Forests are better protected when managed by the local communities who depend on them. In the Congo Basin, community forestry has the potential to improve rural living conditions, help protect and sustainably manage natural resources (including trees) and contribute to climate objectives. But for this to happen, policymakers must ensure that community forestry laws secure customary land rights while empowering local communities to manage forests. This briefing describes how Fern and its partners engaged in the CoNGOs project to improve the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities in the Congo Basin through better forest governance and practice. The project has also influenced policies in the Congo Basin and in the EU (European Union). Dialogues on community forestry between governments, EU institutions, civil society organisations and communities have challenged negative perceptions about community forestry, demonstrating how it can help preserve tropical forests and strengthen livelihoods.
As decision makers in the European Union (EU) and timber producing countries consider the future of the FLEGT Action Plan, and its Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA), civil society organisations and platforms from Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Guyana, Liberia, Honduras, Indonesia, Republic of the Congo, Vietnam, and Europe have issued Making VPAs work for forests, people and the climate a new briefing with recommendations for how to strengthen and upgrade the VPAs.
The briefing reflects on progress after a decade of implementation including looking at multi stakeholder participation, increased transparency and reduced illegal deforestation. It suggests concrete ways to address challenges and step up current efforts including increased enforcement of just laws, enhanced policy coherence, and inclusive decision making. If the proposed changes are taken on board, VPAs will continue to effectively contribute to governance improvements, forest protection and sustainable local livelihoods.
With growing recognition of the importance of forests for delivering climate and development goals, the EU and partner countries must refocus their efforts on VPAs. They are a unique experiment in working with all parties to tackle the underlying drives of deforestation such as over consumption and poor land rights. Now is the time to ensure that VPAs deliver on their promise and are ready to respond to the rapidly changing global environment.
Enabling local and indigenous communities in the Congo Basin to take over forest management has the potential to restore natural forests, conserve biodiversity, combat illegal logging, address climate change and secure sustainable livelihoods. By managing forests sustainably and inclusively, community forestry can help curb deforestation and reduce associated greenhouse gas emissions, as well as supporting sustainable resource management and development.
However, “community forestry management” is a contested concept. Governments in the region and donors tend to reduce community forestry to usage rights, resource exploitation focusing on timber extraction and the redistribution of revenues to communities often through the intervention of third parties. Such approaches ignore the recognition and protection of customary tenure and other community rights, making indigenous peoples and women particularly vulnerable to national policy changes and re-distribution of land (or large-scale land acquisitions by companies).
Creating effective, equitable, sustainable and genuinely community-based management of resources requires an informed and participatory approach to addressing the legal, governance, capacity and financial constraints that communities face especially IPs and women. Secure communities, equipped with good evidence about their forest management options, can claim their rights and participate effectively in strengthening and sustaining their livelihoods, while protecting forests.
Fern Submission to the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit for CLARA
In the Republic of Congo, the forestry sector is the second-largest contributor to the national economy after oil, and the principal employer after the government sector. Approximately 640,000 people living in forest zones are directly or indirectly dependent on the forest resources. The country is at a turning-point in terms of the management of its natural resources and in particular of its forests, as it aspires to becoming an “emerging economy”.
The local communities and indigenous peoples are increasingly on the margins of the formal economy and of decision-making concerning the use of the natural resources, and they are confronted with growing land insecurity.
There is a desperate need to detail, recognize, and guarantee the customary property and usage rights of the communities who depend on the forest. Likewise, in theory, the policies, laws, and initiatives aimed at reinforcing more inclusive and equitable management of the forests offer these communities the possibility of participating in and contributing to sustainable economic progress in harmony with their own vision of development.
This briefing sets out the key components of due diligence legislation requiring companies to conduct checks on their investments and supply chains to identify, prevent and mitigate environmental, social and governance risks and impacts within and outside the EU.
The briefing draws on lessons from Global Witness and ClientEarth’s combined experience of due diligence in operation across a range of sectors. It aims to inform discussions amongst policy makers, and encourage a more rigorous and consistent approach to checks on Europe’s business practices, imports, productions and investments.
In the context of Laos, village use forest (VUF) management system has based on both legal system and customary practices. Villagers have rights to harvest and utilize forest resources in village use forest, and forestland surrounding their community farmland. However, harvesting timber from the village use forest and supply timber to the commercial process is not yet allowed by laws. We obtained various legislation and legal framework and gray documents for review. For the case study, two villages in Mahaxay and Yommalat of Khammouane Province were selected. We collected information from staffs of the District Agriculture and Forestry Office (DAFO), and carried out the field survey and conducted groups discussion with village organization’s members and including villagers.
