Conservation and communities in Central Africa - The need to secure indigenous rights and biodiversity, May 2004

Children, Central Africa

Conservation and communities in Central Africa - The need to secure indigenous rights and biodiversity, May 2004

Opportunities at the 5ème CEFDHAC - Conférence sur les écosystèmes de forêts denses et humides d'Afrique centrale

This report was produced with the generous support of Comic Relief

This briefing for the 5ème CEFDHAC Conference highlights key areas of concern related to the rights of indigenous forest communities in Central Africa who face serious discrimination from society, are treated as inferior and exploited by their neighbours, and are persistently neglected by development projects. The number of national and transboundary protected area projects in Central Africa is growing rapidly to respond to heightened threats to forest biodiversity, and conservation organisations are working hard to generate the necessary resources to enable these projects to be more sustainable. However, many of these conservation projects overlap lands owned or claimed by local communities, especially an estimated 500,000 indigenous “Pygmy” hunter-gatherers living in the CEFDHAC countries, and the impacts of conservation on these communities are often very severe, placing these indigenous communities’ needs squarely on international donors’ poverty alleviation agendas. Work over the past four years by FPP and its partners shows how widely agreed international principles recognising the rights of indigenous peoples to use, own and control their traditional territories, and to protect their traditional knowledge and skills, and which espouse the development of working partnership with indigenous people based upon the principle of full informed consent, are not being applied properly by governments and conservation agencies, even though they have already been agreed by them. The reasons for this failure are complex, and related to the need for revision of conservation project practices and legislative measures concerning communities’ land rights. This briefing concludes that solutions supporting community rights and biodiversity are now within reach. This conference is an important opportunity to promote a shift in favour of both communities’ rights, as well as the long-term and sustainable conservation of biodiversity. FPP will continue to support efforts to help its partners in CEFDHAC participating countries to develop the necessary dialogue with conservation organisations on these issues in order to promote both the interests of their communities and the protection of their environment. 

Table of Contents


Opportunities for CEFDHAC in 2004

Forest communities’ rights are vulnerable to conservation

Conservation’s failure in Central Africa

New Conservation Commitments

Secure customary rights are important, and complex

Solutions supporting communities and conservation are possible


Recommendations to CEFDHAC


This briefing has been produced on the eve of the Fifth CEFDHAC Conference in order to highlight key areas of concern related to the situation of indigenous forest communities, especially so-called “Pygmy" [1] communities who live in many forest regions of Central Africa. The main themes of this conference, governance and partnership, are highly relevant to the needs of all Central African communities who rely on forest resources to secure their livelihoods, since these forests are increasingly being directly managed by governments and international agencies in the name of biodiversity protection. The key role of rural communities in the management of these natural resources along with governments, and in the use of forest revenues to address their needs [2] is underlined in the Convergence Plan of COMIFAC, [3] and in the 2003 Declaration for the Congo Basin Forest Partnership. [4] These provide some of the context for the discussion below, and for the recommendations set out at the end of this document.

While, in many cases the needs of communities could be served by conservation projects currently being implemented in Central Africa, evidence gathered in Africa by the Forest Peoples Project (FPP) [5] and its local partners in CEFDHAC countries over the past 4 years shows clearly that many conservation projects are associated with falling welfare of indigenous forest communities, reduced protection for their human rights, and declining commitment by communities to work with conservation agents in the field. While many conservation projects are working to protect forests that indigenous communities undoubtedly cherish, many projects are also preventing these same communities from continuing to use their traditional forests to secure their livelihoods. This is leading to progressive alienation by communities from conservation projects, associated with continuing violations of indigenous forest communities’ human rights. This situation is unsustainable and needs to be addressed.

The objective to promote better governance of national and transboundary conservation projects, one of the key themes of the 5ème CEFDHAC Conference, is one which FPP strongly supports, and many hope that this work will result in greater levels of participation by local communities in the management of conservation projects over the lands upon which they rely, and that it will help indigenous communities to secure stronger governmental recognition for their rights. The current conference also demonstrates donors’ commitment to the outcomes of the Durban World Parks Congress, in which the IUCN played a key role, and the 2004 Conference of Parties (COP7) of the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which calls for “… full respect for the rights of indigenous and local communities ...” [6] However, the feasibility of building the necessary partnerships [7] between community stakeholders and conservation projects is still hampered by the chronic failure of governments and conservation organisations to ensure that their conservation projects adhere to international agreements that protect communities’ rights, and to which government and conservation organisations have already agreed.

