Central African Republic
Central African Republic started VPA negotiations in 2009. The aim of the VPA is to improve forest sector governance by clarifying and simplifying management rules, ensuring increased transparency and use of public information, and respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and local resources. The VPA entered into force on 1 July 2012.
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Building a brighter, more resilient future for the Central African Republic (CAR) and its citizens – a future that includes equitable and sustainable management of its natural resources – will be key to delivering the promise of the recently signed peace agreement between the government and fourteen armed groups. Under the Accord for Peace and Reconciliation in the CAR of 6 February 2019, the parties committed, among other things, to putting an end to violence, ensuring peace and security throughout the region and resolving grievances peacefully. This Agreement represents an important step, but NGOs remain cautious: signing off on peace does not wipe away all crimes committed by the warring factions. True reconciliation can only be achieved through fighting impunity and promoting justice. In addition, continued insecurity, the fragmentation of armed groups and decimated public services mean that the majority of the population still acutely needs humanitarian assistance.
Concerned with advancing forest governance, CSOs continue to lead efforts to keep the VPA process alive. Although official structures (Comité Nationale de Mise en Œuvre et de Suivi et le Comité Conjoint de Mise en Œuvre) have not met since late 2018, the government recently launched a consultation to update the forest policy document that had been dormant for years. Members of the Gestion Durable des Ressources Naturelles et de l’Environnement (GDRNE) platform advocated for CSOs to be adequately represented. Thanks to their efforts, the Forest Minister agreed to include five members on the validation committee. The final document is not yet published, but GDRNE is confident that its recommendations on having a more gender-friendly policy, revising the Forest Code and fully implementing community forestry will be reflected in it.
With Fern support, GDRNE was also able to explore the opportunities and challenges of developing a legality grid for community forests. A recent briefing commissioned by local CSOs, with inputs from all stakeholders, concludes that CAR is now in a position to develop the legality grid, and that the government should do so to meet its VPA commitments and strengthen the legal basis for community forestry. This is particularly timely as of the two pilot community forests requested, one has been awarded to local communities in the southwest region, and the other is in the process of being granted – thanks to relentless efforts by local CSOs and international NGOs.
Illegalities remain rampant in the forest sector, and local CSOs point to illegal timber being increasingly smuggled into Congo. Members of GDRNE are investigating the issue to present a strong case to VPA authorities. The EU must be more proactive in ensuring that the CAR government fully implements the VPA and respects its obligations. In this respect, the Bêkou Trust Fund could play a role in strengthening forest community resilience, including by supporting community forestry.
The process in CAR, although imperfect, has significant potential to achieve positive outcomes for all, and to generate lessons and best practice for other countries, particularly regarding civil society and community participation.
CAR can be seen as a regional model when it comes to CSO participation in forest governance and climate initiatives. Collaboration with the government’s VPA structures has been strong from the outset, despite numerous misunderstandings. GDRNE’s tenacity paid off: they were able to ensure strong CSO participation in the land reform process (the framework law on land tenure), to take the lead on community forestry development and, more recently, to make changes to the forest policy document.
Inclusion in decision-making needs to continue and include communities more directly. Although local communities and indigenous groups have now been granted two seats in the VPA structures, lack of resources hampers more active participation. Representatives from groups that attended a workshop on community forestry in Bangui, March 2019, commented that participation must be consistent and include elected representatives from remote areas, such as Sangha Mbaéré and Mambéré Kadeï.
With financial and technical support from Centre pour l’Information Environnementale et le Développement Durable (CIEDD), CSOs signed a memorandum of understanding with the forest administration to lead the independent observation that will help ensure forest managers comply with the Forest Code and the VPA. At present, five independent observation mission reports are available.
CSOs also actively support artisanal loggers’ compliance with the Forest Code and the VPA. Initiative du Centre de Recherche et d’Appui au Développement (CRAD), for instance, is working to improve artisanal loggers’ understanding of artisanal permits and is consulting them on the development of a dedicated legality grid.
Consultation mechanisms set up within the VPA framework have had a positive knock-on effect: the same level of participation is now expected in the REDD+ process. Recently, the government asked GDRNE to lead awareness-raising activities targeting forest communities, and support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has been allocated to community-based restoration in degraded forest areas near Bangui. Progress will be important as the country is set to receive support from CAFI to develop its national REDD+ strategy and move forward with implementing its NDCs.
At its outset, the VPA had given communities and indigenous peoples hope that their rights would be taken into account – a hope that faded as implementation slowed. Given the international attention on climate change, REDD+ overshadows the VPA, which remains lethargic. The VPA’s impacts are visible only through the few CSO projects carried out with funding from the EU and its partners. Renewed awareness and respect for its commitments will allow the VPA to rise from the ashes. As a Central African proverb points out: “It is better to preserve the ember in the ashes than to let it go out definitively.”
Last updated in July 2019.
A brief history of VPA so far, from a civil society perspective
The local civil society platform is the Plateforme pour la Gestion Durable des Ressources Naturelles et de l’Environnement, (GDRNE). The GDRNE platform is an important driving force for the VPA. They work on important issues such as community consultation, compensation for damage and the role of civil society versus the forest administration in monitoring law enforcement. They also train communities in how to denounce illegalities.
GDRNE is looking at civil society’s role in forest monitoring how to ensure direct participation of community and indigenous people representatives in the VPA structures.
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