This study highlights the key legislation for unlocking or and allowing VUF for entry into the commercial process should be concerned, reviewed, developed and updated. The monitoring and controlling mechanism should be set and included in the system. It’s functional should not be hampered villagers to benefit from forest resources harvesting. Likewise, the institutional setting and arrangement for VUF should be restructured and strengthened. The VUF timber supply chain should have an appropriate system, eligible for FLEGT license in the near future, and be able to implement by the local villagers and the local authorities in a sustainability manner.
This issue of the EUTR News provides an update on the operation of the EU’s law to address illegal logging, the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), from April to June 2019. As with all of our previous editions, this issue will include information on what both the European Commission and EU Member States are doing to ensure the proper application of the EUTR, and provide updates on similar legislation internationally.
One of the unique features of Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) – which form a key part of the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan – is that they allow a variety of actors (government, private sector, civil society and forest communities) to discuss how forests should be managed. They are the only trade agreements that champion such a bold and innovative approach, and they are therefore seen as a model of multi-stakeholder governance.
The lesson is clear: forests and peoples are intrinsically linked, so the fate of the former cannot be discussed without the involvement of those who have protected and nurtured them for so long, and many civil society actors have observed a “virtuous circle” regarding civil society and local communities’ participation in VPAs.
But in many countries, the VPA process is at a crossroads. At this critical time, those moving towards FLEGT licensing should focus on sustaining effective civil society participation. Yet at the same time, efforts cannot be left to timber producing countries alone. The EU and Member States’ Competent Authorities could also help encourage CSO participation on the demand-side.
To mitigate poverty and lift the country from its Least Developed Country status by 2020, the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), has pursued a policy of developing infrastructure, including creating mines, hydropower dams, telecommunication networks, roads, transmission corridors and Special Economic Zones (SEZs).
How it can support forest peoples, wildlife and the climate
From 2016–2019, Fern was involved in an ambitious project to advance community forestry called ‘NGO collaboration for equitable and sustainable community livelihoods in the Congo Basin forests’.
“If local and indigenous communities in the Congo Basin are enabled to manage their forests, they can help restore forests, conserve biodiversity, combat illegal logging, address climate change and secure sustainable livelihoods.”
This, in essence, was the main goal behind the project developed by a vibrant consortium of partners and led by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). The consortium included Client Earth, Fern, Forest Peoples Programme, Rainforest Foundation UK, Tropenbos International and Well Grounded.
The project aimed to raise international and national policymakers’ awareness about the importance of supporting community forest management to keep forests standing and improve forest peoples’ livelihoods. It also trialled alternative models for participatory community forest management in Cameroon, a country that has had a legal community forestry framework for more than 20 years.
Staying within our niche and geographical expertise, Fern’s main responsibility was to increase political support for the development of community forestry, through research, pilots, advocacy and awareness raising. We worked to support partners in Cameroon, Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo, and engaged with policy makers and journalists in the EU and across the Congo Basin.
Community forestry in the Congo Basin
For Fern, community forestry means giving communities control over the forest resources they depend on for their survival, so they can manage them responsibly and inclusively.
In regions like the Congo Basin, communities have protected forests for generations, but they are now being pushed out of their ancestral lands. The causes are mining and increasing demand for wood and commodities such as palm oil, rubber and cocoa, notably for the European Union and China.
This scramble for forests has meant that vast tracts of land have been given to foreign companies or elites and taken from local and indigenous communities.
For it to be truly inclusive, community forestry also needs to pay more attention to the role of women. Our report Community forestry: Opportunity or mirage for women in the Congo Basin? found that women play an important role in forest resource management and conservation due to their dependence on forest resources for subsistence (fuelwood, plants, fruits, herbal medicine among others) and income. Yet, they continue to face discrimination when it comes to decisions about forests. More must be done to improve legislation and strengthen women’s participation in local governance to ensure community forestry benefits everyone.
Bringing the benefits of Community Forestry to the attention of the EU
Since the start of the CoNGOs project, lessons about what works and recommendations on what should be done have been shared between policy makers, civil society groups and forest communities in all Congo Basin countries and as a result, communities are becoming aware of their rights, and involved in forest management decisions.
