Surface Area: 267,670 km2
Forest Cover: 17-22 million hectares
Population: 1.4 million
Straddling the equator, Gabon is home to the second largest area of rainforest in the Congo region, covering up to 85% of the national surface area or 22 million hectares. These forests are some of the most biodiverse in Africa, containing important populations of endangered species such as gorillas, chimpanzees and forest elephants as well as more than 6,000 species of plants, 20% of which are specific to the forests of Gabon. A rural population of around 400,000 gives it a relatively low population density but one that is very ethnically diverse. In total there are 43 ethnic groups including seven indigenous "Pygmy" groups: the Babongo, Bakoya, Baka, Barima, Bagama, Bakouyi and Akoa who collectively are estimated to number up to 30,000 individuals.
A great number of subsistence, cultural and spiritual activities, especially those of indigenous peoples, are inextricably tied to the forest. According to Gabon's Indigenous Peoples Development Plan (IPDP), hunting, fishing and gathering generates more than 65% of these groups' livelihoods. Many of them still live a semi-nomadic existence, spending prolonged periods of time in the forest and covering extensive territories in order to meet their needs. Such movements often follow seasonal patterns with people occupying a network of forest camps for between two days and three months of the year. Much of Gabon's forest is subject to long-standing but as yet unrecognised land tenure claims.
Land and Resource Rights
In 2002, with oil reserves that have been the mainstay of the economy for years running dry, Gabon put in place a reform agenda - the Sectoral Programme for Forests and the Environment (PSFE) - aimed at exploiting its other natural resources including iron, uranium and timber. A decade on, Gabon is the biggest timber producer in the region, with logging concessions covering 10 million hectares or around 40% of the national territory. Thirteen national parks covering over 11% of the country's land mass were created in 2002 in order to preserve ecosystems and promote the tourist industry.
However, the value of this forest reform to rural communities, or indeed the wider economy, to date has been unclear. While the forest sector has generated considerable investment and wealth for some, most rural people have remained poor and typically lack access to basic services. Furthermore, provisions set out in the PSFE for community forests, participatory zoning and the indigenous peoples development plan (IPDP), amongst other things, have yet to be implemented. As a result, forest communities continue having to compete with outsiders over their traditional lands and resources. In most cases, logging concessions, mining projects and national parks have been created without public consultations or do not yet have proper management plans or safeguards in place for accommodating the rights and needs of local people. Many indigenous people have been forced into a more sedentary existence, often on the edge of Bantu villages where they are likely to face stigma and exploitation, and lack any form of tenure rights. There are concerns that plans to establish large-scale palm oil plantations may lead to further negative social and environmental impacts.
Nevertheless, both the Ministry of Forests and the National Parks Agency (ANPN) have started to put in place policy tools to better engage forest-dependent communities, with the latter passing legislation promoting certain customary rights and participatory management of protected areas in 2007. More recently, the potential role of Gabon's forests in mitigating climate change through reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) has reopened debates about who actually owns the forests and for which purposes they should serve.
Partners and Approach
Projects in Gabon that have been supported by the Rainforest Foundation UK include monitoring of forest policy and participatory research and training with local civil society organisations (CSOs). At the national level, participatory mapping is coordinated by local NGO, Brainforest. Based in the capital Libreville and headed by Goldman Prize winner Marc Ona, its mission is to inform and accompany stakeholders for an equitable and sustainable management of natural resources in Gabon.
Since 2009, the programme has worked with a range of forest communities, state and non-state stakeholders in providing training, resources and access to a specialist mapping laboratory in order to accurately map community land tenure and resource use. This is providing government agencies such as the National Parks Agency (ANPN), the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Mining, with the tools to make informed decisions related to forest planning and communities at both the local and policy levels. NGO partners include Aventures sans Frontiers (ASF) that work around the Pongara National Park, and indigenous peoples' organizations such as Minorités Autochtones Pygmées du Gabon (MINAPYGA) and Edzengui Association, the latter of which is based in Minvoul, in the far north of the country. Contact Brainforest for more information:
Brainforest, Quartier Ambowé.
B.P. 23749 Libreville (Gabon)
Tél(Stantard). :(+241) 07-97-84-25
Site web :www.brainforestgabon.org
News from Gabon
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
RFUK is delighted to announce the launch of its new project in the Central African Republic and Gabon, aimed at enhancing legal capacity of forest communities to protect their rights to land and resources. The project will provide training and support to at least 10 law graduates and at least 15 community paralegals who will be based in forest communities on a permanent basis.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