in Republic of Congo

African Parks Network plans to sell carbon from Odzala-Kokoua National Park in Republic of Congo

African Parks Network plans to sell carbon from Odzala-Kokoua National Park in Republic of CongoThe 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

Position Paper
August 2011

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[1] 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[2] 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[3] 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.

[1] Programme of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa: Programme of the European Commission for the Conservation of tropical rain forests of Central Africa.

[2] 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.”

[3] Readiness Preparation Proposal


PHOTO credit: African Parks Network.

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  1. Another shining example of how sentimental, conservation and financial values are mixed or blended to no lasting “sustainable” benefit. APN and the Congolese Government have colluded to “Poach” the UN fabricated carbon credits. Yes, physical poaching will increase as communities are excluded and so carbon credits will be used to equip APN anti-poaching units with the means to shoot to kill those poverty impacted community members that can be tempted by others to risk their lives to get something from the park. Who suffers? The wildlife and the humanity of the communities. Who gains? The short term enlightened Harvard,Cambridge, Stock exchange Graduates along with 2-8 year wonders from the expat and Congolese government communities. Then they can tut tut into their dotage about how they had a solution and how it failed because, because,……….. because; they could not see the forest for the trees.

  2. @CKWR

    Exactly. It seems like Prince Bernhard and his safari chums are still stuck in the colonial mode of ‘conservation’, believing that these huge tracts of land in Africa are simply there for the taking – all you need to do is co-opt the appropriate Big Man.

    Evidently, the observations about African protected areas and local communities by Michael Cernea and Kai Schmidt-Soltau from 2003 have yet to influence conservation practices:

    “The customary tenure of certain resident forest groups acts as an in built protective shield over flora and fauna resources against other local and outside groups. The presence of those resident groups has been often quite an effective deterrent. Eviction of resident people eliminates the customary protector, and it is doubtful whether ‘the state’ can be as effective against other users, local or remote…

    In sum…the consequences of the displacement and resettlement process itself have in turn a set of degrading effects on forest ecosystems.”

    REDD now appears to be providing a financial shot in the arm for the ‘Guns and Guards’ school of conservation, which is otherwise looking increasingly untenable throughout much of Africa.

  3. As the pioneer Chef de Composante (Director) of the Odzala Project under the ECOFAC umbrella in 2002/3, I am horrified to hear that the MOU between African Parks and the Congolese Government excludes benefits and empowerment provisions for the local villagers – in particular the baTwa. I understand that this flouts the provisions of the 2010 Management Plan, but the original terms of reference for the Odzala project under the EU/Congolese was always to decentralize control of the Odzala and to devolve power. After two years of work in which we created local management structures, created furniture co-operatives, a tourist lodge, hunting safaris and fish farms and a start to revenue sharing, I was told by the Congolese that they would not surrender any control of the Odzala to local communities. When I remonstrated with my Belgian masters and the EU, they meekly bowed their heads and looked the other way. I then called together all my staff and many of the villagers, bought all the beer in the local store, and apologised to them for having lead them up the garden path. I then resigned and left. That it took ECOFAC another seven years to even produce a management plan – one that merely reiterated the terms of reference, is a disgrace. But then the project was mounted on a lie: that elephant were being poached out of existence. This I soon found to be untrue, the poachers scared of the forest and killing a few elephant by coming up the river. Once I had deployed my paramilitary sticks on the river this ceased. But the Belgians, connected to a university, then started opening up the forest so that their students could enter, and so that it was accessible. It all followed closely the plot of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. African Parks are following me around: first Liuwa NP where n’dunas complained to me about their being excluded from the agreement between their paramount chief and African Parks, then the south-east Bangweulu where I was the Warden/Biologist in charge – trying to save the black lechwe and empower local villagers; and now Odzala. I have met with their CEO, tried to persuade him to adopt a model that recognizes the rights of the people who had given over the land in the first place to protected status. But he has his business model, and in patrimonial Africa the ‘Big Man’love it. Without true ownership and the full operation of the ethical stewardship of nature this sort of business plan is land-grabbing by another name. It might as well be for palm-oil or sugar cane, or mining.

  4. Got the date wrong…I was there in 1992/3! Why did it take until 2010 to produce a management plan? The fact that two decades after the start of a project intended to empower local people the Congolese hand over to African Parks is a massive failure of a donor-aid project and of the Congolese Government itself..

  5. The republic of Congo was formally a Belgium Colony not French. Check your facts!

  6. @ F Vroom

    Hi Frederik – perhaps you’re best sticking to counting carbon in British Columbia’s forests. Either that or go take some geography and history lessons.

    Still, you wouldn’t be the first forest carbon consultant or trader that didn’t even know what country they were talking about, let alone anything to do with its social, political or economic history. They all look so similar, these African countries, don’t they…

  7. @ A Witness, I indeed mixed up the DRC with the republic of Congo. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Your response seems to be fairly judgemental and very subjective. Maybe you should start with using your real name when correcting an obvious mix up of countries while scanning the various articles on this website.

    It seems (derived from your comments) that whatever I write here regarding my personal or professional standards regarding the development of any conservation or afforestation projects paid through the sale of carbon credits will not be heard.

    They all look so similar, these people interested in Forest carbon, don’t they…

  8. @ F Vroom

    Acknowledged, I was unnecessarily harsh. Please accept my apologies. I hope you do not let it deter you from sharing your views with other readers of REDD-Monitor.

  9. @ A Witness: No problem, I was too fast with my comment as well. Please keep in mind that (in my opinion) the majority of people supporting and working on the development and implementation of afforestation, restoration and conservation projects hope that carbon revenue can make these projects happen and change the local practices that are ecological and socially unsustainable.

    This majority is well aware of the problematic issues (especially were multiple stakeholders with different levels of influence and power are involved). These developers are trying to find ways to make sure their projects can be successful on all fronts including social and political.

    This website does a good job in putting projects in the spotlight were older cultural/social and economical patterns are repeated. Even-though you pictured Carbon (and its consultants) as the leading problem my personal opinion is that unwanted practices are more a result from the local historical social, economical and political situation. Carbon revenue should be a tool to ensure this changes.

    I agree it is a very complex issue that needs a very thorough approach. This approach can only be perfected with the help of critical individuals and organisations and open communication (such as this website)

    All the best everyone!

  10. With older cultural/social and economical patterns I mean of course the negative, unwanted patterns such as corruption,social and economical suppression, Land rights issues. Not the cultural or social identity or historical practices, diets and other customs.

    Just to be sure…