By Chris Lang
A recent report by Action pour la Promotion et Protection des Peoples et Espèces Menacées (APEM) and Rainforest Foundation UK looks at the social impacts of two REDD projects in Mai Ndombe province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report is based on grassroots research carried out over two years. The research team surveyed more than 400 people in 26 villages inside two REDD projects: the Integrated REDD+ Plateau Project (PIREDD Plateau) managed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF); and the Wildlife Works Carbon (WWC) Mai Ndombe REDD+ project.
- The projects did not obtain the free, prior and informed consent of local communities for REDD+ activities, leading to confusion and conflict in the project areas.
- There is a shockingly low level of inclusion and ownership in communities supposed to be implementing REDD+ activities, particularly among women.
- Many of the promised benefits have either still not been delivered or communities are dissatisfied with their implementation.
- Local Development Committees set up to interface with the projects do not properly represent communities, their members are not sufficiently informed of what REDD+ is, and often lack the necessary resources to implement REDD+ activities.
- There is insufficient effort to clarify and strengthen the tenure security of local communities, leaving them vulnerable to land speculation and migration.
- Natural resource management plans in PIREDD Plateau do not adequately represent the traditional land use systems of communities and have led to disputes over land boundaries, cut off women’s livelihoods and caused food scarcity in certain villages.
- The absence of functioning grievance mechanisms for the two projects mean communities have little way of obtaining remedy for these kinds of issues.
- Local government capacity to oversee the jurisdictional REDD+ programme is still very lacking despite years of so-called ‘REDD readiness’ activities.
- The interventions also appear to have little impact on reducing deforestation and degradation, and in some cases even catalysed forest loss.
WWF: PIREDD Plateau
The PIREDD Plateau project was established in 2014, and the World Bank’s Forest Investment Programme has poured more than US$14 million into the project since then. WWF is the Local Implementing Agency.
The researchers visited 19 villages and surveyed 278 community members in the area of the PIREDD Plateau project. They found that 64% of the people surveyed had either never heard of REDD+, or could not explain what it was. Only 17% of people surveyed thought their community had the possibility to provide consent to the establishment of a REDD project on their land. Of this 17%, almost half were village elites.
Local Development Committees are responsible for representing communities and organising activities at the field level, but the researchers found that the Committees do not effectively represent communities. Communities perceive the Committees as an externally imposed structure, rather than reflecting their customary systems.
The researchers found that more than half of Committee members interviewed had either never heard of REDD, or could not accurately describe what it was.
The communities did not receive most of the benefits promised by the project, and many were unaware that their village had been promised benefits. Of the 40% of people who were aware of promised benefits, 90% were not satisfied with the results.
In June 2019, communities set fire to savannas in protest at the REDD project. Under the REDD project, WWF restricted cultivation in some areas of the savannas, in the hope that forests would regrow. Communities are supposed to receive US$5 for every hectare of savanna they protect. The researchers write that,
For two years, several communities left the savannas untouched. Finally, after suffering from food scarcity due to restrictions placed on women’s livelihoods, changing their practices to accommodate a project imposed on them, and still not receiving the promised payments, communities burned their savannas in protest. These fires were far greater than the traditional small-scale fires communities use to manage and cultivate these areas.
Wildlife Works Carbon: PIREDD Mai Ndombe
In 2010, a Canadian company called Ecosystem Restoration Associates set up the Mai Ndombe REDD project. Wildlife Works Carbon bought the concession in 2012. The World Bank and the Forest Investment Programme Coordination Unit has chosen Wildlife Works Carbon to run the much larger PIREDD Mai Ndombe that is to be funded by the Central African Forest Initiative.
Wildlife Works Carbon claims that its project activities were “selected in consultation with the local communities.” The researchers found, however, that 70% of the people they surveyed had never heard of REDD. Women are particularly marginalised and there had been little effort to involved them.
APEM and Rainforest Foundation UK report that,
The estimated 50,000 people living in and around the concession are effectively prevented from being able to obtain legal tenure over areas they have inhabited and managed for generations. While the company has made some agreements with local clan chiefs in recognition of their customary rights, there is little evidence of how these rights and land uses have been incorporated into the management of the concession.
Community participation, as with the PIREDD Plateau project, is supposed to take place through Local Development Committees. The researchers found that these were not installed in every village.
Where they were installed, communities raised several concerns. Many Local Development Committees were not officially recognised. Communities did not elect most of the Committee members. Instead they were chosen by Wildlife Works Carbon staff. Committees have little autonomy or financial capacity to manage activities. The researchers found that Wildlife Works Carbon unilaterally made every decision on how and when to distribute resources.
Of the people surveyed who had heard of REDD, 53% said that Wildlife Works Carbon had promised benefits from the project. But only 4% were satisfied with how Wildlife Works Carbon delivered the benefits.
APEM and Rainforest Foundation UK write that,
Suspicion over the company’s intentions has sparked serious inter-communal conflict and other problems in the area. Such is the hostility towards the project that WWC agents were effectively unable to enter a large part of the concession at the time of research.
Villagers in the Bosanga district were in favour of the Wildlife Works Carbon project. But villagers from a neighbouring district, Ngelesa, were opposed to the REDD project. During an inauguration event in Bosanga, a fight broke out. One man was reportedly killed, and several houses were burned down. Villagers from Bosanga retaliated by destroying houses in N’tande Ngongo. Wildlife Works Carbon staff travelled to N’tande Ngongo to explain the project, but this only led to more trouble.
The project is certified under the Verified Carbon Standard and the Climate Community and Biodiversity Standards. But the researchers found that Wildlife Works Carbon staff were keen to avoid any scrutiny of the project.
On several of their trips to the project area, researchers were summoned to the police and other local authorities, apparently as a result of a request by the company. They were released after explaining the purpose of their work. Wildlife Works Carbon staff disrupted researchers’ work with communities, for example, asking a researcher to delete survey data. They also put pressure on a villagers to retract what he had said, and replace it with a statement supporting Wildlife Works Carbon.