The reasons why these agreed standards are yet to be implemented by conservation organisations working in Central Africa are complex, context- specific, and generally underpinned by negative attitudes towards indigenous lifestyles, and a shortage of the skills and funds needed to enable communities’ views and rights to be taken into account by conservation projects. However, several recent outcomes of international and national processes suggests that there are now very strong opportunities for African policymakers to promote a significant shift in the actual practice of conservation in Central Africa in the long-term interests of the biodiversity conservation agenda, and towards the enhanced application in African nations of international norms of human rights.

Opportunities for CEFDHAC in 2004

·       There is now widespread consensus amongst researchers and project staff working in the field that the agreed international standards concerning indigenous forest peoples’ rights are not yet being implemented adequately in conservation projects in Central Africa;

·       International conservation agencies are demonstrating renewed interest and rhetorical commitment to serve the long-term livelihood needs of indigenous forest communities affected by their projects, while donors are focussing on alleviating the causes of these communities’ poverty;

·       There is significant international consensus over the need to protect and promote the rights of indigenous forest communities affected by conservation, as illustrated by the developments at the WPC, COP7, and through motions to be considered at the World Conservation Congress (WCC) later this year;

·       Over the past four years many indigenous Central African forest communities, especially by those living around protected areas, [8] have expressed their strong desire to move forward with concrete initiatives addressing violations of their rights by conservation projects, as well as their long-term livelihood needs. [9]

FPP will continue to support work that seeks to open up more equitable dialogues between conservation organisations and communities affected by their projects, and which recognise community rights, and we will be supporting such initiatives by our partners from many CEFDHAC countries this year. There is a natural convergence of interests between conservation interest groups and indigenous forest communities - both undoubtedly share the desire to protect their biodiversity along with their human rights. We hope that CEFDHAC can help bring these different groups together to identify concrete solutions to these dilemmas.

Forest communities’ rights are vulnerable to conservation

It is well documented by FPP and others how indigenous hunting and gathering “Pygmy” communities across Central Africa face serious discrimination from dominant society, are treated as inferior, and are exploited, by their neighbours, and persistently neglected by development projects ( They are amongst the poorest groups in the region, their rights are not protected and they have little or no access to information about their rights and entitlements, healthcare and education services, and justice. Discrimination and poverty affect women particularly, as they are the main contributors to the household economy, yet are least able to access land and information, and are least represented in decision-making structures and processes. Indigenous forest communities’ attachment to forest resources as the basis of their livelihoods and cultures, combined with the lack of formal recognition of their communal land rights has made them especially vulnerable to conservation projects that continue to target many of their traditional lands for biodiversity protection.

Across Central Africa [10] over 450,000 square kilometres now fall into protected areas, [11] comprising almost 11% of its land, an area the size of Cameroon. Almost half of these lands, or over 20 million hectares, have now been designated as core protected zones where human activities are generally banned under the protection regimes currently in operation in Central Africa. [12] Under the still-prevalent exclusionary model of conservation from North America, which still dominates conservation thinking in Africa, parks are incompatible with habitation or use by local communities, even indigenous communities who were there first. [13]

The total area to be zoned for conservation in Central Africa is set to grow steeply as ongoing processes to designate new areas are finalised, [14] and other ecosystems are put under protection through the vigorous efforts of governmental and non-governmental conservation agencies working in Central African countries, often through long-term conservation efforts that now include work to establish transboundary protected areas, [15] a current pre-occupation of many of those working in the conservation scene across this continental belt. Other new initiatives imposing a “landscape approach” over Central Africa bio-regions could theoretically double the amount of Central African lands designated for protection. [16] Central African governments have been active in adapting legislation affecting their natural resource sector to keep pace with international developments in this sector, and to enable access to new sources of conservation funds, including those from extractive industries such as logging and mining, and many relevant laws are still under review across the CEFDHAC zone.

The intensity of conservation activity across the region, and with it the corresponding rapid extension of protected areas since the 1980s reflects the significant and still intensifying threats faced by Central African biodiverse zones, especially in forested regions along the equatorial belt. The main threats to these areas from illegal or unsustainable logging, mining, and commercial bushmeat hunting exist within a complex matrix of social and economic forces against which conservation interests claim to have made significant gains in protection. [17]

However, the growing demands on resources to address the needs of their peoples and economies has also meant that Central African governments have continued to rely upon international sources of income, including tourism, to fund the growth of their conservation programmes. As these funds have grown, so have their own conservation activities, many of which are very dependent upon continuing funding levels in order to cover recurrent costs. [18] International conservation organisations continue to emphasise to private, government and multilateral donors about the need to ensure long-term funding for conservation in order to ensure that funds for biodiversity protection maintains pace against threats. Identifying new sources of funding is therefore an extremely high priority for the conservation sector in Africa, and a strengthening donor emphasis on poverty alleviation is now encouraging these organisations to show how their projects also serve the needs and long-term livelihoods of the communities affected by their projects.

Conservation’s failure in Central Africa

The significant advances in ecosystem protection that have been made in Central Africa continue to bring with them, however, significant social costs. Many of the protected areas set up over the past 40 years in Central Africa at least partially overlap lands owned or claimed by local communities, including indigenous forest communities whose presence pre-dates others, including colonial and post-colonial governments, [19] and the resulting impacts of conservation projects on these groups are often severe. For many forest dependent communities, protected areas bring with them forced expulsion from their lands without compensation, the elimination of their rights over their traditional lands, the progressive destruction of their livelihoods, the loss of their identities and increasing socio-economic marginalisation. [20] This is a serious problem that is now well-documented. [21]

A recent study [22] used empirical data from 12 parks in 6 Central African countries and found that protected areas had led to the displacement of many tens of thousands of the very poor. The expulsion of Pygmy communities without consultation or compensation was a common feature of almost all of the parks analyzed, and the secondary effects of these and other “conservation refugees” have led to a series of negative impacts in areas where people have been moved. The report also asserts that “resettlement is still the most common option used to deal with people who happen to live in African national parks” even though most resettlement schemes that have been implemented in Africa have so far failed to succeed. [23] The severity of the problems faced by indigenous forest communities due to conservation projects is therefore very real, and their rights are in peril.

Multilateral donors or international non-governmental conservation agencies are directly [24] implicated in the establishment, implementation and maintenance of most old, new and pending protected areas in Central Africa, so recent work by FPP [25] examined the degree to which they were applying key principles protecting communities’ rights in African protected areas. These principles were agreed at the 1992 World Conservation Congress, and over the last 10 years guidelines have been drawn up with the support of the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and World Wildlife Fund International (WWF). [26] These recognise the rights of indigenous peoples to use, own and control their traditional territories, and protect their traditional knowledge and skills. They also espouse the development of working partnerships with indigenous peoples based upon the principle of full and informed consent and that they gain equitable shares of conservation benefits. Many of these widely-agreed principles are also embedded in the internationally binding Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), now ratified by over 170 countries, including all those in Central Africa.

Over the past four years FPP’s partners have shown how in Africa these widely agreed principles are not being applied properly by governments and conservation agencies. Our synthesis of 10 case studies from 7 African countries concluded that conservation projects were leading to an erosion of indigenous peoples’ rights over their land, increasing their poverty, putting further pressure on indigenous peoples to transform their livelihood systems in order to mimic their cultural distinct neighbours, and contributing to the loss of indigenous peoples’ identity:

“In most cases, the protected areas are providing the final blow against indigenous peoples, who also face other pressures from growing neighbouring populations and subsequent increases in land pressure for farming, natural resource exploitation by ranchers, loggers and miners often coming from outside, a lack of good governance by the States concerned, and State laws which are incompatible with indigenous peoples’ customary land tenure systems.” [27]

There are a number of reasons for the failure over conservation agencies to address these problems, including:

·       a lack of funding to enable protected area staff to develop a better understanding of indigenous forest communities’ needs, and their desire to participate meaningfully in the development of conservation plans;

·       a lack of commitment by conservation agencies to engage with local communities, rather than animals or plants;

·       severe and growing logging pressure on Central African forests, and associated rises in bushmeat hunting, that helps justify a “conservation at any cost” mentality amongst conservationists;

·       a lack of awareness within protected area projects of international standards for working with indigenous communities;

·       a tendency for conservation project staff to treat all local communities as a single entity, rather than as distinct communities with different livelihood systems and cultural norms;

·       a lack of capacity within protected area management teams to enable participative processes to occur with communities;

·       a lack of capacity amongst indigenous communities to adequately express their concerns about how their rights are being undermined by protected area plans;

·       a lack of recognition for the customary land and resource rights of indigenous hunting and gathering peoples by most Central African governments;

·       periodic conflict and instability often linked to competition over natural resources within and between some Central African countries. [28]


Key Articles from Convention on Biological Diversity


Article 8(j) obliges States “as far as possible and appropriate.” “Subject to its national legislation, to respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of such knowledge, innovations and practices.”


