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Surface area: 2,344,858 km2
Population: 68.7 million
Rainforest Cover: 128 million hectares
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the second largest and most intact area of contiguous rainforest in the world at around 120 million hectares, accounting for more than half of the total remaining rainforests in the Congo Basin region. Not only is this a rich reserve of animal and plant diversity, but it is also significant in global environmental services, containing an estimated 8% of global forest carbon stocks and with each hectare releasing the equivalent of 190,000 litres of rain a year into the atmosphere. Moreover, about 40 million rural Congolese, including up to 500,000 semi-nomadic indigenous “Pygmies”, depend at least partly on the forests for their food, income, energy, shelter, medicines, and cultural needs.
The country is emerging from nearly two decades of political instability and violent conflict that led to the collapse of the economy, causing annual per capita incomes to plummet to US$231 in 2011 (down from US$380 in 1985). Despite increasing foreign investment in a country which is widely considered one of the richest in the world in terms of natural resources, DRC came last out of 187 countries in the 2011 Human Development Index.
Participatory research and mapping carried out by RFUK and our partners have indicated that much of this forest is considered and used as customary land by forest inhabitants. Despite this, as elsewhere in the Congo Basin, communities have virtually no legally recognised rights over the forest lands and resources on which they depend. Forest policy reform efforts over the past two decades have instead focused almost exclusively on the expansion of the extractive industries and strictly protected areas. On the other hand, the government has yet to pass legal decrees necessary to enact legislation supporting community based forest management in the 2002 Forest Code. If implemented adequately, community forests could provide some limited form of rights in the absence of more fully developed legislation on land rights.
Recently, there has been a renewed effort from the Government and its international partners to resume a zoning process of DRC’s forest estate into different uses (conservation, logging, community areas etc.). The outcome of this will have a critical impact on forest-dependent communities, their rights, and on their ability to derive a livelihood from that forest. At present, communities are rendered largely invisible on existing official maps. A clearly defined and genuinely participatory forest zoning process in DRC, which takes into account customary tenure and the right to consultation, is essential to reverse this trend and avoid the possible lifting of a moratorium on the allocation of new logging concessions, in place since a legal review in 2007. Such a scenario would risk recreating the perfect conditions for resource-related conflicts which have characterised, for example, the forests in Cameroon since a similar zoning exercise in 1995.
Running parallel to this are a number of other land and forest reform processes which will impact upon local and indigenous communities’ attempts to gain recognition of their rights to land and livelihood. These include efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), a voluntary partnership agreement (VPA) being negotiated between the government and EC under the Forest, Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) initiative and the land reform process.
The Rainforest Foundation UK has been active in DRC since 2002, working with civil society organisations to ensure that local and indigenous communities can be taken into account in forest and land reform efforts. To date, our main partner has been the Natural Resources Network (RRN), a network of over 250 environmental and human rights NGOs based in all eleven provinces of DRC. RRN’s mission is to promote the rational and sustainable management of natural resources in order to increase the contribution to the economic, social and cultural development of indigenous peoples and local communities, while preserving ecosystems and biodiversity for future generations. RRN’s first major participatory mapping exercise was during 2007-8, supporting local communities in the Inongo territory in mapping their resources to demonstrate the extensive overlap with other external actors, such as logging companies and strictly protected areas. It served as a test site to provide input into the national pilot forest zoning programme for DRC.
Since this exercise, the largest of its kind ever undertaken in Africa, the network has developed substantial expertise and different mapping methodologies. As of July 2011, around 1,000 community mappers, 146 facilitators, and 21 GIS technicians have been trained through the programme, 11 mapping laboratories equipped and hundreds of communities have benefitted.
Today, the mapping programme is significantly scaling up its activities in the forest provinces of Bandundu and Equateur, with local RRN members GASHE and CADEM carrying out customary rights mapping activities with local communities in Lukulela and Inongo territories respectively. Supported by young legal field workers based permanently in the field, the programme is supporting communities in their engagement in the (restarted) zoning process and land reform processes, as well as supporting advocacy efforts around the creation of community forests and other local priorities as identified by local communities. Other partners include the indigenous peoples network Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones (DGPA) and Réseau pour la Conservation et la Réhabilitation des Ecosystèmes Forestiers (Réseau CREF). For more information, please contact us at MappingForRights@rainforestuk.org or Reseau Ressources Naturelles.