Social, Economic and Environmental Conditions, and Local Governance in Local Community Forest Concessions in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Background In the DRC, RFN has been promoting community-based forest management since 2008, first in supporting local communities in the mapping of their land, and then helping them plan the management of their traditional forests. Since 2014, Congolese forest policy has had a provision for Local Community Forest Concessions (CFCLs). Taking advantage of the favorable context created by this new legislation, RFN is supporting communities in several locations to consider this opportunity for securing community rights in combination with sustainable management of forest resources. RFN's vision is to make local communities and indigenous peoples’ key actors in local forest governance, with recognized and strengthened rights for sustainable and equitable management and improvement of their living conditions. It is in this context that this study was conducted in order to establish a baseline for the socio-economic, environmental and local governance conditions in the Forest Concessions of local communities and indigenous peoples accompanied by RFN in North Kivu (5 CFCL) and Equateur province (1CFCL). We wish to measure the developments of the reference indicators again, in three- or five-years’ time. Purpose/objective The objective of the study was to develop and use a participatory methodology to assess; 1) the environmental conditions, 2) the socio-economic conditions, and 3) the local governance of five CFCLs in Walikale and one in Penzele. At this early stage, (concessions only applied for or recently granted in 2019) the purpose was not to evaluate the impacts of community forest but to carry out a baseline study and to propose a methodology that can be replicated later by RFN partners to measure these impacts. In particular, this baseline study seeks to estimate the state of the forest resources, their current uses and how this influences the standard of living of the managing populations (economic, food, health, etc.). The methodology should make it possible to identify current dynamics and monitor changes between 2019 ("year 0") and 2024 ("year 5"). Methodology The methodology was designed based on the information already available from the field, identifying a set of 137 indicators to fulfill the three purposes of the study, bearing in mind logistical challenges to collect data on the ground. The indicators address the conditions at four different levels: (i) the CFCL as a whole, (ii) the constituting villages or local communities of the CFCL, (iii) the household, and (iv) for marginalized groups (e.g. women, youth and indigenous peoples). Most of the data collected were based on primary sources (interviews with both individuals and groups, household survey, and direct field observations/walking inventories). For forest governance, sixteen themes guided the study. Key findings After analysis of the collected data and field observations, the following conclusions are drawn: The forests areas of all CFCLs visited are still in good condition, with a large area of primary forest of both flooded and dry type. Industrial timber exploitation is still non-existent in the CFCLs and the artisanal timber industry is still very poorly developed, notably due to rudimentary tools and the poor conditions of roads, hindering market access. A significant number of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are known and used. NTFPs are largely self-consumed, but some are also sold to collectors as soon as an opportunity arises. The wildlife is very rich. An impressive number of species was found, even though bushmeat consumption is very frequent and essential in the local diet. Fishing is an important subsistence activity, especially in Penzele, especially scoop fishing, which mobilizes women and children during low-water periods. Animal husbandry (poultry, goats and pigs in particular) also matters, particularly as a cash reserve to cover school and health costs. Access to the market is extremely complicated for the communities of these CFCLs: the "roads" are in very poor condition, there is almost no vehicle traffic and few regular collectors. In North Kivu, the extent of mining activities varies from one CFCL to another and according to the history of exploitation. Artisanal mines are in some villages of fairly high economic importance for households, providing an income opportunity. Agriculture remains the main livelihood for CFCLs, with a diversity of crops, the main ones being cassava, maize, rice, groundnuts and bananas. This does not yet have an impact on forest cover. Recommendations The study sees a need for strengthening the means and capacities of partners for good monitoring of forest cover, including the use of geographic information systems (GIS). It further recommends supporting communities in setting up management bodies for the CFCLs, and in their pursuit of concrete socio-economic development actions (access to water, health or education, etc.). The study identifies a potential for seeking partnership with the private sector, to support the transformation and increased valorization of Non-timber forest products, such as ketshu, and increased marked access for these products. It recommends undertaking a multi-resource inventory in the Penzele CFCL and support the conservation of animal and plant species. Finally, the study found encouraging agroforestry practices in CFCLs, and points to the potential for supporting existing fish farming developments, especially in North Kivu. Comments from the organisation We will use the finding from this study to: Monitor forest cover and the improvement of living conditions in the intervention zones of RFN's partners; Support the argument for sustainable rights-based forest management by local forest communities; Improve project design and implementation with partners when it comes to including women and other marginalized groups; Mobilize the private sector for entrepreneurship with communities for the sustainable use of renewable resources.