Article 10(c) obliges States “as far as possible and as appropriate,” “to protect and encourage customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices that are compatible with conservation or sustainable use requirements.”


Element 2 of the CBD Programme of work on Protected Areas, on Governance, Participation, Equity and Benefit Sharing, established at COP 7 (Feb 2004): “Recalls the obligation of the Parties towards indigenous and local communities in accordance with article 8(j) and related provisions and notes that the establishment, management and planning of protected areas should take place with the full and effective participation of, and full respect for the rights of, indigenous and local communities consistent with national law and applicable international obligations;”

New Conservation Commitments

In spite of the failure of conservation agencies to implement the Principles in the field in Africa, significant gains were made favouring communities’ rights this year at international fora, such as the Durban World Parks Congress. This Congress of 2500 conservation practitioners is held every 10 years and is highly influential on conservation policy and practice. The theme of the 2003 Congress was “Benefits Beyond Boundaries”, and the Accord and Recommendations which it agreed set important new standards for the rights of indigenous peoples living in and around protected areas. The Action Plan contains a full section entitled “The Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Mobile Peoples and Local Communities Recognised and Guaranteed in Relation to Natural Resources and Biodiversity Conservation”, which recommends specific targets and actions for governments and protected areas. [29]

The Durban Recommendations and Action Plan call on countries to undertake reviews of existing conservation laws and policies that impact on indigenous peoples, and to adopt laws and policies giving indigenous peoples and local communities control over their sacred places. In Central Africa, conservation policy reviews set out in the WPC Action Plan should lead to revision of old legislation that now limits indigenous communities’ access to their forests, especially in and around parks. FPP’s analysis has shown that these laws are often incompatible with international norms of indigenous peoples’ rights. [30] In some countries change is already underway, with some African courts agreeing to uphold indigenous peoples’ customary ownership, even after other legal systems were subsequently imposed by the State, so the potential for protecting communities’ rights through legal revision is huge. [31] However in Central Africa the situation is complicated by the complex set of legal traditions, and cultures, aspects with which conference participants are very familiar through their association with regional processes such as CEFDHAC.

At the international level, there is therefore an important and long-term trend in favour of indigenous forest communities’ rights, and at the national level in many CEFDHAC participating countries, reforms are under discussion. However during the same period little has actually changed on the ground in Central African countries. The continuing restrictions being imposed by conservation agencies on indigenous forest peoples’ access to forest resources, usually without their knowledge or consent, and combined with pressures from powerful resource extraction interests, continue the progressive destruction of indigenous forest peoples’ livelihood systems. This expropriation of resources from among the poorest of the poor reinforces the persistent and almost universal discrimination that has hindered Pygmy communities for years, keeping them at the margins of Central African societies. This is continuing to affect their ability to preserve their customary rights to the forest upon which their livelihoods have always depended.

Secure customary rights are important, and complex

In many Central African contexts customary usufruct rights to land [32] are generally asserted by communities through rules similar to the mise en valeur principle [33] derived from the dominating francophone tradition, and legally tolerated by governments who claim ultimate title. Under this system communities can normally claim non-marketable  [34] usufruct rights that may be transferred between individual families and individuals according to customary rules. [35] However, there are few mechanisms to guarantee these land rights for indigenous forest communities still relying on hunting and gathering over large areas of forest in order to secure the bulk of their subsistence.

