A radical change of approach is needed in protected areas in the Congo Basin, experts at the World Parks Congress say
Speaking at an event at the World Parks Congress this afternoon, African and international experts said that protected areas in the Congo Basin are falling below expectations both in terms of conserving biodiversity and helping local people . The event, organised by Rainforest Foundation UK, highlighted that in spite of the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent to support conservation efforts in the region, biodiversity actually seems to be dwindling, and local communities almost unanimously see protected areas as a threat to their rights and their livelihoods, and a source of conflict 
Aili Pyhala, a researcher from the University of Helsinki has been investigating the effectiveness of conservation areas in the Congo Basin for RFUK, said; ““Whilst hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign funding are being invested in strict, top-down nature protection measures in the Congo Basin, the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of these is extremely scarce and often inaccessible. There is a worrying number of logging, mining, and oil exploitation concessions allocated in and around existing protected areas, but more attention continues to be given to monitoring wildlife populations than to addressing the rights of the indigenous peoples and local communities who have lived in and safeguarded these forests for countless generations. For conservation in central Africa to succeed, the rights of local communities need to be recognized, respected and guaranteed – including customary rights to land and resources, as well as to governance, worldviews, values, and practices.”
Julien Mathe, President, of the Action Group to Save Man and the Environment (GASHE) an NGO from Equateur Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said “The maps we have made of our local rainforest in the Tumba-Lediima Reserve show that local clans claim all this territory as their own, and they had been protecting it long before conservationists arrived. The Congolese government and WWF have committed to acknowledge this and involve local communities in management decisions of the reserve. They now need to back up this commitment with concrete actions.”
Ana Osuna of Rainforest Foundation UK said “Local communities are disproportionately and unjustly targeted by anti-poaching measures, while at the same damaging activities such as logging and mining are permitted to take place around and within rainforest protected areas in Cameroon. Aggressive policing of protected areas has also given place to human rights abuses. This is not only unfair, but also ineffective in protecting nature”.
Diane Russell, of the US Agency for International Development, who has worked extensively in the Congo Basin as an anthropologist and conservationist, reflected on the presentations and proposed ideas to move forward with community-based conservation in the region. She believes that protected areas and the species they harbor are a rich patrimony for the people that can be part of a rights-based rural development approach. Community mapping is powerful tool for both community based conservation and rural development: it provides the foundation for engaging with government and private sector and for crafting viable economic options.
1] The IUCN World Parks Congress is a landmark global forum on protected areas held every 10 years. As the world’s most influential gathering of people involved in protected area management, it sets the global agenda for the following decade. One of the outcomes of the Congress 2014 will be the drafting of a New Social Compact, through which principles and actions to change human behaviour, shift political will and define a new approach to achieve successful and socially just conservation will be articulated. In 2003, the Durban Accord created an international agreement calling for ‘a new paradigm for protected areas’ in which the rights and interests of local peoples should be fully integrated with conservation goals.
 Full briefing can be downloaded here.