Time for a rethink of forest management in the Congo Basin

The latest in this mini-series on the underlying challenges facing for governance in the Congo Basin, we present ‘Rethinking Community Based Forest Management in the Congo Basin’ – a major research study looking at the constraints and opportunities for alternatives to industrial-scale logging and strict nature conservation. CBFM Pic

Much of the commercial forest sector remains chaotic and badly governed. There is little evidence that ‘trickle-down’ wealth distribution from either logging or strict conservation has ever materialised, a view that is supported by recent independent evaluations of some of the main international backers of these sectors[1].

This failing ‘paradigm’ could provide the impetus for more people-friendly forest policies in the region. However, attempts at community based forest management thus far have been largely unsuccessful in transferring meaningful rights or benefits to local communities. Only around 1% of the total Congo Basin is under the formal control or management of local communities – compared to 43% in the Amazon[2]. Even in these areas, top-down and inappropriate community forest policies – compounded by incoherent legal frameworks, loopholes and institutional gaps – have sometimes led to socially divisive outcomes.

The evidence from Latin America and Asia strongly suggests that the best outcomes emerge where community forest policies are grounded in widely recognised, legally-enforced and secure rights which allow communities themselves to establish and enforce rules governing the access and use of forests.

Our research shows customary systems in the Congo Basin have remained generally stable and resilient to colonial forces and the extractive industries – and should be recognised as valid forms of forest management in their own right.

The report finds that there is however still much to play for. New community forest policies being developed in DRC and Congo Brazzaville in theory provide an opportunity to develop community forest models that are adapted to the multiple realities and needs of rural people, including marginalised groups such as indigenous peoples. Ongoing reforms in the region such as around land-use planning, land reforms and REDD also hold the potential to leverage greater recognition of land rights and.

Our new study is intended to provide policy-makers and development practitioners with critical insights and practical country-level and stakeholder recommendations for integrate new approaches to community based forest management.

English summary version here

English full study here

French study will be launched in early 2015

[1] IEG, 2103; AFD, 2013