Sustainable livelihoods and forest protection in Maï-Ndombe | WWF DRC

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Sustainable livelihoods and forest protection in Maï-Ndombe

By Dandy Yela Y’olemba, WWF-DRC Communications Manager

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s efforts to ensure sustainable land use with active contribution & participation of local communities and Indigenous peoples is producing positive results in the Maï-Ndombe province. The project implemented by WWF is an encouraging model in empowering communities for a successful conservation agenda.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (The DRC) is one of the largest rainforest nations in the world. It is home to nearly 166 million hectares of forest, which comprises almost 70% of the country’s territory and represents 7% of the world’s total tropical forest area.

@Thomas Nicolon - DRC Forest

The rate of deforestation in the DRC is relatively low compared to forest countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia, but this rate is increasing rapidly and is the highest among the Congo Basin countries. Much of this forest loss and degradation is due to slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging, charcoal production for cooking and energy use, mining, and, forest fires. The DRC is one of the least developed countries in the world, and economic development remains a top priority. In this context, forest protection and sustainable livelihoods must go hand-in-hand; and it is one reason why DRC has been engaged in ‘Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation’ (REDD+) for the last decade.

As part of that engagement, WWF launched the Norad/NICFI-funded project in Maï-Ndombe province in 2016. The province of Maï-Ndombe is located in the heart of the Congo Basin and spans more than 12 million hectares, most of which are forest. It is part of one of the most important tropical ecosystems left on earth.

In September 2019, we were joined by colleagues from WWF Forest and Climate and WWF-Colombia in a visit to some of the communities we have partnered with in Maï-Ndombe. While leaving Kinshasa, the sprawling city with a population over 10 million, for Inongo, capital of the Maï-Ndombe province, from above we could contemplate the dissonant spectacle of landscapes. Kinshasa and its surrounding areas are marked by agriculture and degraded lands while the Maï-Ndombe province areas offer a different and hallucinating spectacle of forests.

@WWF-DRC/ welcome ceremony @ Inongo airport

We passed over scattered patches of green on savannahs before crossing over into Maï-Ndombe and the Congo Basin with its large areas of forests. These forests are the primary resource for the local population for food and fuel . Indeed, local communities and Indigenous people all over the country are heavily dependent on forests and the resources they provide for their livelihoods. In some places there are nearly no other alternatives.

This project in Maï-Ndombe has started to change that reality. It is designed to support community livelihoods in the context of REDD+, and the primary activities have been tailored to the context of each territory and community that wanted to participate. In the territory of Inongo the main focus has been reforestation, in Kiri the project is driven by community forestry, and the communities in Kutu focus on savannah protection, especially through fire management.

In addition to their  free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC)  at each step in the project, there is an additional requirement for participation – that women and Indigenous peoples must be empowered to actively participate and take leadership roles. Indeed, the local development committees (CLDs)    that are the implementation body of these activities, must have women holding at least 30% of their leadership positions. In communities that are a mix of Indigenous Pygmy peoples and Bantu peoples, Pygmy peoples must be included as equals in decision making and project implementation.

The emphasis on consent, both between within the community itself and the community and WWF, led to one community deciding it wasn’t able to proceed with the program. Despite their desire to participate, they had internal conflicts that needed to be resolved prior to establishing a CLD. This experience reinforced the importance of FPIC at each step of the process, and led WWF staff in the field to reemphasize explaining the overall process with each community.

Communities receive a symbolic payment for environmental services’ (PES) for successful achievements at different phases of implementation and can use the funds as they see fit. They have primarily been used to rebuild schools and clinics, with very small amounts given to those who were highly involved in the activities in exchange for their investments of time and energy.

We first visited communities of Bobangi in the vicinity of the city of Inongo, which is the capital of the province of Maï-Ndombe as well as the territory of the same name. These communities are primarily Indigenous Pygmy peoples, and their forests are central to their cultural identity as well as their livelihoods. Several community members excitedly reported the return of caterpillars to their reforested areas. These had been an important food source but were assumed to be extinct in the area.

After meeting with community members and representatives, we visited the Ikalata agricultural school. Mr. Botikali Ebengo, the Director of the school, mentioned that his institution has greatly benefited from the project on behalf of the Bobangi communities.