- The Congo Basin is home to the world’s second largest rainforest, but it is under increasing strain from development, logging, mining, and other pressures.
- One of the key ways to slow the loss of forest is to engage local communities which live in the area, whose cultures are deeply rooted in stewardship the land, and have a strong connection to the forest.
- “By tapping into African culture and engaging local communities, the conservation of the Congo Basin forest can be achieved in a sustainable and effective manner,” a new op-ed argues.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.
When growing up in the Congo Basin forest, I witnessed the consequences of forest destruction by logging and industrial agricultural plantations. In some areas, Indigenous communities used to live alongside a rich ecosystem, but now they have been displaced and the wildlife has disappeared. But the authorities are doing little to prevent this corporate violence.
This devastation is happening on a global level, too. In March 2023, the final installment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, was released. This report details the devastating consequences of rising greenhouse gas emissions around the world — the destruction of homes, the loss of livelihoods, and the fragmentation of communities, for example — as well as the increasingly dangerous and irreversible risks, should we fail to change course.
That global problem has a local solution. We need to tap into our African culture to save the Congo Basin forest.
One of the key ways to save the Congo Basin forest is to engage the local communities which live in and around the area. African culture is deeply rooted in the land, and local communities have a strong connection to the forest. We must embrace our African and forest communities’ culture and traditional knowledge. Educating them about the importance of the forest and how their actions can impact its health is crucial to its survival. Involving them in conservation efforts, such as climate policy design, sustainable forestry and eco-tourism, can provide alternative livelihoods while preserving the forest. That is one of the ways we can stop the forest destruction in the Congo Basin, and it’s how we can address the challenges of climate change, communities’ rights, biodiversity loss and damaging economic development models.
Another key way also involves emphasizing the spiritual connection to nature. Many African cultures have a strong spiritual connection to nature and view the forest as a sacred space. By emphasizing this connection, the importance of preserving the forest for future generations can be highlighted. This approach can be particularly effective in reaching out to traditional leaders and religious groups, who can play a significant role in promoting conservation efforts. In the meantime we must make sure that communities that are already suffering and paying the price of climate change have access to rapid and adequate financial resources to continue efficient conservation efforts.
Another key way should be the promotion of traditional knowledge and practices. African cultures have a rich history of traditional knowledge and practices related to natural resource management. By promoting these practices, such as agroecological farming and community-based conservation, the forest can be managed sustainably while preserving local livelihoods. For instance, our forest communities’ technologies and knowledge include the aboriginal practice of lighting special fires that are small, low and relatively cool. They are also specialized in farming techniques that are seasonal and generational. If we can learn from this fascinating and complex knowledge that is attuned to nature, and if we enable the communities of our ancient forests to manage their own lands, those ecosystems can thrive once more and the planet can become resilient to the climate crisis.
See more coverage of community-based conservation here.
While promoting these alternative traditional knowledge practices, we should also encourage eco-tourism. Tourism can provide a valuable source of income for local communities while promoting the conservation of the rich Congo Basin forest. By highlighting the unique cultural and natural heritage of the Congo Basin forest, eco-tourism can create a sense of pride and ownership among local communities while providing an economic incentive to conserve the forest.
Our African culture is built on the sense of togetherness, so we must work together with local NGOs, conservation groups and youth associations within the basin to prevent the crises facing the forest and its people. By partnering with these groups, we can help leverage their expertise and experience while building local capacity. That’s how to save our forest and its people too.
By tapping into African culture and engaging local communities, the conservation of the Congo Basin forest can be achieved in a sustainable and effective manner. For this change to happen, it’s also crucial to change the current, damaging development growth model to a more inclusive and sustainable one.
That means prioritizing the forest communities’ economic, social and environmental interests – not neo-colonial exploitation by corporations. Africans have always lived in harmony with nature, and any development plan should enable that – not try to end it.
Forests are priceless.
Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue is Greenpeace Africa’s forest campaigner, she grew up in the Congo Basin rainforest and is now based in Yaounde.
Related audio about the Congo Basin from Mongabay’s podcast: We speak with Adams Cassinga, a DRC resident and founder of Conserv Congo, and Joe Eisen, executive director of Rainforest Foundation UK, about the conservation challenges faced by the DRC and the Congo Basin in general, listen here:
See related coverage here at Mongabay: