Towards Innovative Community Forests in CAR
Months of intense advocacy in the Central African Republic (CAR) have recently given way to a new and historic consensus between civil society, the Ministry of Water, Forests, Hunting and Fishing (Ministère des Eaux, Forêts, Chasse et Pêche – MEFCP) and other stakeholders involved in forest management. The signature of an administrative authorisation on January 29th makes it possible to allocate the first community forests in the south-west of CAR, where the country’s tropical forests are concentrated.
In a context where the entire forest area in the south-west has been allocated in the form of logging concessions or protected areas, the only legally available spaces for the creation of community forests were the “Series for Agriculture and Human Settlement” (Séries Agricoles et d’Occupation Humaine – SAOH). The SAOH are small portions of land within logging concessions, near villages and roads and generally poor in resources. These are areas where communities would previously not have been able to carry out their traditional activities, such as hunting, fishing, gathering, and so on. As such, obtaining an exemption was necessary so that these communities living in (and collecting their resources within) logging concessions could apply for the allocation of community forests, over areas corresponding to their customary territories.
The Ministry’s authorisation is historic because CAR has become the first country in Central Africa to allow the formal allocation of community forests within the useful area of logging concessions. CAR’s authorities have thus proved that community forestry is not a rigid concept. Rather, it is a concept that evolves through experimentation, with much potential to contribute to sustainable resource management by and for communities.
“I am pleased that the Central African civil society, with the support of its partners, continues to fulfil its role […] as one of the driving forces behind the development of community forestry – a process that is meant to be evolutive and inclusive, thanks to the lessons to be learned from the experience of pilot community forests,” said Aimé Christian Mayounga, Central Inspector for MEFCP, during a workshop in Bangui in December.
With this authorisation, it is now possible to test an innovative management regime, both inclusive and exclusive: inclusive because it will establish a system of cooperation between logging companies and communities, overlapping their rights on common spaces; exclusive because concessionaires retain exclusive rights over timber, while communities may become official holders of property and management rights over non-timber resources. This is a departure from the basic “usage rights” recognised by the current legal framework.
Many years of participative thinking
The Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) is working in CAR as part of the CoNGOs project, an IIED-led consortium which aims to achieve improved governance and practice in equitable and sustainable community forestry livelihoods in the Congo Basin.
Under the leadership of government authorities, and with the participation of local and indigenous communities, the civil society and the private sector, RFUK supported the participatory development of the document Concept and Vision of Community Forestry in CAR. The project also supported the development of the legal framework, in particular the Manual of procedure for allocating community forests, which was adopted by the Decree No. 15-463 on 03 December 2015.
The support that RFUK and its partners are currently providing to communities for the allocation of community forests, as well as the documentation of upcoming results, will continue to fuel these reflections and debates. Indeed, one of the project’s objectives is to facilitate the scaling up of sustainable community forestry, while contributing to broader policy and legal reforms related to forest and land governance.
Communities’ satisfaction and hopes
In February 2018, a delegation visited the pilot communities selected in the prefecture of Lobaye. This delegation was made up of representatives from the Forest Ministry, the Agency for Sustainable Forest Resources Management (AGDRF) and the CoNGOs project team (RFUK).
In the sub-prefecture of Mbaïki, three villages – namely Moloukou, Moale and Lokombé – chose to prepare and submit a joint application for the management of the Lomba forest, located within the industrial logging permit of the company Société Centrafricaine d’Agriculture et de Déroulage (SCAD). In the sub-prefecture of Boda, eight villages also decided to join forces to ensure the participatory management of the Bomango forest, located within the permit of industrial logging company Centra-Bois.
Mr. François Mosseba, President of the Customary Council of the Lomba Community Forest, for which an application is being drawn up, expressed his satisfaction on behalf of his community: “It was we who asked NGOs to support us in the process of obtaining a community forest. […] Today, the Government has agreed to let us continue the process, we can only say thank you to the Ministry for this authorisation.”
Valorisation of communities’ knowledge and know-how
The trip to these local and indigenous communities was an essential moment of dialogue between them and representatives of the institutions responsible for making decisions related to their community forest application.
After spending several days in the forest, the official delegation was able to better understand local realities. This not only confirmed the legitimacy of communities’ claims – who demonstrated their ability to ensure the sustainable management of the resources found on their traditional territories – but it also confirmed that the inclusive and concerted management of common spaces between communities and logging companies is possible, since each party undertakes the exploitation of different resources.
As David Ouangando, Ministry Focal Point for Community Forests, and former Director General for Water and Forests, explained after meeting with communities: “It is very clear that communities did not choose this site to exploit timber. However, this area of savannahs and swamp forests has great potential for the development of traditional activities and those related to tourism, which can generate income for the improvement of the communities’ living conditions. […] Moreover, the way in which these communities have mapped the resources of their forest, proves that we have nothing to teach them. These communities have perfect knowledge of their forest, and are able to manage it better than anyone else.”
Communities’ commitment to the future of their forests
One of the next steps is for the communities to sign “protocols of collaboration” with the logging companies operating in the areas. These protocols will focus on clarifying and securing the rights and duties of each party, as well as promoting mutually beneficial cooperation. RFUK and its partners will accompany pilot communities to ensure that they have collectively expressed their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). At each stage of the community forest allocation and management process, the participation of each segment of these communities – including women, indigenous peoples and youth – is critical.
As Marie Susanne Nzabe, an indigenous woman from the Bayaka community of Bili explained: “We are in favour of anything that can help preserve the resources of our forests. We women can even prevent our husbands from collaborating with strangers who destroy our forest.”
This new experimental phase in CAR is being implemented with a desire to avoid reproducing past mistakes. In some neighbouring countries, the creation of community forests has failed to result in sustainable resource management. This has mainly been due to the monopolisation of the process by influential individuals, often strangers to the community, with the complicity of some local elites. Such cases have also been a problem in CAR, in contexts where communities have not had the opportunity to secure their rights over their land or resources.
Ultimately, the implementation strategy of community forest pilots in CAR aims not only at securing the rights of communities, but also at ensuring that they become autonomous and collectively responsible for their own economic and social development, using the sustainable management practices often inspired by the ancestral know-how that has enabled the preservation of forests over generations.
RFUK’s work in CAR is part of the CoNGOs project, NGOs collaborating for equitable and sustainable community livelihoods in Congo Basin forests, an IIED-led consortium supported by the UK Department for International Development (DfID).