Celebrating 10 years of defending forest communities’ rights and forest conservation in the DRC
Le Réseau pour la Conservation et la Réhabilitation des Ecosystèmes Forestiers (Réseau CREF) is a non-profit organisation which was founded on 20 May 2003 in Kanyabayonga, Lubero Territory, in North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is a network of non-governmental organisations covering six territories (Walikale, Masisi, Nyiragongo, Rutshuru, Lubero and Beni) and three towns (Beni, Butembo and Goma) in North Kivu Province, DRC. Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) first started working with Réseau CREF almost two years ago when, in 2011, Réseau CREF became one of the partner organisations involved in the FPP project on ‘REDD financing, Human Rights and Economic Development for Sustainable Poverty Reduction of forest communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo’.
On the occasion of its 10th anniversary in May 2013, Réseau CREF Director, Alphonse Muhindo Valivambene, was interviewed by FPP about Réseau CREF’s mission, its objectives and future plans:
What is Réseau CREF’s mission and why was it set up 10 years ago?
Our mission is to protect the forests and defend the rights and interests of the communities who depend on forest resources. We exist in order to provide a framework for coordinating, lobbying and advocacy, and building the capacity of the united group of active and professional members involved in the conservation and rehabilitation of forest ecosystems in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Réseau CREF was created to join the fight against poverty in the local forest-dependent communities through sound management of the DRC’s forest ecosystems. After an analytical study of the state of the forests in North Kivu in 2000, a workshop was organised to share the information gathered in the different territories by different organisations. These information exchanges made those involved realise that they all shared common concerns but were working in a fragmented way, without being able to compare notes and exchange information. That triggered the desire to find a way of working together, and the decision to formalise this type of information exchange by creating a network, which became Réseau CREF.
What are the obstacles facing forest communities in DRC?
In 10 years of working with forest communities in North Kivu in particular, the greatest obstacle for Réseau CREF and the communities has been war and insecurity. In the war-affected and insecure areas the pace of work on the ground has slowed down. However, ongoing analysis of the situation has allowed local actors (members of NGOs) to adapt to this fluid situation and be flexible, to get the work done. However, after each war, the communities often have to cope with major displacements, leaving them without any tenure or social security. Furthermore, other problems stem from the conflicting approaches to forest management between the different actors involved, which need resolution. In 2009–2010 when Réseau CREF was advocating community forestry instead of community conservation, this was poorly received by civil society members working on behalf of the community. This complicates things for communities who have to choose which option is best for them.
What are Réseau CREF’s objectives?
The network has a number of objectives, including:
- Giving technical support to member organisations in the key conservation sectors and who are rehabilitating forest ecosystems;
- Encouraging a system for working in synergy with those members operating as a single entity and between different entities;
- Undertaking lobbying and advocacy for its members to achieve greater performance in the conservation of forestry ecosystems;
- Raising awareness at the local, national and international levels about the biodiversity resources of North Kivu in particular, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in general.
Réseau CREF’s motto is: ‘forest ecosystems for the benefit of mankind’
What are the organisation’s main focus areas?
Our main focus areas are the rights of forest communities, forest governance, REDD and climate change, natural resource management and participatory mapping, as illustrated in the two photographs on the right hand side of this page.
The organisation has just celebrated its 10th anniversary – how did you commemorate this event?
We organised a series of activities in Goma to celebrate the 10 years that we’ve been in existence. Among the highlights of the festivities were a multi-actor dialogue on forest governance in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as a round table of donors to the organisation on the strategies and financing of the new five-year plan (2013-2018), which has ten core elements:
- Information, Education, Communication and Environmental Action Research;
- Governance and Transparency within the forestry sector;
- Community forestry;
- REDD and climate change;
- Creation of a Community Dynamic around protected areas;
- The Stability and Dignity of indigenous peoples;
- Management of the Urban Environment;
- Fisheries Management;
- Mining and hydrocarbon production;
- Institutional management of the five-year plan.
Where do you see Réseau CREF in 10 years’ time?
With its new strategic plan, over the next 10 years Réseau CREF will use its expertise to defend the causes of local people and protect the environment in general in North Kivu Province – and hopefully one day across the whole of the DRC!
For more information on Réseau CREF, visit: www.reseaucref.org.