Democratic Republic of Congo Overview
Surface area: 2,344,858 km2
Population: 68.7 million
Rainforest Cover: 86 - 128 million hectares
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the second largest area of rainforest in the world, and accounts for more than half of the total remaining rainforests in the Central African region. They are a vital resource, both for the Congolese people and the global environment. About 40 million rural Congolese depend on the forests for their food, income, energy, shelter, medicines, and cultural needs. The forests also harbour great animal and plant diversity including endemic species such as bonobos and okapi. Indigenous peoples rely almost entirely on the forests for their subsistence. Accounting for an estimated 8% of global forest carbon stocks, DRC has the fourth largest carbon reservoir of any country. It is estimated that destruction of DRC's forests could release up to 34.4 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2050, roughly equivalent to the total of the United Kingdom's CO2 emissions over the last sixty years.
DRC is emerging from a decade of political instability and violent conflict that led to collapse of the economy, causing annual per capita incomes to plummet to US$120 in 2005 (down from US$380 in 1985). The various factions in the conflict have exploited DRC's natural resources, especially timber, wildlife and minerals. In the competition for both political power and control of resources, communities that were already economically, politically and socially marginalised, have lost access to essential resources on which they depend for their subsistence.
Land and Resource Rights
Indigenous forest communities in DRC have no legally recognised rights over the forest resources on which they depend. The Forest Code (2002) and the Constitution assert that the land belongs to the State, though for many centuries, it has belonged to different clans and families under comprehensive and sometimes complex customary tenure. Post-independence governments have handed over massive areas of forest for industrial logging and mining. Such operations are typically operated with little or no supervision and without any form of negotiation with local communities, who have typically enjoyed little benefit.
A post-conflict forest sector reform process started in 2002 did not have any community participation. Its main backer - the World Bank - was severely criticised by its own Inspection Panel for promoting industrial logging despite economic evidence, and of ignoring indigenous communities' rights. Since the 2002 Forest Code was made law, its implementation, and wider forest reforms, have made little progress despite significant external support - except where this was necessary in order to bring industrial logging into the new legal framework. Key components such as a legal review of logging titles, and proper forest zoning, were delayed and subjected to political pressures and manipulation. The result has been that very little has happened to protect community land and resource rights, whereas the areas allocated to new legally sanctioned logging concessions, and strictly protected areas, have started to expand.
More recently some ongoing forest sector reforms - including the development of a methodology for land use planning (Plan de Zonage) and the drafting of legislation to operationalise community forests - have created opportunities for civil society organisations to engage in the debate on community management of forests. The zoning plan will determine which areas of forest will be protected in the future, and which will be allocated for exploitation, clearance or protection. The Government is also advancing with plans for ‘readiness' for reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD).
Partners and Approach
The Rainforest Foundation UK has been active in DRC since 2002, working with local communities to ensure that customary systems of forest ownership and control are taken into account in policy and legislation. RFUK partners include the Natural Resources Network (RRN), Cercle pour la Défense de l'Environnement et de la Nature (CEDEN), Réseau pour la Conservation et la réhabilitation des Ecosystèmes Forestiers du Nord-Kivu (Réseau CREF), Dynamique des Groupes de Peuples Autochtones (DGPA) and Africapacity. The aim of our partnership with these groups is to help inform forest communities of their rights under the Forest Code, improve local livelihoods and access to basic services, and support community groups and NGOs in raising their concerns about community rights at the international level, for example through their participation in international negotiations about climate change and REDD.
The participatory mapping work undertaken in DRC by local and indigenous communities with the support of RRN, RFUK, Rainforest Foundation Norway and the Centre for Environment and Development (CED) in Cameroon was done over a period of 4 years (2005 to 2009). RFUK's participation as the leading project coordinator was supported by the UK's Department for International Development.
The programme has included training hundreds of members of forest-dependent communities in the use of GIS technology to accurately map community forest land tenure and uses in five provinces in the DRC (Bandundu, Equateur, Orientale, North and South Kivu). The first scoping mission for mapping was undertaken in July 2005, to Liyela and Bokenda (Balele) in the Bongandanga Territory, Mongala District (Equateur Province). Following this, participatory mapping was undertaken to support two indigenous communities (Liyela and Balele) and a local NGO.
One aim of the mapping programme in DRC has been to develop a methodology for including community-led mapping in the official national forest planning and zoning exercise. RFUK also supports forest-dependent communities and NGOs in using their maps to lobby decision-makers at local and national levels in processes regarding forest use zoning and planning. In terms of practical outputs, the programme has involved:
- training 918 community mappers in 6 provinces, including 408 in Inongo territory;
- training of 146 facilitators and 11 GIS technicians, and equipping of 11 provincial mapping laboratories;
- support to communities in the production of a territorial map for 2 of the 3 main sectors of the Inongo territory in Bandundu Province, and over 30 maps elsewhere in DRC;
- support to a national workshop on the role of participatory mapping in the national zoning process; and
- in Bandundu and Equateur Provinces, the maps have so far enabled 6,000 Bantu and 1,500 indigenous "Pygmies" to monitor logging activities on their traditional lands and holding logging companies to account for their actions.
News from DRC
RFUK’s application to become a member of the International Land Coalition (ILC) was approved at the ILC Assembly of Members on April 25, 2013 in Antigua, Guatemala. The ILC’s vision is to secure and equitable access to and control over land reduces poverty and contributes to identity, dignity and inclusion. It is composed of 152 members in over 50 countries, including civil society and farmers’ organisations, United Nations agencies, NGOs, and research institutes.Read more
RFUK Programme Briefings - 24/04/2013
A basic information leaflet about our community lawyer programme in the Congo Basin, providing an overview of our work and plans for the future. Also follow this link to find out more about our work with indigenous peoples in the region, the challenges they face and how we tackle them.Read more
The Rainforest Foundation UK has just initiated a new, large scale programme in the Congo Basin, aiming to contribute to poverty reduction, sustainable management and improved governance of tropical rainforests in the Congo Basin in particular the Central African Republic (CAR) and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).Read more
The new MappingForRights website provides, for the first time, interactive maps which show the precise location of communities living in the Congo Basin rainforest and how and where they use forest resources.Read more