- In 2018, the DRC government approved a plan for communities to gain legal control over their local forests.
- The Rainforest Foundation UK and its partners in the DRC have been working with 10 participating villages to help community members understand their legal rights to manage local forests.
- RFUK and its partners maintain that, in addition to the benefits the communities may derive, local management of forests could help halt deforestation, keeping billions of tons of carbon locked away in the fight to slow global climate change.
The legal rights to manage local forests, recently awarded to communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have the potential to improve lives and protect the country’s block of equatorial rainforest, according to a new film from the Rainforest Foundation UK.
“Our forest has lots of natural resources, and now we can find solutions to better manage them,” Florence, a woman from the village of Irebu, says in the six-and-a-half-minute film.
A 2014 law in the DRC allows communities to ask for legal title to forest concessions of 500 square kilometers (193 square miles). Then, in May 2018, the country’s environment minister approved a plan to hand out these titles, reaffirming the national government’s backing of the importance of these community-managed forests. Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) and other organizations had cautioned the government that allowing the requests to go forward without such a plan in place could accelerate the destruction of forests.
For the past several years, staff from RFUK and its local partners, including the DRC-based NGO Group d’Action pour Sauver l’Homme et son Environnement (GASHE), have been working in Irebu and nine other villages in the western DRC as part of a pilot project. Their aim has been to help community members understand their legal rights and to incorporate the perspectives of the men, women and young people living in each village in local forest management.
The organizations say this awareness is imperative in a country where more than 40 million people, around half the population, rely on the roughly 1 million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) of forest in the DRC.
“Everything comes from the forest: food, water for drinking and bathing, medicines,” Jennifer Labarre, GASHE’s communications officer, says in the film. “It’s life for local communities.”
The role that forests play in the daily lives of these communities is what sets the latter up as ideal stewards, protecting a resource that can continue to provide services for themselves as well as the rest of the world, RFUK executive director Simon Counsell says.
“With communities exercising stronger control over the forests, they can be fantastic partners in the future in preventing deforestation and preventing this problem of global climate change,” Counsell says in the film. “In the DR Congo alone, community forests could help keep billions of tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.”
Six villages that are part of the pilot project now hold title to some 600 square kilometers (232 square miles) of forest. Along the way, GASHE and RFUK have gained insight into how to help other communities secure legal control of their local forests, Counsell says.
“We’ve learned a great deal from this process, a great deal for the future, which we hope will see many hundreds if not thousands of community forests being applied for.”
For Fifi Likunde Mboyo, head of the community forestry division of the forest management directorate in the DRC, the plan is to build on this effort’s success.
“Very soon we are going to manage forest concessions across the Democratic Republic of Congo,” she says.
But RFUK and GASHE staff are quick to point out that obtaining the titles is just the first step in the process, which they hope will remain focused on the interests of the communities involved.
“There is still a long way to go,” says Julien Mathe, a GASHE coordinator. “The goal of the project is to continue supporting these communities in the management and use of their forests.”
Banner image of a bonobo (Pan paniscus) in the DRC by John C. Cannon/Mongabay.
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