In most CEFDHAC countries communities are able to secure usufruct rights to unoccupied land by gaining permission from local leaders or by putting bush into productive use (i.e., according to the prevalent mise en valeur concept). Productive use includes cultivation, and also mining and logging, but governments generally claim ultimate title in forest zones, that they mainly exercise through the application of rules over the allocation of timber, mineral or oil resources. They also play a key role in final conflict arbitration between individuals and communities when customary systems do not result in amicable settlements, in their role as “maître des terres”, thereby exercising overall, and at the very least, de jure final government authority over land disputes. When compensation is paid to communities for lands lost to government-sponsored projects, for example, as for the World Bank-funded Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline, compensation is usually only paid for the lost crops and household structures, not for the actual land, unless a formal title already applies to that plot. [36]

Under this model communities who do not make significant capital investments in agriculture, or permanent dwellings, are discriminated against, because of their culture, by national legal frameworks, and by their immediate neighbours. In rural forested areas across the CEFDHAC zone the up to 500,000 indigenous forest peoples generally possess the weakest customary rights within civil society. Their production systems usually do not require high infrastructure investments such as large fields or storage buildings, so evidence of occupation and use is sparse, thus the mise en valeur principle is not applied by their present neighbours, who are often cultivators seeking additional cultivation land for their families. [37] In addition, indigenous forest communities’ traditional lands are often areas of high biodiversity, and hence they are targeted by outside conservation organisations that easily gain access to the government ministries responsible for land allocation. In many instances these organisations have been able to persuade States to establish parks without local communities’ knowledge. With these strong pressures working against them, indigenous forest communities have few ways to protect themselves. The ultimate result is often indigenous landlessness such as is clearly evident in the Albertine Rift Area (covering parts of Rwanda, Southwest Uganda and eastern DRC), where land pressures are extremely high, leaving landless hunter-gatherer Twa without access to most remaining forest conservation areas.

In most rural forest areas of the extensive western Congo Basin, however, human forest population densities are generally very low and many indigenous communities traditionally range widely to harvest forest goods for their subsistence, as part of a semi-nomadic pattern. Their use of land often includes places where communities also cultivate permanently. Now many of these same forest areas are being targeted by outside commercial and conservation interests, and this is increasing the pressure on the resource rights of indigenous Pygmy communities. Many village and forest campsites formerly used by these communities are now inaccessible to them, mainly due to restrictions being imposed on their forest access by park authorities, usually without adequate consultation, and almost always without their consent. In most cases this is coupled with the imposition of local “eco-guards” who punish these communities if they continue their way of life in their forests. The result is a serious disruption to their livelihood system, and increasing insecurity.

This imposition against indigenous communities is turning many of them away from conservation, increasing suspicion and reducing cooperation, and the end result is often the introduction by park managers of increasingly repressive tactics to prevent hostile populations using forests slated for conservation. [38] Meanwhile commercial hunting is still growing to serve the huge commercial bushmeat market often associated with the logging sector, bringing in from the outside professional teams of poachers who are often able to bypass official controls, and who may employ local community people as guides or porters. In these contexts indigenous communities are torn between opposing outside interests, while still needing to secure the livelihoods of their families from the forest. Their choices are often stark.

Solutions supporting communities and biodiversity are possible

This apparently bleak outlook for the integration of the priorities of communities and conservation projects needs to be set against the knowledge that solutions are possible, and essential if conservation projects in Central Africa are going to continue to be viable over the long-term. If conservation organisations workings in Central Africa are to conform to the widely agreed international standards concerning indigenous peoples’ rights, and in turn promote the long-term sustainability of CEFDHAC governments’ efforts to protect their biodiversity, they will need to change their practice.

 In particular they need to recognise indigenous peoples’ rights by providing practical support to ensure that their project staff are able to engage properly and equitably with indigenous communities, on communities’ terms, and by investing in protected area staff capacities so that they have adequate skills, and incentives they need to work in open and transparent partnerships with forest communities – and begin to develop a level of trust that is often absent. If conservation organisations take up this challenge and back it with funds, technical input and long-term commitment, there will be a release of potential within new and old protected area staff to develop new models of cooperation between their projects and local communities that are fair for communities, which respect their rights and are cost effective, and which will ultimately help them to promote long-term protection of global biodiversity. [39]

Since 2001 FPP has been supporting indigenous forest communities in CEFDHAC countries to document the impact of protected areas on their communities and livelihoods, and to engage with conservation authorities on their own terms to discuss protected area management plans. This year FPP initiated a further phase of this long-term programme to establish and support a series of initiatives with NGOs and indigenous communities to promote:

  •  the application of modern conservation principles by conservation projects currently affecting hunter-gatherer communities in CEFDHAC countries;
  • indigenous communities peoples’ rights over their lands, especially when they lie near or within conservation areas, and their own representative organisations and processes;
  • the participation of indigenous women in decision-making over park management plans, along with men;
  • indigenous hunter-gatherers’ and their support organisations’ negotiation skills with conservation projects;
  • formal recognition for hunting and gathering communities land and resource rights by conservation agencies and by governments, and;
  • the capture of conservation benefits by indigenous communities.

