The Odzala-Kokoua National Park, in the northwest of the Republic of Congo, was declared a National Park in 1935 when the country was a colony of France. In 2001, the part was increased in size to 1,354,600 hectares. It is currently managed by the African Parks Network, which describes itself as, “The business approach to management of protected areas”.
A recent position paper from the Congolese Human Rights Observatory (Observatoire congolais des droits de l’Homme – OCDH) questions the latest developments of the park management, in particular the proposal to sell carbon stored in the National Park. An English translation of the position paper is copied below and the original can be downloaded here in French (pdf file, 597 kB).
A management plan drawn up in 2010 under an EU-funded project ensured that local communities would gain benefits generated from the conservation of the National Park. But under the Partnership Agreement signed between the Government of the Republic of Congo and the African Parks Network, revenue from the park cannot be distributed to local communities. The agreement also allows for the trading of carbon stored in the park.
On its website, the African Parks Network states that,
We place emphasis on achieving financial sustainability of the parks, principally through tourism, associated private enterprise and payments for eco-system services which all serve as a foundation for economic development and poverty alleviation.
But it’s difficult to see how the park management can lead to poverty alleviation unless some of the profits from the park management are redistributed to local communities. And failing to do so is only likely to exacerbate resentment from local communities and increase poaching problems in the park.
As OCDH notes in its position paper, the Readiness-Proposal Plan under the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility is currently awaiting approval. But it does not clarify who owns the carbon, how it might be sold, who can sell it and who might benefit from the revenue. The R-PP fails to address the issue of respecting community rights in relation to carbon trading. Neither does it address how carbon trading will be regulated or by which institutions.
Another question would be whether the carbon stored in a forest that has been a National Park for three-quarters of a century can be considered as additional.
Congolese Human Rights Observatory, OCDH
The partnership agreement between the Congolese government and African Parks Network (APN)
Decree No. 221 of 10 May 2001 created the Odzala-Kokoua National Park (PNOK) which now covers an area of 1,354,600 hectares. It has in its vicinity 39 villages and many towns (Mbomo, Etoumbi, Makoua, Semba and Mokéko) corresponding to more than 60,000 inhabitants.
In 2010, the ECOFAC program validated the management plan of the park at the local level. This management plan ensured the participation of communities, without condition, the benefits generated by conservation activities and their involvement in the governance bodies of the park. Moreover, the approach of the missions of the park as advocated in this development plan feared the PNOK as a national park within the meaning of Article 5 of Law No. 37-2008 on wildlife and protected areas.
At the end of ECOFAC, the government has initiated discussions to develop further partnerships for the management of PNOK.
Thus, on 18 February and 14 November 2010, the Congolese government and the African Parks Network (ANP) have respectively signed an Memorandum of Understanding and Partnership Agreement for the management and financing of PNOK. It appears from these agreements that the revenue of the park cannot be redistributed to communities if they exceed what is required for the functioning of the park. Moreover, this surplus will be allocated in priority to the provision for future expenses and will not be paid back to the community if there is a surplus after provision.
The agreement also provides that the Management of the park is responsible for the sale of carbon stored in the park. It will receive any income from payments for ecosystem services, including carbon.
In addition, several statements in this Agreement are contrary to several provisions of the management plan such as profit sharing and the mission and objectives of the park. To illustrate, the validated management plan provides three places for local communities in the Administrative Council, while the Partnership Agreement creates a Council in which local communities are not represented.
These provisions violate the national law on protected areas and anticipate, if not cut across, the national discussion on the status of carbon and transactions relating thereto.
Indeed, Article 22 of Law No. 37-2008 on wildlife and protected areas makes it clear that local populations benefit from the revenue generated by activities carried out in the park. It is true that the legal application texts on this matter are not yet available, but it is equally true that the double condition for the funds to come to the community makes it almost impossible for there to be a sharing of benefits.
The R-PP for Congo, which is in the process of being adopted by the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (World Bank), has yet to answer the questions on the status of carbon, including who owns the carbon? How can it be sold? Who sells and collects the revenue from the sale? Which community rights are to be respected? What are the institutions that regulate carbon?
These questions have not yet found official responses. So in this context of legal and institutional vacuum, the provisions granting the legal entity of a park the right to sell the carbon and take the fruits pose real problems of law.
Therefore OCDH urges the Congolese government to:
- State the illegality of the agreement. Indeed, the nature of it is not in compliance with the law on wildlife and protected areas;
- Respect the wishes of the communities expressed in the management plan for the park approved in 2010 by ECOFAC;
- Obtain the free and prior consent of the communities in case of revision of the management plan that ensures their involvement and participation unconditionally in the benefits generated by conservation activities;
- Refrain from making commitments in the carbon market before the national process of developing the mechanism which is being implemented by the National REDD committee.
 Programme of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa: Programme of the European Commission for the Conservation of tropical rain forests of Central Africa.
 This article does not anticipate storage, or sale, of carbon, “National Park:protected area for the protection, development and sustainable management of wildlife, flora and biodiversity, and the protection of sites, landscapes or geological formations of special scientific value, aesthetic, cultural or recreational.”
 Readiness Preparation Proposal
PHOTO credit: African Parks Network.