Community mapping data reveals the extent of customary tenure claims around the Mai Ndombe REDD+ project

The Mai Ndombe project is widely considered to be the flagship REDD+ intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) but unresolved issues around tenure and associated carbon rights threaten to derail it.

Potentially covering an area of 12.3 million hectares in the District (future province) of Mai-Ndombe, the proposed REDD program could impact the livelihoods of up to 1.8 million rural people including forest dwellers and indigenous peoples. The Emissions Reduction Program Idea Note (ER-PIN) was provisionally accepted into the Carbon Fund pipeline at the ninth meeting of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) on April 9-11, 2014 in Brussels – unlocking up to $650,000 dollars for the development of an ER-Program Document.

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Although the FCPF Carbon Fund (Chair’s Summary) has requested that the Government of DRC undertakes certain measures which include “describing how the (future) ER Program will contribute to progress towards clarifying land and resource tenure in the Accounting Area…”, it has not required any specific revisions of the ER-PIN document on this question. Resolving tenure and carbon rights lies at the very heart of any REDD benefit-sharing mechanisms, and should require the free, prior and informed consent of local communities. On this critical issue, geo-referenced data available on Mapping for Rights highlights two interlinking challenges the project will need to address from the outset:

1)      Community mapping data indicates that entire area is likely to be subject to occupation and customary rights and usages of local forest communities.

2)      There are already as many as four overlapping claims, existing designations or attributions in some parts of the project area, including a national park, oil permits, logging concessions, on top of existing customary claims.

At present, there is little provision for addressing these issues, either in the ER-PIN document or in wider national legislation. At the project level, overlapping claims will require careful reconciliation on the ground. Extensive participatory mapping activities are currently being independently carried out in the field by RFUK and others could be used to inform this process.

However, such activities should not operate in a “vacuum” of wider national policy reform efforts, most of which should, in theory, have been addressed in the readiness phase. The overall legal framework remains fragmented, reform of the land code requires much greater political impetus, there remains no viable and appropriate legal and institutional basis for community forests (or more secure land rights), and there is yet to be a credible participatory land use-plan which integrates the rights of local communities.

Addressing each of these could be a protracted process and require heightened levels of coordination among ministries, donors and CSO’s not yet seen in DRC. Failure to do so could lead to serious conflict in the future.