, as well as representatives from the UK, US, Norwegian, German and Dutch Embassies, met with the civil society and community members from nine provinces to cement this shared vision.
Together, they sent a strong message to the world leaders who are getting ready for COP26: climate policy will only succeed if it is based on local actions; therefore, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and the Global Biodiversity Framework must accommodate local communities’ needs for their development and cultural survival.
Beyond this fundamental agreement, the meeting set out eight priority actions to make community forests a concrete and scalable forest management option in DRC. These place an emphasis on supporting local initiatives and documenting their impact, in terms of economic and environmental viability, to inform further legal reforms.
Through a strong speech delivered by her Cabinet Director, Mr. Yves Lutumba Kibada, DRC Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Ms. Eve Bazaiba, announced her commitment and called on a multi-sectorial approach:
“I want community forestry to become a priority for my ministry, and to strengthen synergies with other ministries."
Significantly, the representatives of the main donor countries in DRC strongly supported the approach. The UK Ambassador to DRC, Mrs. Emily Maltman, emphasised that “land tenure security is an essential precondition for sustainable forest management,” and that community forestry has already achieved “remarkable results” in DRC. As her country will chair COP26 in Glasgow in November, she confirmed that these issues will be placed at the forefront of the event.
Mr. Paul Sabatine, DRC Mission Director for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), also declared that "USAID supports the DRC government’s vision: promoting sustainable forest management under the leadership of local communities” and calls on political commitment for community forestry in the run up to COP26.
For Mr. Olav Lundstøl, Norway's Special Envoy Climate and Forest for the Congo Basin, Community Forestry is “an innovative way to face a triple challenge: poverty, climate and biodiversity.”
Inter-ministerial coordination, institutional capacity building and reforms are indeed key to scaling up community forestry, by making the procedure more accessible and ensuring that all communities are able to apply for, and manage, their CFCLs without external support. This endeavour is not only essential to making Congolese communities the drivers of their own development while preserving the second largest rainforest on earth, but also to set a successful example for other central African nations and help achieve climate justice at a global level.
The “Forests for the Future Activity" is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). It is implemented by RFUK and its partners, namely CAGDFT, APEM, GASHE, GeoFirst Development, PREPPYG and RCREF.