“What we’ve been seeing in the past has been that the rainforests of Central Africa, and other regions around the world actually, have been treated as wildernesses which are free from human occupation, and to be preserved in some kind of natural state primarily for their wildlife.”
That’s Simon Counsell, executive director of the Rainforest Foundation UK, interviewed recently by Zeenat Hansrod of the French radio station, RFI.
The problem with this style of conservation, Counsell says, is that it ignores the people living in these so-called wildernesses.
“What this ignores is that certainly in Central Africa almost all of the landscape, probably all of it, in fact, has been long occupied by humankind, by Bantu farmers and indigenous hunting and gathering pygmies. So by excluding such communities from strict conservation areas, what has often happened is that there have been serious conflicts, people have been evicted from their homes, their livelihoods such as hunting and gathering wild foods have been supressed and interrupted, people have literally been starved.”
The result is conflict, as Counsell explains:
“This has created a sense of conflict between local communities and conservation. And we think that ultimately we really need to enlist their support to protect wildlife, rather than antagonising them and preventing them from really engaging in conservation.”
Conservation in the Congo is largely failing
Rainforest Foundation UK has documented the results of excluding communities in a detailed report earlier this year looking at conservation efforts in the Congo Basin. The report concludes that such efforts are largely failing to protect forests and biodiversity, while having serious impacts for local communities.
Rainforest Foundation UK is arguing for a re-think of how conservation is carried out, aimed at creating “sustainable conservation” that serves both people and planet.
Here’s Simon Counsell again:
“The existing protected areas need to be completely redesigned, basically, taking the presence and the occupation of local communities into account in the way that these areas are managed. For example, recognising the customary land rights of those communities within the parks, allowing to continue their livelihoods, engaging them in the management of those areas. And also, really importantly, building on the traditional practices that many of these communities have in actually conserving the wildlife themselves. Many of them, for example, have strong social taboos on hunting animals like bonobos or chimpanzees. And they can also be very helpful in informing us about the activities of much more dangerous commercial poachers, ivory hunters, bushmeat hunters and so on.
“So if we can work more with communities, rather than against them, we think this will be a much more sustainable and stronger way of preserving and protecting Africa’s wildlife in the future.”
Mapping for Rights
Rainforest Foundation UK is running a project with local partners in the Congo Basin and the Peruvian Amazon called “Mapping for Rights”. The project works with communities to create accurate printed maps of their lands.
Mapping for Rights is also an online platform that allows indigenous community leaders, decision-makers and NGOs easy access to accurate geographical information about community lands and other users and allocations of the forests.
Here’s a video about the project:
In 2015, Rainforest Foundation UK and Forêts et Développement Rurale in Cameroon launched ForestLink, a forest monitoring system that allows remote communities to capture and transmit alerts on illegal logging and other forms of forest destruction in real-time – even in areas where there are no telecommunication networks.
In September 2016, a team from Rainforest Foundation UK was in Cameroon, training the first ForestLink monitors. You can read more about that in a series of posts on the Mapping for Rights blog.
Mapping for Rights wins UNFCCC Momentum for Change Award
Last week, the Mapping for Rights project won the UNFCCC Momentum for Change Award, giving recognition to the possibilities of technology helping local communities gain control over their forest land.
The maps produced under the Mapping for Rights project are extremely accurate, and can record important cultural sites such as burial grounds, thus demonstrating long-term occupation of the forest. This can help communities to claim legal rights to continue living on the land.
By 2017, Rainforest Foundation UK expects that more than 700 communities in the Congo Basin would have mapped their lands through the Mapping for Rights programme. An area of up to six million hectares of forest community land will be mapped and uploaded to the platform by 2017.
Full Disclosure: Conservation Watch is funded by Rainforest Foundation UK.