This 5 year initiative is now in its first year of implementation, and we look forward to continuing to support our local partners to achieve these goals in conjunction with the national and international conservation organisations concerned in each of the cases.


The 5ème CEFDHAC has come at a key moment in the development of regional environment policies, and the evolution of development donor trends. There is now a historic opportunity for African policymakers to promote sustained long-term change in favour of biodiversity protection in their countries, and in favour of the millions of people who rely upon the Central African ecosystem to secure their livelihoods. 2004 will be an important year for indigenous peoples and conservation organisations due to the strong donor pressure for changes to conservation’s practice to favour the very poor, and new, strong international agreements promoting the rights of indigenous communities affected by their conservation programmes. A strong message from conference participants re-asserting the need to address the serious gaps in the implementation of human rights standards in Central African conservation projects will therefore carry important weight with donors closely monitoring the implementation of these international agreements. This subject will also be a focus of discussions at the World Conservation Congress to be held in late 2004. CEFDHAC delegates should ensure that their voice is heard in these debates.

Recommendations to CEFDHAC

In order to address the problems outlined above, and to take advantages of the new opportunities now presenting themselves, CEFDHAC delegates could advocate:

  •  A review of CEFDHAC countries’ commitments to international agreements protecting indigenous communities’ rights, such as the CBD, in relation to efforts to implement the required standards, [40] and planned or ongoing land, forestry and wildlife legal reform processes, [41] and the dissemination of these findings to relevant government bodies concerned with forests and the environment;
  • Improved reporting systems to the CBD on progress in implementing the Convention and CBD work programmes on article 8j and forest biological diversity with particular reference to indigenous peoples;
  • A review by CEFDHAC governments of their national legal and institutional frameworks in order to identify the key factors that inhibit full implementation of the required guidelines, considering also those non-binding principles established by non-governmental conservation bodies such as the WWF, the IUCN, and the World Conservation Congress; [42]
  • Urgent work in CEFDHAC countries to identify how indigenous forest peoples’ customary, subsistence use of their forests can be accommodated by national conservation institutions while necessary reforms are underway, and a halt to conservation gazetting resulting in access and use restrictions against these groups; [43]
  • More rigorous pursuit of large-scale commercial bushmeat hunting without undermining the subsistence activities of indigenous forest-centred communities;
  • The establishment of concrete plans to enable individual CEFDHAC partners overcome gaps in implementation of the existing guidelines protecting the rights of indigenous communities, including the development of specific provisions enabling greater involvement of communities and local NGOs in conserving ecosystems, in line with the CBFP declaration of 2003; [44]
  • Access to funding, practical technical support and capacity building inputs for conservation agencies, non-governmental community-based organisations, and indigenous peoples’ own organisations, to enable meaningful representation, with decision-making powers, by indigenous communities in the establishment, management, and evaluation of conservation projects and programmes in Central Africa;
  • Increased dissemination of binding and non-binding guidelines concerning indigenous communities’ rights, as well as examples of best practice, to field staff working for conservation projects in CEFDHAC countries;
  • Participation by indigenous forest communities’ chosen representatives in international, national, and local meetings relevant to the development, management and evaluation of conservation programmes, and in discussions over land tenure, zonation and allocation in forest zones within CEFDHAC countries; [45]
  • Development of the elements of the COMIFAC Convergence Plan [46] and AFLEG declaration [47] specifically addressing the needs of indigenous peoples, in order to ensure that their implementation promotes improved application of national obligations to the CBD;
  • The application and strengthening of other multilateral and lateral donor standards protecting indigenous peoples in projects that they fund in CEFDHAC countries; [48]
  • Logging companies’ adherence to Principles 2 and 3 of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) that concern tenure and use rights and responsibilities, and indigenous peoples rights, and more rigorous pursuit of illegal logging in line with commitments made within the framework of AFLEG.



[1] The term “Pygmy” is sometimes used in a pejorative manner, which is not the intention here. In this paper the term is used as a general and widely-understood term to refer to the estimated 500,000 indigenous hunting and gathering peoples who dwell in the forested regions of Central Africa, and known locally by their own names, such as Baka, Bagyeli, Aka, Mbendelle, Twa, Cwa, Mbuti, etc, and often referred to by themselves as “people of the forest.”

