Participants before a training in Walikale, North Kivu, DRC.

Indigenous and community organizations often find that progressive laws on land tenure do not always translate into progress on the ground. Even in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where forestry laws allow for community ownership and management of land, there are major obstacles hindering the realization of customary forestry rights.

To respond to this challenge, the Centre D’Appui à la Gestion Durable des Fôrets Tropicales (Center for the Support of Sustainable Tropical Forest Management, or CAGDFT), in partnership with Réseau CREF and FODI, undertook a project aimed at identifying and using tools to implement community forestry, coupled with an educational campaign to raise awareness about these issues in the provinces of Nord-Kivu and Equateur. This project enabled governmental actors at the provincial and local levels to become key allies in the process of recognizing forest rights through concessions to Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and to ensure community-based management of the forests. CAGDFT and its partners then assisted five communities—Bafuna-Bakano, Basengele, Banisamasi, and Bananzigha communities in Nord-Kivu and Penzele-Embondos in Equateur—to submit applications for Local Community Forest Concessions (CFCL) to provincial authorities. Above all, the project created a model for the rest of the country for how to benefit from the laws and the implementation of CFCLs.

While DRC has started the investment and implementation stage of REDD+, it is essential to secure customary forestry rights in order to give local communities and Indigenous Peoples the ability to directly benefit from REDD+ gains.

CFCLs are plots of land granted to communities by the government, to be owned and managed by the local communities and Indigenous Peoples who receive these titles. According to Decree 14/018 and Ministerial Order 025*, under each CFCL granted by the provincial government, concessions are allocated in perpetuity to the local communities and Indigenous Peoples, so long as the title holders respect the rules governing sustainable management.

The implementation of community-based forestry management creates an opportunity for the recognition of customary rights. While DRC has started the investment and implementation stage of REDD+, it is essential to secure customary forestry rights in order to give local communities and Indigenous Peoples the ability to directly benefit from REDD+ gains. However, according to a forthcoming analysis from RRI, taking the example of Mai Ndombe province, land security is not necessarily prioritized in REDD+ initiatives, rendering the REDD+ process and its benefits inaccessible to communities. This case underscores the importance of the CAGDFT project, where the establishment of a common methodology for community forestry, coupled with a campaign to raise awareness and assist local communities, can make CFCLs an effective tool for sustainable resource management and the realization of the benefits of securing rights.

Through the project, CAGDFT staged a national workshop and three training sessions for local authorities as well as local communities and Indigenous Peoples in the provinces of Nord-Kivu and Equateur. The national workshop enabled provincial stakeholders to create and approve a uniform process for communities to submit CFCL requests. The training sessions also made it possible to disseminate information on the governance and administration structures at the provincial level in Walikate and Goma in Nord-Kivu and in Mbandaka in Equateur.

Provincial officials who took part in the training in Goma for local and provincial political/administrative officials.

After this series of training sessions, each of the four communities of Nord-Kivu compiled and submitted a CFCL application, and the local administrative body acknowledged receipt thereof. For the four communities who have submitted CFCL requests, a total of 174,161 hectares will be secured as soon as the official attribution by the government is made public through a decree, consisting of   28,578 hectares for the Bafuna-Bakano community, 43,604 hectares for the Basengele community, 64,336 hectares for the Banisamasi community, and 37,643 hectares for the Bananzigha community.

CAGDFT acknowledges the importance of legally recognizing and securing community rights to land and resources to promote peace and sustainable development in DRC.  While Indigenous Peoples and local communities in sub-Saharan Africa own the vast majority of the land under customary regimes, an RRI study covering 19 countries in Africa revealed that they have ownership or management rights to only 16 percent of the land in the countries examined. Training provincial and local authorities in the CFCL acquisition process enabled them to understand the many benefits of implementing the laws in their respective regions.

During the pilot project, CAGDFT identified several opportunities to develop and extend the project to more provinces in DRC. The lesson to be retained from the pilot project is obvious: the laws and decrees are useful so long as communities and government officials are informed. This presents an opportunity to ensure land security and community management, pending the reform of the land policy that has been underway since 2012.

The CAGDFT pilot project proves that local government, local communities, and Indigenous Peoples are willing to work together toward ensuring land security and reducing land-related conflicts.

*  Decree n° 14/018 of August 2nd, 2014 setting the modalities of attributing forest concessions to local communities, and Ministerial Order 025 on the specific measures related to the management and exploitation of Local Communities’ Forestry Concessions, respectively.

About the author: Molly Rose Freeman Cyr is the the Africa Program Associate at the Rights and Resources Initiative.

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