in DR Congo

Can REDD save the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo?

DRCA new report by the Forest Peoples Programme finds that “Deforestation and forest degradation have increased in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) despite the government’s commitment to safeguard its forests”.

The report, written by Patrick Kipalu, Lassana Koné, Sarah Bouchra, Stephanie Vig, and Willy Loyombo is titled, “Securing Forest Peoples’ Rights and Tackling Deforestation in the Democratic Republic of Congo”. It can be downloaded here.

One of the problems that the report highlights is that offical studies of deforestation in the Democratic Republic of Congo tend to blame forest peoples for deforestation. Communities practising shifting cultivation and hunter-gathering are often targeted in attempts to reduce deforestation.

Meanwhile the main drivers of deforestation such as illegal logging, mining, industrial agriculture, and urban demand for fuelwood receive too little attention. The same goes for newly emerging threats such as construction of roads and hydropower dams, and the expansion of oil palm plantations.

As a result, the report finds that,

the national REDD strategy and the design of forest and climate schemes and REDD+ pilots are unjustly skewed towards limiting local livelihood activities, without adequate protections for sustainable customary livelihood practices. Communities and civil society organisations criticise the narrow focus on subsistence activities in REDD pilot projects.

The report includes a section on REDD in the DRC. The report points out the problems with the way REDD has been implemented so far in DRC. REDD schemes, including DRC’s Emissions Reduction Program Idea Note under the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, focus on local communities as the main drivers of deforestation. The report notes that “the solutions offered by the ER-PIN are highly questionable”.

Nevertheless, the report argues that REDD “could be a useful platform for promoting indigenous and local communities’ rights as a means to safeguard the DRC’s forests”. To acheive this would require, “sufficient attention to equity, social justice and support for traditional land use systems and community forest management”. All issues that REDD in the DRC has so far utterly failed to address.