[2] Including, specifically, Pygmy communities. 

[3] COMIFAC (2002) Plan de Convergence, Action Prioritaires 2003-2005. Declaration des Chef d’Etat de L’Afrique Central sur La Conservation et la Gestion Durable des Forets. COMIFAC : Yaoundé.

[4] COMIFAC (2003) The Conference of Ministers for the Forests of Central Africa. Declaration for the Congo Basin Forest Partnership. January 2003. Yaoundé: COMIFAC.

[5] Forest Peoples Project is the charitable arm of Forest Peoples Programme, and aims to support indigenous and tribal forest peoples to promote their collective and individual rights, secure their lands and manage their natural resources, carry out sustainable community development, and educate policy makers, agencies and civil society about their concerns and aspirations. 

[6] Griffiths, J Lasimbang and M Farhan Ferrari (Feb 2004) The CBD COP 7 and related conferences/meetings, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 6-20 February, 2004. Report on Protected Aeas. See

[7] The main theme for the fifth CEFDHAC conference is entitled: “governance and multi-actor partnership for the sustainable management of Central African forest ecosystems.”

[8] These are rapidly growing in number and size across the region. The landscape approach and new transboundary proposals will tend to lead to larger protected areas of varying levels of protection, including IUCN category I and II –type area, park buffer zones, and lesser protected categories where access and use is restricted.

[9] This is documented in reports and videos by FPP and partners.

[10] Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi only included in this analysis.

[11] According to IUCN classification categories I to VI.

[12] Categories Ia (Strict Nature Reserve managed mainly for science), Ib (Wilderness Area managed mainly for wilderness protection) and II (National Park managed mainly for ecosystem protection and creation) cover the highest protection categories where exploitation of any kind, even for subsistence, is generally prohibited under existing national legislative norms. The real figure is likely to be higher because the UN list does not indicate those areas where extractive use of core protected areas, even for subsistence, is also prohibited.

[13] Colchester, M (1995 and 2003) Salvaging Nature. Moreton-in-Marsh: World Rainforest Movement and Forest Peoples Programme.

[14] For example, in Gabon, where almost a million hectares have yet to be categorised under the IUCN system, even though strict protection measures prohibiting use by communities are already in place over many of them.

[15] Including, for example Sangha Reserve in CAR adjoining Lobéké in Cameroon, the Dja-Boumba Bek-Nki-Odzala-Minkébé transfrontier reserve between Gabon, Congo Republic and Cameroon, and the Peace Parks along the Albertine Rift area between Uganda and DRC, as well as numerous other proposals currently under discussion, and involving virtually every country in the region.

[16] As favoured by many of those promoting the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, yet in most cases to be funded largely by other sources, such as the World Bank and GEF through loans, and through direct bi-lateral and multilateral (eg, EU) assistance to countries meeting eligibility criteria, including agreement to key conventions such as the CBD. See, for example, GEF (April 5, 2004) GEF Council Work Program Submission for Cameroon 2004-2009: Forestry and Environmental Sector Adjustment Credit (FESAC).

[17] For a flavour of the kinds of gains claimed, see the websites of WCS, WWF, ECOFAC, Birdlife International, Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund, African Wildlife Foundation, etc. The rate of growth in protected areas, one possible indicator, is easily observed from the UN lists of Protected Areas, last published in 2003.

[18] Castro, G (2004) Financing Organization and Protected Areas. Presentation at CBD COP VII, Kuala Lumpur, 2004. Team Leader, Biodiversity, Global Environment Facility (GEF).

[19] Especially so-called “Pygmy” communities or “first forest inhabitants” whose livelihoods and culture are inextricably tied to forests across the Central African belt.

[20]Nelson, J and L Hossack (eds) (2003) Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas in Africa: from principles to practice. Forest Peoples Programme: Moreton-in-Marsh. Available in English and French with accompanying video.

[21] For further information and references on this subject, see

[22] Cernea, M and K Schmidt-Soltau (2003) National Parks and Poverty Risks : Is Population Resettlement the Solution? Paper presented to the World Parks Congress, Durban, South African September 2003. Also see Kai Schmidt-Soltau (2003) Conservation-related Resettlement in Central Africa: Environmental and Social Risks. Development and Change 34(3): 525-551. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

[23] Schmidt-Soltau, K (2003) op. cit. p 525.

