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Mongabay Explores the Congo Basin: The ‘heart of the world’ is at a turning point

A girl carries sustainably foraged fruits back to her village. Image courtesy of John Novis / Greenpeace.

A girl carries sustainably foraged fruits back to her village. Image courtesy of John Novis / Greenpeace.

  • Mongabay Explores is a podcast series exploring the world’s unique places, species and the people working to save them.
  • This first episode in our fourth season explores the Congo Basin, its vast biodiversity, environmental challenges and conservation solutions.
  • Home to the world’s second-largest rainforest, it also contains unique flora and fauna found nowhere else and some of the world’s most carbon-rich peatlands.
  • Featured on this episode are Conserv Congo founder Adams Cassinga and Joe Eisen, executive director of Rainforest Foundation UK, who discuss the roadblocks to protecting peatlands and rainforests from resource extraction, the challenges with foreign aid and the difficult situation locals face in a nation wracked by conflict and insufficient critical infrastructure.

The Congo Basin contains the world’s second-largest rainforest at a staggering 178 million hectares (just under 440 million acres). It is also one of the biggest carbon sinks on the planet, containing 29 billion metric tons of carbon in its vast peatlands under the rich forest.

One of the basin’s key countries, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), aims to open up protected areas and forested peatlands to oil and gas development, with many experts warning of dire consequences to the rainforest and the world’s climate, should these peatlands be disturbed.

On this inaugural episode of Mongabay Explores the Congo Basin, Adams Cassinga, a DRC resident and founder of Conserv Congo, and Joe Eisen, executive director of Rainforest Foundation UK, speak with Mongabay about the conservation challenges faced by the DRC and the Congo Basin in general.

Listen here:

The Congo Basin lost an area of rainforest larger than the size of Bangladesh between 2000 and 2014, and while researchers have previously described subsistence farming as a main driver of this, Cassinga and Eisen both say large-scale resource extraction such as mining, logging and oil and gas development now play a central role in driving the deforestation. One emerging factor is that the Congo Basin (specifically the DRC) contains 70% of the world’s supply of cobalt among other valuable natural resources like timber, copper, oil and gas.

Aerial view of peatland forest at Lokolama/Penzele around Mbandaka, Équateur province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Greenpeace is documenting ground-level research into satellite data on vast peatland areas recently discovered by scientists in the swamps of the Congo Basin rainforest, as well as affected communities and the natural environment. The most carbon-rich tropical region in the world is estimated to store the equivalent of three years’ worth of total global fossil fuel. Image © Daniel Beltrá / Greenpeace.

Though it’s just one of the nations that make up the Basin, the DRC contains 60% of Central Africa’s lowland forest. It’s also one of the poorest nations in the world, and it struggles to develop critical human infrastructure while protecting the biodiversity it contains, due to poor governance and political corruption.

International support, Cassinga argues, hasn’t been sufficient to keep peatlands and other fragile ecosystems undisturbed. Nor have resources been entrusted to local or Indigenous communities to carry out conservation projects, he argues.

Both Cassinga and Eisen detail ways forward through agroforestry and community-managed forests as well as scaling up Indigenous rights as a central pathway to effective conservation of the region. This and more are covered in the introductory episode of this multipart podcast series covering this Central African region.

Related Reading:

Subscribe to or follow Mongabay Explores wherever you get podcasts, from Apple to Spotify, and you can also listen to all episodes here on the Mongabay website, or download our free app for Apple and Android devices to gain instant access to our latest episodes and all our previous ones.

Sounds heard during the intro and outro: The call of a putty-nosed monkey (Cercopithecus nictitans). This soundscape was recorded in Ivindo National Park in Gabon by Zuzana Burivalova, Walter Mbamy, Tatiana Satchivi, and Serge Ekazama.

Banner Image: A local girl carries forest produce (non timber forest products) back to Konye village. As industrial agricultural techniques spread into Africa, and especially into forests of the Congo Basin, Greenpeace identifies farming alternatives that can both benefit farmers, consumers and to the protection of natural resources. Image (c) Greenpeace / John Novis.

Mike DiGirolamo is Mongabay’s audience engagement associate. Find him on Twitter @MikeDiGirolamo, InstagramTikTok and Mastodon.

Related audio from Mongabay’s podcast: Episode two of the Congo series can be heard here:

Congo Basin communities left out by ‘fortress conservation’ fight for a way back in

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