in DR Congo

REDD in the Democratic Republic of Congo fails to uphold indigenous peoples’ rights and is fuelling land conflicts

The province of Mai Ndombe in the Democratic Republic of Congo has about 10 million hectares of forest. Of the population of 1.8 million living in Mai Ndombe, about 73,000 are indigenous people.

And in the last five years, the province has become a REDD laboratory.

In 2016, the World Bank approved DRC’s Emmissions Reduction Program, covering the 12.3 million hectares of Mai Ndombe province. The Forest Investment Program funds two REDD programmes, and several Central Africa Forest Initiative (CAFI) programmes are planned. REDD investments and proposed investments in Mai Ndombe exceed US$90 million.

But study released last week by the Rights and Resources Initiative finds that REDD risks harming the people living in Mai Ndombe, while failing to stop deforestation.

RRI’s report, “Mai-Ndombe: Will the REDD+ laboratory benefit Indigenous Peoples and local communities?”, is written by Marine Gauthier, a Paris-based expert on REDD and indigenous peoples’ rights. She has been working with local communities and indigenous peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2012.

RRI’s report finds that Mai Ndombe province faces several problems:

The arrival of new migrants looking for work and arable land, the increased demand for energy and resources, and continuing confusion over land rights all contribute to an increasing number of land conflicts in the province, increased pressures on the territory, and an increase in food insecurity. At the same time, the rights of the province’s indigenous Pygmy peoples (about 73,000 individuals) are routinely violated despite being recognized in several international conventions. Similarly, the strong discrimination against rural and indigenous women, who lack access to key lands and resources, persists despite legal protections.

Widespread corruption and poor governance add to these problems. Pouring money into Mai Ndombe for REDD would only exacerbate land conflict.

Marine Gauthier, author of RRI’s report, says,

“Countries engaging in REDD+ must ensure secure community land rights for Indigenous Peoples and local communities. These are fundamental to reversing the deforestation crisis and delivering long overdue benefits to the guardians of the forest.”

World Bank in denial

RRI’s report comes at a crucial time, with the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility due to make a decision on DRC’s Emission Reduction Payments Agreement this year.

Andy White, coordinator of the Rights and Resources and Initiative, says in a statement,

Countries funding the FCPF have an opportunity to postpone this project until community rights are respected and the government demonstrates progress on recognition—or to cancel it altogether if DRC does not correct course.

Predictably enough, the World Bank denies any problems. Reuters reports a Bank spokesperson as saying that REDD funding supports “some of the poorest Congolese citizens, while contributing to meeting climate goals”. In emailed comments to Reuters, the Bank writes that,

We will review the report’s findings and have no plans to withhold funding at this time. The work improves livelihoods, lessens pressure on native forests and reduces emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation and forest degradation.

Conflict and mismanagement

RRI’s report is the first to analyse the 20 climate finance projects planned or ongoing in Mai Ndombe province.

RRI’s report states that the projects underway suffer from conflict and mismanagement. The report found that projects already underway, including those funded by Wildlife Works Carbon, Novacel, WWF, and the Forest Investment Programme, have not adequately included communities in project governance. Plans for sharing benefits with communities do not exist.

The problem is a combination of weak public governance and a failure to conform with international standards.

DRC’s national REDD+ steering committee was created in 2012. But it no longer meets, and in effect exists only on paper.

RRI’s report refers to the (pathetically weak) REDD safeguards agreed by the UNFCCC in 2010 in Cancun, but concludes that the REDD programmes in Mai Ndombe don’t even meet the Cancun safeguards:

However, in light of the cumulative risks and impacts associated with the multiplicity of REDD+ initiatives in Mai-Ndombe, our analysis reveals that the investments made to date would neither create the conditions necessary to achieve the objectives of the DRC’s REDD+ investment plan, nor comply with the Cancun safeguards that apply to all REDD+ countries and projects. In this sense, the minimum objective of not aggravating the situation of Indigenous Peoples and local communities is not achieved, and the measures taken to mitigate the risks are largely insufficient.

Under DRC’s 2014 Forest Code, indigenous peoples and local communities have the legal right to own forest covering an area of up to 50,000 hectares. Thirteen communities in the territories of Mushie and Bolobo in Mai Ndombe have asked for formal title on a total of 65,308 hectares of land. But only 300 hectares have been legally recognised for each community. A total of only 3,900 hectares.

REDD has “fundamental flaws” and “must be fixed”

RRI’s Andy White says,

“Our findings show that DRC is not yet ready for REDD+ investment. The report analyzed 20 existing and planned projects in DRC, and concluded that projects already underway are not respecting the rights of local peoples or delivering on their goal of protecting forests. Evidence from other countries shows that REDD+ and similar payment schemes will work only if community rights are recognized and supported by governments.”

And AFP reports Alain Frechette, RRI’s director of strategic analysis, as saying that,

“REDD+ has brought unparalleled attention to the importance of forests in the global strategy to fight climate change. But there are fundamental flaws in its conception, especially the lack of importance given to rights of indigenous peoples. It needs to be fixed.”


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