African Press Association
Congo Basin

Project douses tensions in Congo Basin rainforests

Congo Basin

Tropical Rainforest of Congo Basin Gabon

from NGALA KILLIAN CHIMTOM in Yaounde, Cameroon
YAOUNDE – THE simmering tensions between central African governments and millions of locals dependent on the Congo Basin is set to be addressed through a multi-sectoral approach following a British-funded initiative to upgrade the capacities of the forest-reliant communities to better manage resources.

The livelihoods of millions of locals are subsequently poised for a major improvement.

A consortium of nongovernmental organizations and the governments of Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Republic of Congo, as well as Gabon are spearheading the project, the British governments is financing to the tune of £1 million (about US$1.34million).

Launched in the Cameroonian capital city of Yaoundé, it comes against the backdrop of rising concerns that forest communities in the area have been grossly marginalized and left behind, even as Congo Basin countries have set their eyes on attaining emergence status over the next 20 years.

However, government strategies aimed at enhancing economic growth focus on exploitation of natural resources, including forests, and the rapid development of agribusiness as well as energy, often on a large scale, thus impacting on the livelihoods of millions people reliant on the Congo Basin forests for survival.

Logging, oil palm plantations, population growth and road development have strained the traditional resource management system leading to some resistance by some communities to make way for developmental projects.

The 2 million square-kilometre Congo Basin, the world’s second largest area of tropical rainforest after the Amazon, has been inhabited by humans for more than 50 000 years and it provides food, fresh water and shelter to more than 75 million people.

Anna Bolin, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) publicist, said community forest rights had either been developed not properly taking account of local interests or needs, and had stopped mainly as subsistence rights which were limiting in terms of improving livelihoods.

“Such approaches ignore international protection for customary tenure and other human rights, and remain vulnerable to national policy changes,” said Bolin.

The £1million project, dubbed, “NGOs Collaborating for Equitable and Sustainable Community Livelihoods in Congo Basin Forests”, therefore seeks to introduce changes in the way communities in forest areas here are treated.

IIED will implement the three-year project.

“Such investments are clearly important for developing the economies of the region, “said James Mayers, head of Natural Resources at IIED.

He cautioned the failure to recognise the fact that investments would continue to take place in areas where communities also found useful for their wellbeing could end up leading to unsustainable growth.

“The key opportunity is to try and see how those investments can be done in ways that recognize local rights and their right to shape the way those investments are done and their right to benefit from them as much as possible,” said Mayers.

Mayers said the project would work directly with a range of key stakeholders in forest-dependent communities, such as forest and farm producers, indigenous people and women groups, to help build the foundations for a more inclusive and equal forest land use sector in the Congo Basin.

He said such equitable, sustainable and genuinely community-based management of resources requires a proactive and participatory approach to addressing the many constraints that communities face.

“Secure communities, equipped with secure evidence about their options, can claim their rights and participate effectively in their own sustainable development,” Mayers said.

NaahNdobe of the conservation NGO, the Centre for Environment and Development, welcomed the fact that the project also aims to address the marginalisationg of women.

“Communities here are increasingly marginalized from mainstream economy participation in decision making about use of natural resources, and face increasing threats of dispossession, due to long –standing tenure insecurity. Women’s control of land in the Congo Basin remains at particularly low levels,” she said.

Except gender disparities, other constraints have been cited as lack of access to finance, technological know-how and organizational capacity.

The project would therefore pursue country-specific actions and trans-boundary learning and capacity building approaches in view of attaining a number of objectives.

These objectives include improved evidence on viable options for community forestry, including strengthening of rights; building the capacities of community organizations to pursue resource rights security and commercial forest and farm production options.

It also has to do with articulating policy changes in national forest governance and land use planning processes.

In addition, gender considerations will be mainstreamed into the entire process in view of giving women not only a voice in decision-making spheres, but also making sure that their right to land ownership is articulated and protected.

Linking such progress to the security of the region, British High Commissioner to Cameroon, Brian Olley, said the security and future prosperity of countries in Sub Saharan was dependent on forest communities having thriving economies.

“The only way they can do that is by having businesses which are compatible with sustainable management of forests,” said Olley.

– CAJ News /APA