There have been some significant gains in recent months in the journey towards securing community forest rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On 2nd August 2014, the long-awaited community forestry decree (CFD) was finally signed by the Congolese Prime Minister. This was seen as a notable improvement to the land tenure and forest governance regime in the DRC. Civil society organisations, and indigenous and local communities had been waiting for the decree with high hopes since the Forest Code was adopted in 2002, paving the way for a new forest governance framework.*
Community forestry is key to securing land tenure and strengthening local rights
The decree is a significant move towards strengthening local communities’ rights. On the one hand it gives indigenous and local communities the possibility to transform part of or all their customarily occupied forests into a community-controlled and managed concession, and makes community forests more accessible for local forest communities in DRC. On the other hand, the DRC government acknowledging communities’ need to access and benefit from their forests is a huge step forward. More interestingly, the forest concession is attributed perpetually and free of charge.** Forest concessions would entitle indigenous and local communities to exploit the forests in all its forms, subject to the observance of rules and practices of sustainable management.
But while there is much to celebrate, the current text has shortcomings in the form of bureaucratic constraints and red tape. In addition, the Government still has to adopt subsequent implementing measures to accompany the decree, namely the ministerial Arrêté on the management of communities’ forest concessions, meaning that effective implementation is a long way ahead.
“Many years have passed before we get the CFD signed, and now we are still waiting to get the implementing ministerial Arrêté signed”, said Joseph Bobia, a major civil society actor in DRC and FPP partner who was at the forefront of the negotiation process for adopting the CFD.
Divergent interests around the CFD
Civil society actors in DRC are anxious about the divergent interests surrounding the CFD, as they claim that a number of stakeholders including GIZ, the German Development Cooperation, are in the process of developing or implementing their own models of community forest management. This is the case in the Maniema where they are experimenting with a model of artisanal logging. “The problem with the GIZ model of community forestry is that it is not the result of community consent, but rather a model imposed by GIZ to exploit communities’ forests…” stressed Bobia. Such concerns are justified because there is a real risk of forest concessions allocated to communities being poorly managed. People who resisted the adoption of the CFD will be encouraged to say that communities do not have the capacity to manage their forests properly in accordance with sustainable management rules or that communities’ forest concessions will be seen as the major drivers of deforestation, according to Patrick Saidi, Coordinator of Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones (DGPA). Therefore, “the terms of the CFD’s implementing Ministerial Arrêté should emphasise the role of communities in managing their forest concessions and avoid any kind of interference from development agencies or logging companies,” Saidi said. Strengthening indigenous and local communities’ tenure rights in DRC will require effective implementation of laws and regulations, including progressive institutional reforms and adoption within a reasonable period of the Ministerial Arrêté on the modalities of management of communities’ forest concessions. Community forestry is a step towards communities realising self-determination, by allowing them to control and manage the forests they occupy under customary law.
* Article 22 of the Forest code provides that “A local community, can at its request, obtain as a forest concession part or all of the protected forests regularly owned under customary law. The procedures for granting forest concessions to local communities shall be determined by a decree of the President of the Republic. The allocation is free of charge.
** See Article 2(2) of the Decree.