On 3 September 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron (on behalf of the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), as France holds this year’s presidency) and President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo signed a ground-breaking US$65 million deal intended to implement a Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) investment plan and deliver sustainable land use through national and local land-use plans. These commitments aim to combat deforestation and improve Congo’s forest governance.
CAFI brokered the agreement and will work to ensure that support contributes to economic development through sustainable management of the land and forest ecosystems. The Congolese government also has committed to avoiding conversion of forests with important carbon stocks and of high conservation value forests.
Christian Mounzéo, of the NGO Rencontre pour la Paix et les Droits de l’Homme and coordinator of the Publish What You Pay campaign said, “Congolese civil society welcomes this agreement. Deforestation rates have been low, compared to neighbouring countries, South East Asia or the Amazon. But because of endemic corruption and weak governance, the agreement must anticipate these challenges in order to reach the projected goals, and the CAFI partners must therefore guarantee an effective follow-up of the commitments made as well as the integrity of management of the funds. That is why the role and of civil society, local communities and indigenous peoples in monitoring the agreement is crucial and must be strengthened.”
For these reasons, civil society demands that a management framework be set up that includes all stakeholders.
The Republic of Congo is home to the second-largest rainforest in the world. These forests make a significant contribution to the domestic economy and are vital for the subsistence of local forest dwellers.
Yet despite signing a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU to halt the trade in illegally sourced timber and committing to prioritise sustainable agriculture, weaknesses persist regarding the practical application of laws and other measures to improve forest management.
Nina Kiyindou, of Observatoire Congolais des Droits de l’Homme, noted, “Congo has launched important reforms in the forest and natural resource sector, but progress is slow – nine years to revise a law from the first revision issued by the [Food and Agricultural Organisation] FAO in 2010!”
She added that “adoption of the new Forest Code is pending, and local communities – particularly women and indigenous groups whose survival depends on forests – continue to be marginalised from forest management decisions”.
To such issues must be added the Environment Law that is currently before the Supreme Court, the law on fauna that is about to expire and the absence of implementing decrees for these laws.
Launched in 2015, CAFI pledges to protect the Congo Basin forests and to support stronger governance of its ecosystems. A coalition of donors – the European Union, Germany, Norway, France and the United Kingdom – supports these efforts in collaboration with Central African nations. CAFI has promised a new era in forest protection in the Congo Basin that will improve the living conditions of forest peoples and increase sustainable development.
We hope that CAFI’s letter of intent is more than wishful thinking. Important milestones such as halting illegal logging and deforestation and improving forest governance through the VPA and REDD+ must be reached rapidly to encourage greater transparency and secure equitable benefits for communities.
In particular, CAFI must use all means to catalyse a virtuous cycle in a number of areas concerning governance in Congo, such as:
The application and enforcement of the Transparency Law and the publication of forest revenues, which would permit the equitable sharing of benefits with communities – something that has been elusive thus far.
- The adoption of a new Forest Code, adapted to the needs of all stakeholders, that guarantees responsible forest management.
- The adoption of equitable laws that respect the customary rights of local communities and indigenous peoples, and that protect their right to manage their forests directly and to free, prior and informed consent for decisions affecting their lands.
- Conclusion of the participatory process for developing management plans for the country’s forest concessions, and especially those of the south.
- The end of impunity for corruption, and specifically poor governance in the forestry sector.
- The inclusion of women in decisions affecting the living conditions of forest communities, which will address their livelihood needs and those of children affected by forest loss.
- The requirement that the mining, hydrocarbon and forest sectors reduce their impacts on forest ecosystems.
- Strengthened civil society participation in the monitoring mechanisms of CAFI’s letter of intent.
At a time when forests are under multiple threats and local livelihoods are at risk, it is crucial that the EU and other CAFI donors support effective progress while guaranteeing that civil society groups and communities have a solid seat at the table. This is a bare minimum for CAFI to deliver on its promise to preserve Congo’s forests and boost local livelihoods.