[24] Through implementation, funding, or formal association.

[25] Nelson et al, op cit. Also see Barume, Albert Kwokwo (2000) Heading Towards Extinction? Indigenous Rights in Africa: The Case of the Twa of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. IWGIA Document No. 101. Copenhagen: IWGIA, and Moreton-in March: Forest Peoples Programme

[26] IUCN- World Conservation Union/WCPA – World Commission on Protected Areas/ WWF – Worldwide Fund for Nature (2000) Principles and guideline on protected areas and indigenous/traditional peoples.

[27] Nelson op. cit. p 42.

[28] e.g., in northeastern DRC where there are a number of national parks impacted by armed conflict linked to the rich mineral and oil resources of the region.

[29] For the full texts see:

[30] MacKay, F (2002) Addressing Past Wrongs. Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas: the right to restitution of lands and resources. Occasional Paper, Forest Peoples Programme, Moreton-in-Marsh.

[31] South African Constitutional Court Ruling of 14 October 2003. See, Case Id. 12632. This decision confirms that acquisition of soveignty by the crown did not necessarily extinguish customary rights.

[32] Securing title is generally quite difficult for rural individuals or communities in Central Africa, although it is easier under the new Ugandan land law. This says that durable holders and users of customary land rights have the automatic right to secure title to their lands, even though the actual process to register such titles is expensive, complicated and out of the reach of most ordinary households. In Rwanda, after the war the government established programmes to move people into new villages, but since they had no land to swap for those around the new settlements, Twa were not really involved, and most are still landless. For quantitative data on Twa landlessness, see Jackson, D (2003) Twa Women, Twa Rights in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. London: MRG.

[33] Literally, to “put into value”, usually via construction or cultivation.

[34] A legal interpretation, since informal land sales are quite prevalent.

[35] For a fuller review of the complexities embodied in this generalisation, see. Wiley, L and S Mbaya (2001) Land, People and Forests in eastern and southern Africa at the beginning of the 21st Century: The impact of land relations on the role of communities in forest future. IUCN-EARO; Nelson, J (2003) A Survey of Indigenous Land Tenure in Sub-Saharan Africa. Land Reform Bulletin. Rome: FAO.

[36] COTCO (1999) Indigenous Peoples Plan, Cameroon Portion, Volume 4. Environmental Management Plan. Houston: COTCO/Esso Pipeline Company; Nelson, J, J Kenrick and D Jackson (2001) Report on a Consultation with Bagyeli Pygmy communities impacted by the Chad-Cameroon oil-pipeline project

[37] This is an extremely common problem faced by indigenous forest communities in many Central African countries, often leading to conflict with neighbouring cultivators who are reasonably seeking to help their own families out of poverty.

[38] Some conservation projects are now trying to develop new income generation projects as a means to help local populations diversity their subsistence base, and those should be credited when local communities are given control of the process, without being hindered to maintain their subsistence. However, this is yet to be achieved in many projects, for the reasons given above.

[39] Tolerating infractions of human rights in their projects is associated with “reputation risk” for conservation organisations seeking long-term funding on the international stage.

[40] through, for example, National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans.

[41] resulting from, for example, multilateral donor conditionality affecting the forest and environment sector.

[42] For a full review of these standards, see Nelson et al, op. cit.

[43] thereby reducing the immediate and severe impacts from old and new conservation projects that continue to damage indigenous forest communities’ livelihoods.

[44] COMIFAC (2003), op. cit.

[45] For further information on these and other related issues, see .

[46] COMIFAC (2002) op. cit.

[47] Africa Forest Law Enforcement and Governance. Ministerial Declaration, 13-16 October, 2003. See

[48] For a complete review of these standards, see Griffiths, T (2003) A failure of Accountability- Indigenous Peoples, Human Rights and Development Agency Standards: a reference tool and comparative review. Moreton-in-March: FPP. Available in French, English and Spanish at

Traditional hunting snare, Southwest Cameroon
Indigenous forest communities’ cultures are based upon hunting and gathering in forests being targeted for conservation
Livelihoods of many indigenous families are based on customary use of forest biodiversity increasingly targeted for conservation
Indigenous communities map their forest use to facilitate discussions over forest rights