This dialogue between policy makers and civil society culminated at the 2017 Meeting of Parties of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) in Douala, Cameroon, attended by several EU Member States including Belgium, France, and Germany, where Fern organised a side event on inclusive forest management in the Congo Basin. The event sparked considerable interest and an agreement that no community should be left behind.
This was an essential meeting as it allowed us to take lessons from Cameroon (a community forestry pioneer) and share them with the wider region. This wider learning was also achieved with the production of videos such as “Community forests in Cameroon: what have we learnt so far?” which looked at the problems as well as the successes achieved in Cameroon.
In November 2018, the Vice-President of the European Parliament Heidi Hautala co-hosted an event with Fern which allowed dialogue between EU institutions, Member States, tropical forested countries and civil society on what the new EU Multi-Annual Financial Framework can do to enhance rural livelihoods in the Congo Basin rainforests. As a result, she became a supporter of communities’ involvement in forest management and we hope to continue working on this issue with the new Parliament when it is elected.
Other notable champions that have come forward during the life of the project are the Minister of Forest Economy in the Republic of Congo, Rosalie Matondo who has become an ambassador of participatory forestry (including community forestry) for Central Africa. She has visited neighbouring countries to communicate the importance of both community forestry and strengthening community rights over forest resources.
The emergence of these champions is important for communicating the benefits of community forestry, strengthening dialogue between government and communities, and ultimately sustaining the momentum around participatory management of forests. Thanks to CoNGOs’ awareness raising, in the Central African Republic (CAR) there is, for example, a growing understanding within the Bantu and indigenous communities who sometimes have diverging views over forests, of the importance of working together and improving governance so that forest management is done jointly and in the interest of all. The project also enabled local and indigenous communities in CAR to participate directly in VPA meetings and express their needs, the rights violations they suffer and the community forestry model that would allow them to improve their living conditions.
Community forestry advocates such as Philomène Biya, National Coordinator of Congo’s Réseau Femmes Africaines pour le Développement Durable explained why such work is important. In all of the countries, communities are closely linked to forest ecosystems as they depend on them for food, habitat, medicines, and cultural and social rights.
Denying them access and control over forests is depriving them of the fundamental right to exist. Whereas when they are given strong rights over forests they have been shown to protect and preserve them, thereby benefiting biodiversity and the climate.
“Communities need to gain back the rights to their forests to achieve stronger livelihoods and improve the health of the planet”.
In Cameroon, the Centre for Environmental Development (CED) worked with communities in the villages of Nomedjoh and Nkolenyeng in the South East to develop a revised simple management plan in a participatory and inclusive way reflecting community needs and aspirations. The participatory process was captured in a guide which is now used by communities across the country who are interested in establishing sustainable community forestry. In Nomedjoh, the Ministry of Forests’ approval of their management plan has empowered a community to keep their forest standing while carrying out non-logging activities for the next five years.
As for the Republic of Congo, there has been an ‘in principle’ agreement to create pilot community forests in the Sangha region, where people will implement forestry that meets their needs and aspirations.
Our awareness raising and advocacy work was supported by videos such as:
- “How fair forest management improves lives and brings stability” which considered the issue in the region more widely.
- And “Community forests in the Congo Basin: What is the EU’s role?”which looked at the future of community forestry and how the EU and other states could support it. These videos received positive feedback on social media and at key policy events in Central Africa and the EU.
Thanks to our fruitful collaboration, the European Commission has committed to supporting community forestry projects in the Congo Basin and there is even hope that community forestry will form a growing part of the implementation of the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) in the Congo Basin. The European Parliament has also become a more forceful supporter of forests and communities. Its ground-breaking report on natural resource management, the case of forests asks for stronger participation of local communities in forest management.
Fern and its local partners are motivated to continue supporting community forestry, even after the completion of the CoNGOs project, to help get their voices heard.
Fern will continue to work with DFID and other donors to promote community forestry and foster dialogue between civil society, national governments and the EU. We hope to garner support for the Brazzaville Roadmap for more effective participatory forestry in Central Africa which we helped develop together with our local partners and the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). The roadmap paves the way for more resilient forests and communities in the Congo Basin and could be instrumental in ensuring that benefits from forestry reach the most vulnerable. Such work will also help us achieve international commitments such as the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, but only if we can garner resources and political support.