Securing community forests and improving livelihoods in the Republic of Congo

Securing community forests and improving livelihoods in the Republic of Congo

Community forestry, understood as “the right for communities to manage the forest resources upon which they depend, with a view to improving their living conditions and recognised as such by the State”* remains an objective to be achieved in the Republic of Congo. There are currently no community forests on the ground in Congo. However, community development series or séries de développement communautaire (SDC) have been created within managed forest concessions, supported by benefit-sharing mechanisms derived from timber harvesting. Communities living around or inside managed forest concessions, including indigenous peoples, have the opportunity to develop artisanal logging and/or processing activities of forest and wildlife resources in the SDC. These activities are developed on the basis of simple management plans or plans simples de gestion drawn up with the support of the Water and Forestry Administration, other public services and NGOs and associations.   

In August, Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) in collaboration with a consortium of international NGO embarked on a project called CoNGOs: NGOs collaborating for equitable and sustainable community livelihoods in Congo Basin forests. The theory of change proposed by this consortium asserts that creating effective, equitable, sustainable and genuinely community-based management of resources requires a proactive and participatory approach to addressing the many constraints that communities face. The project should contribute to the DFID programme of work Improving Livelihoods and Land Use in the Congo Basin Forests (ILLUCBF). 

Throughout the rural world, land provides a primary source of income, and also serves as a fundamental asset for the economic empowerment of poor and marginalised groups. Security of tenure can equip communities with good evidence about their options, and empower them to claim their rights and participate effectively in their own sustainable development. However, the lack of regulation, lack of community capacity in the management of community forests, as well as the lack of management plans for existing SDC do not promote an effective, equitable, sustainable and genuinely community-based management of forests resources. 

In November, FPP in collaboration with local partner Organisation pour le Développement et les Droits Humains au Congo (ODDHC) undertook a field trip to the Sangha region, in northern Congo, as part of the preliminary consultations with targeted communities of the CoNGOs project. A number of issues were identified at the end of the consultations: 

  • Restricted SDC limits: According to the Congolese Forest Code, the SDC are inside particular forest managed concessions, villages and terroirs, and are mapped and dedicated to the communities’ economic activities. Communities consulted in Ngombe and Ngatongo villages, in the small town of Pokola, however, have complained about the limitations of the SDC, which no longer allows them to devote themselves to agriculture, hunting or gathering. 
  • The local development fund or Fonds de Developpement Local (FDL): the communities have repeatedly reported that there is a miscommunication between them and the consultation council or Conseil de concertation which stands as the management body of the FDL and communities projects. 

According to subsequent regulations following the adoption of the Congolese forest code in 2000, there are two ways in which logging companies operating in the Republic of Congo could share a part of their income in order to contribute to local socio-economic development: (1) by fulfilling the contractual obligations stipulated in the social clauses or cahier de charges; and (2) through contributing to the FDL to finance micro-projects for local development that are proposed and implemented by local communities and indigenous peoples. Two issues can be observed at this stage from the functioning of the FDL: 

  • The conseil de concertation only meets once in a year, which is quite insignificant to address the many challenges faced by communities;
  • Pitfalls and inadequation in the identification of community projects: the case of cocoa production in the Unité Forestière d’Aménagement (UFA) of Pokola for example. In Ngatongo in particular, communities reported that CIB – a subsidiary company of business OLAM - is currently pushing them to engage in cocoa production within the SDC. And it looks like OLAM, through CIB, has initiated a programme for the revival of cocoa farming in Congo.  The indigenous communities in particular said that cocoa production was not an adequate option for them given their way of life and also because of the precarity of their means of subsistence, as they will have to wait at least four years before hoping for the first harvest. 
  • The FDL is constituted by a fee of 200 francs CFA per cubic metre of marketable timber harvested by the forestry company; grants from the county council and gifts and donations of different kinds, which communities think is not enough to contribute to the improvement of their livelihoods. 

During the next two years FPP will continue to support communities in the UFAs Ngombe, Pokola and Kabo, by encouraging community sustainable natural resource management and strengthening communities’ capacity to propose and implement micro-projects.  

By Lassana Kone

* Procès-verbal de l’atelier sur la Foresterie Communautaire, Fern, Brussels, 3-4 April 2014, P.1.