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Gabon Overview

Surface Area: 267,670 km2

Forest Cover: 17-22 million hectares

Population: 1.4 million

Capital: Libreville

Straddling the equator, Gabon is home to the second largest area of rainforest in the Congo region, covering up to 85% of the country’s national surface area, or 22 million hectares, according to government estimates. These forests are some of the most bio-diverse in Africa, containing significant 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 endemic to the forests of Gabon. A rural population of around 400,000 gives it a relatively low population density but one that is characterised by considerable ethnic diversity. In total there are 43 ethnic groups including seven indigenous "Pygmy" groups: the Babongo, Bakoya, Baka, Barima, Bagama, Bakouyi and Akoa who together are estimated to number up to 30,000.

A great deal of subsistence, cultural and spiritual activities, especially those of indigenous peoples are inextricably tied to the forest. According to Gabon's official Indigenous Peoples Development Plan (IPDP), hunting, fishing and gathering generates more than 65% of their livelihoods. Many of these groups still live a semi-nomadic existence, spending prolonged periods of time in the forest and utilise extensive areas of land in order to meet their needs. Changes in the area of forest used often follow seasonal patterns, with people occupying a network of forest camps for between two days and three months or more. 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, which for years had been the mainstay of the economy, running dry, Gabon put in place a reform agenda (Sectoral Programme for Forests and the Environment, PSFE) aimed at exploiting its other substantial mineral and forest resources. A decade on, Gabon is the biggest timber producer in the region, with logging concessions accounting for 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 eco-systems 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 programmes, have yet to be implemented. As a result, forest communities still have 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 have not yet implemented proper management plans or safeguards to accommodate 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 stigmatisation and exploitation, and lack any form of tenure rights. 

Since coming to power in 2009, after the death of his father and former ruler of Gabon for 42 years, President Ali Bongo Ondimba has developed ambitious plans for the country through his concept of an ‘emerging’ Gabon. A new sustainable development strategy has been developed in order to promote a “green” centred economy, for example through the planned creation of a domestic market for carbon credits. Underpinning this strategy is the development of a new land use allocation plan that will determine which areas will be allocated to agriculture, to forestry, to urban development, or to conservation. Whereas this aims to support strategic decision making and encourage foreign direct investment, the extent to which customary land tenure and resource use will be taken into account is less clear, as is the role rural Gabonese people are to play in an ‘Emerging Gabon’. Already, there are concerns that plans to establish large-scale palm oil plantations may trigger further negative social and environmental impacts.

Gabon is also involved in negotiations concerning a VPA agreement with the EC through the FLEGT initiative. Although these have been stalled for some time, the government has nonetheless been criticised for the lack of involvement of civil society groups, and the lack of attention given to community land issues.

Partners and Approach

RFUK’s principle partner in Gabon is 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. Other NGOs include indigenous peoples' organisations Minorités Autochtones Pygmées du Gabon (MINAPYGA) and Edzengui Association, the latter of which is based in Minvoul, in the far north of the country. 

The participatory mapping and research programme in Gabon began in 2009, supporting local communities threatened by flooding from the construction of a hydro-electric dam in the Ivindo national park. The aim of the programme was to map their territories as part of a successful campaign to halt the project, which was due to supply power to the proposed Belinga mine, the second largest remaining iron deposit on earth. Since this time, the programme has expanded to four regions (Minkebé, Ivindo, Pongara and Ikobé) supporting 68 community mappers from 34 forest communities to produce fully geo-referenced maps of their lands and resources. These have been supported by some 38 mapping facilitators, including GIS technicians from civil society and government organisations who have been trained as part of the programme and who have access to a specialist mapping laboratory in order to accurately map community land tenure and resource use.

The programme in Gabon has largely focused on strengthening community rights in relation to the national parks system. Supported by a team of community legal fieldworkers who are permanently based in rural communities, they are using maps to support their claims to their traditional lands, which fall inside or on the boundaries of national parks. The maps help support their claims to co-management of these areas, a principle enshrined in the park management plans which are under development. Brainforest are also using this bottom-up approach to inform the development of national parks policy and to ensure that community land tenure and resource use are taken into consideration in the development of a land use planning process underway in Gabon.


Brainforest, Quartier Ambowé.
B.P. 23749 Libreville (Gabon)
Tél(Stantard). :(+241) 07-97-84-25 
Email: info@brainforestgabon.org
Site web:http://www.brainforest-gabon.org/


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