Rainforest Parks and People is a new interactive website focussing on the impact of protected areas in Africa’s Congo Basin on forest communities. Launched this week by Rainforest Foundation UK, the website aims to increase the transparency and accountability of conservation projects in the Congo Basin.
To accompany the website launch, Rainforest Foundation UK has produced a short video, titled “Why conservation needs people”:
In the video, Maud Salber of Rainforest Foundation UK says,
“The way conservation continues to be done today is clearly unsustainable. Setting up protected areas on people’s land without their consent, forcing people away from their ancestral territories, tolerating sometimes very serious abuse at the hands of eco-guards, making it increasingly difficult for people to sustain their livelihoods, and generally just excluding them from management decisions that really affect their lives, all of this is creating a lot of frustrations. And the risk is that local people start to turn against conservation.”
Blaise Mudodosi of Réseau Ressources Naturelles, a platform 256 environmental and human rights Civil Society Organisations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, says,
“This is an authoritarian conservation. As much as the ICCN would like to talk about community-based conservation, we haven’t really seen that yet on the ground. We’re still seeing policed conservation.”
The video is the first in a series from Rainforest Foundation UK that will feature testimony from communities and civil society leaders in the Congo Basin.
Tumba-Lediima Nature Reserve
The first page of the Rainforest Parks and People website shows the 34 protected areas so far included in the website. Clicking on each protected area brings up more information, organised in three categories: Description; Impact; and References.
For example, clicking on the Tumba-Lediima Nature Reserve tells us that the protected area, which covers an area of 741,000 hectares, was created in 2006, without meaningful consultation of local communities despite the fact that more than 100,000 people live inside the boundary of the reserve.
The reserve is managed by the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) with technical support from WWF under USAID’s Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE).
There are three logging concessions overlapping the nature reserve. There is also an oil concession inside the nature reserve.
Conflict between park managers and communities in Tumba Lediima is common. A short film by Rainforest Foundation UK summarises the situation.
Eco-guards punished anyone found eating any kind of meat. The village of Nkondi was particularly affected, with many reports of lack of food. Villagers told Rainforest Foundation UK that they had only manioc leaves to eat. Malnutrition is widespread in the area. The World Food Programme had to deliver dietary supplements
Rainforest Foundation UK also documented human rights abuses at the hands of the eco-guards, including torture, arbitrary detention, intimidation, destruction of property, illegal house searches, and even rape.
While abuses appear to have stopped in early 2015, along with ICCN’s activities in general, no remedy to the abuses already committed has been provided. There are no mechanisms in place to ensure that human rights abuses are avoided in the future.
In an article on Conservation Watch, Rainforest Foundation’s Joe Eisen described Tumba Lediima as “A lesson in how not to do a protected area”.
Restrictions on livelihoods, but not on industrial logging and mining
One of the most alarming aspects of protected areas in the Congo Basin is that while local communities face serious restrictions on their livelihoods as a result of protected areas, industrial operations such as mining, logging and oil concessions are commonly found inside or adjacent to protected areas. Of the 34 protected areas included in Rainforest Foundation UK’s 2016, 25 border logging concessions, 19 overlap with mining concessions (and seven more have mining concessions on their borders), and nine overlap with oil concessions.
In the screenshot below from Rainforest Parks and People, the green areas are protected areas, the yellow areas are logging concessions, the red areas are oil permits, and the white shaded areas are mining permits:
As Rainforest Foundation UK comments on its new website,
While conservation advocates in the Congo Basin widely recognise the enormous threats that these activities pose to biodiversity, they do not challenge this model head-on.
Further information requested
The website Rainforest Parks and People builds on Rainforest Foundation UK’s 2016 report, ‘Protected Areas in the Congo Basin: Failing both people and biodiversity?’. But this is an ongoing project, and Rainforest Foundation UK will continue to add information and new data sources as these become available.
Rainforest Foundation UK is also inviting people working in forest conservation, or those affected by protected areas, to share information about protected areas in the Congo Basin.
Full Disclosure: Conservation Watch is funded by Rainforest Foundation UK.