By Chris Lang
“Conservation efforts in the Congo Basin are mostly failing to protect forests and biodiversity, having serious negative impacts on local populations, and for these reasons are probably unsustainable.”
That’s the conclusion of a major new report by Rainforest Foundation UK, released last week. The report is titled, “Protected areas in the Congo Basin: Failing both people and biodiversity?” and can be downloaded here.
International donors, including the USA, the EU and the UK, have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into conservation in the Congo Basin. On Rainforest Foundation UK’s blog, “Mapping for Rights“, Joe Eisen writes,
Biodiversity continues to dwindle, whilst communities living in and around national parks almost unanimously see protected areas and heavy-handed policing by eco-guards as a threat to their rights and their livelihoods, and a source of conflict.
Rainforest Foundation UK’s report is the result of 18 months of interviews and looks at 34 protected areas in five countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo).
The study asks four key questions:
- What impacts have strictly protected areas had over local and indigenous communities, particularly over their rights and livelihoods?
- To what extent have conservation initiatives complied with national and international human rights laws, safeguards and policies?
- Have these areas succeeded in meeting their stated conservation objectives?
- What part has community participation (or lack thereof) played in this?
Without access to the forest, “How will we eat?”
Rainforest Foundation UK has produced a film about the impacts of conservation on communities living in the Tumba Lediima Reserve in the west of the Democratic Republic of Congo:
The Tumba Lediima Reserve was established in 2006 by the DRC government, in collaboration with WWF. “From the outset,” says the narrator, “the very people who should have been involved in planning and managing the Tumba Lediima Reserve, the communities living there, were ignored.”
As a result the communities are now struggling to survive. “If they forbid us access to be in the forest how will we eat?” asks one villager.
In their research, Rainforest Foundation UK found similar problems throughout the Congo Basin:
Without exception, all communities in the four countries where field research took place associate protected areas with increasing hardships due to the restrictions to their livelihood activities, especially a diminished access to food (in severe cases even leading to malnutrition), particularly protein, as well as to forest products which provide them with a source of income. Desk research on 34 protected areas overwhelmingly supports these findings. In turn, whatever economic gains may have resulted from protected areas, very little (if anything) has reached local communities to date. In only eight of the 34 areas analysed are there reports of any kind of revenues for local people related to park activities, mainly in the form of sporadic employment as park rangers or tourist guides. In no case did we find evidence of adequate (or any) compensation for economic losses.
Alarm bells about REDD
While the report focusses on the impact of existing protecting areas, it also raises the alarm about the REDD projects that are currently proliferating in the Congo Basin. In the DRC, a a REDD sub-national project area with the creation of a new province, called Mai Ndombe, is planned under the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.
For instance, large scale REDD+ projects are being planned in Congo and the DRC, which cover at least partially the Odzala-Kokoua National Park and the Tumba Lediima reserve, respectively. However, in both cases serious concerns have been raised that these plans are going forward without anything like adequate consultations with local communities and both apparently contain provisions that might actually end up dispossessing these peoples even further.
Rainforest Foundation UK’s report is critical of Wildlife Works Carbon’s Mai Ndombe REDD project in the DRC and describes the failure to consult adequately with local communities and disregard of customary land rights. The report states that,
Local partners also report conflicts between communities in connection with the project, including incidences of violence against some representatives who have been accused of “selling the forest” without consulting their communities.
On the same day that the Rainforest Foundation UK launched its report, the Democractic Republic of Congo signed a US$200 million REDD deal with the Central African Forest Initiative. CAFI donors are Norway, France, the UK, Germany and the European Union. In the deal with the DRC, Norway will provide US$190 million of the financing.
In the DRC, an additional area of land roughly the size of England is planned to be set aside in protected areas. As many as one million people could be affected – or evicted – by these plans.
Rainforest Foundation UK’s Executive Director, Simon Counsell, is calling for a different way of doing conservation:
We believe there is a clear need for a complete re-think of the way that conservation is done in areas such as the Tumba Lediima Reserve, working with local people rather than against them. Our efforts to protect rainforests and to prevent climate change shouldn’t come at the cost of the livelihoods of some of the poorest people on the planet.
Full disclosure: Rainforest Foundation UK has funded REDD-Monitor in the past. Click here for all of REDD-Monitor’s funding sources.