By Chris Lang
In September and October 2018, six local monitors trained by the Congolese NGO Action pour la promotion et protection des peoples et espèces menacés (APEM) took part in a civil society monitoring mission in Mai Ndombe province. The monitoring was carried out with technical and financial support from Rainforest Foundation UK.
The monitors carried out 239 structured interviews over 22 days in three REDD project areas in Mai Ndombe province:
- The Mai Ndombe REDD+ project, a private REDD project run by Wildlife Works Carbon.
- The Integrated REDD+ Plateux Project (PIREDD Plateau), funded by the World Bank’s Forest Investment Programme and run by WWF.
- The Somicongo logging concession, turned REDD+ concession east of Lac Mai Ndombe.
The questions that the monitors asked local communities were aimed at finding out the level of consultation carried out by the REDD project developers, whether the projects focus on clarifying and improving land tenure, and what benefits the communities receive.
A report based on the findings of the monitoring mission concludes that,
REDD+ activities on the ground are mostly failing to adhere to national and international standards. Local communities visited remain largely unaware of the existence of REDD+, and if they do know what REDD+ is, have not given their free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC); have not partaken in any activities that would improve their land rights; and have not received many of the promised benefits. Lastly, there has been negligible support to local administrations in the province and there is no functional feedback, grievance and redress mechanism (FGRM) in place.
In May 2019, APEM sent a letter to the coordinator of the Forest Investment Programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo. You can read the letter and the recommendations here.
The civil society monitors ran into difficulties in two of the REDD projects they looked at. In the Wildlife Works Carbon REDD project area they write that, “the constant presence of agents of the company and agitation of local elites during the field mission was part of a concerted effort to prevent free and open exchange about the project”.
The data collected in the Somicongo REDD concession was not included in the report because communities had been “pre-prepared” to give favourable views of the project, and the supervisor of the Somicongo concession persuaded one of the monitors to make sure that the data reflected positively on the project, in order that “the World Bank would give funds to the society”.
The information collected about WWF’s PIREDD project is similar to that uncovered by the Congolese NGO, Ligue Congolaise de Lutte Contre la Corruption (LICOCO) in 2017. Incidentally, REDD-Monitor is still waiting for a response from WWF to a series of questions about the PIREDD project.
Wildlife Works Carbon Mai Ndombe REDD project
Free, prior, and informed consent?
In the four villages they visited in the Wildlife Works Carbon Mai Ndombe REDD project, the monitors found that although many were aware of the project, the majority (74%) of people interviewed had never heard of REDD.
The majority (93%) felt that their community did not have the chance to say yes or no to the REDD project on their land.
Women are particularly marginalised in REDD activities, and have very little knowledge of what REDD is, or even that there is a project on their land.
The community members who did know about REDD, and who said that the community did have the chance to give consent to the REDD project on their land were local elites, who were members of the local development committees.
The majority (83%) of people interviewed said that their community has community land rights. About one-third said that REDD project developers had asked for permission to use their forest, one-third said they had not asked, and one-third did not know.
Two of the villages have community maps. But both were developed through a previous project supported by Rainforest Foundation UK, not through the REDD project.
The REDD project has created “serious inter-communal conflict due to suspicion over project aims and initial restriction of forest access” the monitoring report notes. Four people have been killed in this conflict, the most recent in December 2017. As a result, customary authorities still prevent Wildlife Works Carbon staff from accessing a large part of the REDD project area.
The process for developing agreements between Wildlife Works Carbon and the community “has been extremely opaque”, the report notes. In some cases, agreements were signed by people who had no mandate to sign on behalf of the community.
The communities do not significantly benefit from the demonstration gardens that have been created in their villages. In some villages Wildlife Works Carbon collects the produce and sells it in the market in Inongo. The money goes to Wildlife Works Carbon. Sometimes the local development committees receive some produce from the gardens.
The monitors found that hardly any of the health centres, schools, and improved roads that Wildlife Works Carbon promised have actually been built.
Communities are not clear how much money they should receive each year from Wildlife Works Carbon. Payments are delayed, or not paid at all. For 18 months, all project activities ground to a halt because of Wildlife Works Carbon’s financial difficulties.
WWF Mai Ndombe PIREDD project
Free, Prior, and Informed Consent?
While most of the people interviewed in the PIREDD project area had heard of REDD, very few (less than 5%) could give a basic description of what REDD is. Most described it as paying communities to plant trees. None of them mentioned conserving forests.
The civil society monitors visited six villages. The found that, “A full and inclusive consultation was not undertaken for the establishment of REDD+ projects in any of the villages.”
The monitors found criticism of the way the local development committees were created. WWF selected local elites, rather than allowing the community to elect their representatives in a participatory manner. Elections were rushed, and community members were not made aware why they were electing individuals. The monitors report, “significant tension in certain villages visited regarding who is part of the CLD [local development committee] and why they get to decide [on behalf of the community]”.
Almost all (96%) of the people interviewed said that they did not know how their village could obtain rights to their customary forests.
WWF recruited an organisation called Action Massive Rurale (AMAR) to create natural resource management plans. Communities did not participate and were not consulted in the creation of these plans, and the monitors report that “many are afraid of what restrictions will be imposed on them”.
In some villages, monitors found that community members are facing restrictions on forest use. Under the natural resource management plans, forest has been designated as conservation areas, and savannas that are important for grazing cattle and foraging have been declared reforestation areas.
The report mentions a company called SOGENAC that runs a cattle ranch in Mai Ndombe province and is a private partner in the emissions reduction programme. Monitors found that, “Many villages risk suffering serious human rights abuses at the hands of guards for the cattle ranch SOGENAC”.
The report adds that, “A murder committed by SOGENAC guards was documented during the monitoring missions.”
Monitors found that, “none of the communities visited had received the full benefits promised by WWF”.
The payments that WWF promised were small, and in most cases are paid irregularly with significant delays, or not paid at all.
More than half (56%) of those interviewed said they were being paid for their work in reforestation activities. But almost all (96%) of these people said their standard of living has not improved, or has stayed the same as before the project started.