REDD+ brings together the UN-REDD programme (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and other multilateral initiatives such as the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and Forest Investment Program (FIP) under the aegis of the World Bank.[126] The DRC’s framework strategy under REDD+, presented in November 2012, controversially and problematically identified the primary cause of deforestation in the country to be shifting subsistence agriculture practised by local communities.[127] Although the strategy also refers to illegal logging, mining and commercial agriculture, it does not consider these to be major drivers of deforestation to be tackled as a priority.
The REDD investment plan aims to implement the strategy over the medium term by addressing the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation and by delivering developmental and poverty-reduction benefits to all Congolese – women and men, adults and younger generations, urban and rural people, indigenous and non-indigenous – as well as enhancing the climate resilience of forest ecosystems.[128] However, the plan regrettably replicates the framework strategy in identifying local communities as major agents of deforestation and forest degradation, thereby threatening to increase communities’ impoverishment while not addressing the primary drivers. The plan states that ‘agriculture is already the main direct driver of deforestation. Currently the pressure on the forest is mainly due to slash and burn subsistence farming’ (unofficial translation).[129]
As part of REDD+, the DRC’s Emissions Reduction Program Idea Note (ER-PIN), presented to the FCPF, was approved in April 2014. This covers the new province of Mai-Ndombe, an area of 12.3 million hectares with a population of 1.9 million.[130] FPP and others have criticised the ER-PIN for attributing responsibility for deforestation mainly to indigenous and local communities, despite a lack of evidence. Earlier reports by FPP and FERN have similarly critiqued official analysis of the causes of deforestation in the DRC and other countries.[131]
Because they arise from unclear and disputable attributions of the causes of deforestation, and their preparation excluded information relating to forest communities’ customary land and natural resource rights, the solutions offered by the ER-PIN are highly questionable. There is no provision to address the violation of community rights, despite the lack of such rights being one of the principal reasons why communities are unable to resist forest degradation. Instead, measures proposed threaten communities’ cultures and livelihoods by restricting long-practised and largely sustainable rotational subsistence agriculture and livelihood-based hunting and fuelwood production, while offering unconvincing alternatives as replacements.[132] Thus the ER-PIN risks leading to implementation of false solutions in response to false causes of deforestation, with negative consequences for all concerned.
Civil society and communities were not adequately consulted during the planning stage of the DRC’s ER-PIN. The document was only translated into French once finalised, thus excluding many actors, especially at community level, from the process. And while the ER-PIN recognises the importance of participatory cartography and zoning undertaken by communities, which should help secure community land rights, this is regrettably apparently intended to limit their land use. The FCPF’s Carbon Fund’s operations are also flawed; World Bank monitoring of activities lacks careful analysis to ensure genuine improvements are made and appears disconnected from the need for ‘readiness’ for emissions reduction projects.[133]
The DRC’s National REDD Coordination (CN-REDD), the government and civil society have, at least, agreed that a guide to implementing the right to FPIC should be drawn up and appended to the forthcoming new decree on the approval process for REDD+ projects, requiring project holders to observe FPIC before a project is registered under REDD+.
Some civil society organisations in the DRC consider that, with sufficient attention to equity, social justice and support for traditional land use systems and community forest management, REDD+ could be a useful platform for promoting indigenous and local communities’ rights as a means to safeguard the DRC’s forests. However, this will require genuine dialogue between forest communities, project holders, logging companies, development organisations and the authorities to ensure that communities’ right to FPIC and tenure security within REDD+ are secured.
If, in this way, a credible rights-based approach can be ensured, then elements within the programme, such as the pilot Forest Investment Programme (FIP), may also provide opportunities to secure community rights. Between US$40 million and US$60 million has been designated for the FIP,[134] with the programme at Mai-Ndombe largely focused on modernising and promoting security of land tenure and land use planning, including possibly financing participatory micro-zoning. This may indeed help address the underlying conditions that permit deforestation to continue, if it helps enable reform of the land law, including measures to guarantee community land rights, to protect food security and traditional livelihood practices, to identify other customary rights and to implement a land use and zoning policy based on participatory mapping and respect for customary rights (Box 6).[135] If not, then there are major risks that these pilot projects in DRC may undermine local livelihoods and leave people less secure.
Where investments within the FIP framework are targeting areas of fuelwood supply – in Kisangani, Kinshasa and Mbuji-Mayi – the CN-REDD has stated that it will undertake micro-zoning to identify land rights of communities in the supply areas. This could be a key step towards securing communities’ rights in such areas of high deforestation.[136] If these land use zoning measures are to deliver genuine local benefits, it will be essential that FIP-funded activities on the ground in the DRC ensure rigorous protections for community tenure and livelihood rights.
Forest and climate programmes thus have the potential to allow for genuine recognition of forest communities’ land rights in the DRC, provided there are effective and participatory implementation mechanisms that recognise and respect customary systems of tenure and ensure compliance with the FPIC standard.

[126] UN-REDD Programme (n.d.), ‘About REDD+’.
[127] DRC (n.d.), Stratégie-Cadre Nationale REDD+ de la République Démocratique du Congo, P.27-30.
[128] DRC (2013), Fonds National REDD+: Plan d’investissement (2013-2016),
[129] Ibid., p. 28.
[130] FERN and FPP (2014), Implement in haste, repent at leisure: A call for rethinking the World Bank’s Carbon Fund, based on an analysis of the Democratic Republic of Congo Emissions Reduction – Project Idea Note (ER-PIN), Brussels and Moreton-in-Marsh.
[131] FERN and FPP (2008), Cutting Corners: World Bank’s forest and carbon fund fails forests and peoples, Brussels and Moreton-in-Marsh; FERN and FPP (2011), Smoke andmirrors: A critical assessment of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, Brussels and Moreton-in-Marsh
[132] FERN and FPP (2014), op. cit.
[133] FERN and FPP (2014), op. cit.
[134] Climate Investment Funds (2011), ‘FIP Investment Plan for Democratic Republic of Congo’.
[135] RRN (2011), Rapport de plaidoyer pour la prise en compte des droits de tenure des populations forestières dans le processus de zonage en RDC, Kinshasa.
[136] Ibid.


