Second in size only to the Amazon, the Congo Basin rainforest covers more than 180 million hectares, spreading across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), most of the Republic of Congo (RoC), the southeast of Cameroon, southern Central African Republic (CAR), Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. This vast area is a vital regulator of regional climate, a carbon store of global significance and an important reserve of biodiversity hosting over 10,000 species of plant, 1,000 species of bird and 400 species of mammal including three of the world's four species of great ape.
The region is thought to have been inhabited by humankind for more than 50,000 years, and is today home to 50 million rural people including an estimated 700,000 indigenous people. Although the forest is a vital resource, providing food, water, shelter and medicine as well as being central to cultural identity, such groups currently have few rights to the territories they traditionally occupy.
States, as the sole owners of the land, have opened up much of the forest to extractive industry and more recently to agri-businesses, often resulting in poor social and environmental outcomes. Conservation efforts have tended to further marginalise communities with protected areas consistently linked to land grabs, severe restrictions on livelihoods and human rights abuses.
There is growing consensus among policy makers that securing community land and resource rights of local communities is critical to good forest governance, although this is only starting to filter through to national laws in the Congo Basin and much less so implementation on the ground. Tools such as participatory mapping are therefore increasingly recognised as being key.