Box 6: Forest Investment Programme pilot projects

The Forest Investment Program (FIP) pilot programme in DRC is a key element of the country’s REDD+ strategy. The FIP country investment plan has been approved for US$58.4 million funding implemented by the World Bank and the African Development Bank. The plan seeks to enhance national processes and to target specific areas of investment such as afforestation and reforestation, dissemination of improved cook stoves and charcoal production techniques, development of alternative energy sources and community-based capacity building in sustainable forest management.
The plan aims to reduce deforestation by channelling funding to key regions that act as supply areas for large urban centres, to create an enabling environment for sustainable forest management and sound forest governance, and to empower forest-dependent indigenous communities to have a greater role in the design and implementation of forest policies and programmes.
Although the FIP objectives appear positive, the FIP has the potential to cause serious harm if its approach assumes that ‘sustainable agriculture’ means stopping local communities’ shifting agriculture systems by intensifying their agriculture at permanent sites. Similarly, if ‘sustainable forest management’ involves separating communities’ productive areas off from forest areas instead of leaving them as part of the rotational system, and if ‘afforestation and reforestation’ projects are industrial scale and focused on putting exotic species in natural savanna, then the programme will be persisting in the assumption that forest peoples’ poverty, and not agro-industrial expansion, is the underlying driver of deforestation. If so, the FIP is likely to neither reduce poverty nor secure forests. However, if instead the FIP helps forest peoples secure their rights to their lands, and so helps tackle the drivers of deforestation, then the process could deliver important benefits.
Two key projects are under way:
The integrated REDD+ project in the Mbuji-Mayi/Kananga and Kisangani basins. Funded with US$21.5 million, and expected to be complete in 2019, this project’s stated aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and reduce poverty. The stated focus is on sustainable forest management, sustainable agriculture and land tenure, and project management support, while enhancing forest carbon stocks. The project anticipates a 6.3% reduction in local poverty levels among forest-dependent indigenous communities, but this must be subject to the questions raised above concerning whether the approach the FIP is taking will achieve this or the opposite.
The Improved Forested Landscape Management Project. Launched in 2014, this six-year project’s stated aim is to promote sustainable forest management around Kinshasa. The Climate Investment Fund contributed US$36.9 million to the project. The CIF states that it hopes this will result in poverty reduction and sustainable development outcomes through four components: promotion of community-based natural resources management to improve rural peoples’ livelihoods; promotion of private sector engagement to reduce forest degradation from woodfuel use through provision of improved cook stoves and promotion of agro-forestry in place of ‘slash-and-burn’ (sic) agriculture; small grants for promising initiatives including innovative local efforts to address deforestation and forest degradation; and dissemination of lessons learned to build regional capacity for future sustainable forest management. However, as highlighted above, the reference to ‘slash-and-burn’ agriculture, as if it were the underlying problem, misses the point that the real drivers of deforestation are far larger forces. Long-standing systems of crop rotation are sustainable as long as communities practising them are secure in terms of land rights so they can plan and act sustainably for the long term. Genuinely damaging and unsustainable ‘slash-and-burn’ approaches are those carried out by people who have no tenure security or who arrive from elsewhere seeking to exploit an area for short-term benefit. In both cases, establishing security of tenure for long-standing local communities is key.
The DRC government and its partners state that the Improved Forested Landscape Management Project will benefit 120,000 people in targeted forests and adjacent communities and help deliver new technical and financial approaches to sustainable forest management that could protect over 100,000 hectares of land. The project is also considered by its proponents likely to contribute to climate change mitigation by significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions; however, the caveats mentioned above need to be considered in relation to this project.
Within the FIP, the Dedicated Grant Mechanism (DGM) is said to be an innovative programme to build capacity and empower indigenous and local forest communities, facilitating their participation in design and implementation of activities to reduce deforestation and forest degradation at local, national and global levels. The DGM in the DRC is funded with US$6 million to support activities in four provinces covering 16 territories of indigenous peoples. The DRC project proposal was developed during meetings and consultations with indigenous communities. However, serious questions have been raised concerning how extensive and inclusive such consultations were and therefore how effective the resulting network is likely to be. The project proposal has been submitted, and the approval process is under way. Key proposed activities include securing the rights of indigenous peoples over their ancestral lands, promoting social and economic development based on communities’ FPIC, and community capacity building to influence forest and climate initiatives affecting indigenous lands. In the hands of an effective network, if the programme were genuinely aligned to achieve these outcomes, and with good governance, accountability and an inclusive rights-based approach, the DGM components could deliver local benefits.


Leave a Reply