Working with indigenous communities to protect DRC’s Maringa-Lopori-Wamba forest
Written by: Steven Nsamaza
Saturday, November 26th, 2016, 6:55
It is home rare and endemic species that include the endangered bonobo, the vulnerable forest elephant, golden cat, giant pangolin, Congo peacock, and numerous other rare primates, amphibians, reptiles and birds with over 300 known tree species. And environmentally, the Maringa-Lopori-Wamba forest landscape is known to be a critical carbon sink and biodiversity area found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
This landscape is an invaluable resource for over 800,000 individuals in this remote rural part of DR Congo. However, due to the increasing population following the high fertility rate among inhabitants and immigrants, this landscape was already succumbing to pressure because the surging population depended on it for livelihood needs, including food, fuel, medicine, income and shelter.
However, following intervention by different players among them Africa Wildlife Forum (AWF) with support from USAID and active involvement of local residents for the past 10 years, the Maringa-Lopori-Wamba forest landscape is slowly getting back to its natural position.
“We started with micro-zoning so as to create protected areas, then mapped all areas including community forests, areas for agricultural production, and logging concessions among others,” said Hugues Akpona, the AWF country manager in the DR Congo.
However, to manage these blocks sustainably, Akpona says, “our approach is to partner with local communities, leaders, organisations and everywhere we go we try to be part of all the decision making processes in raising the conservation agenda.”
In the DRC, the Africa Wildlife Foundation works in MLW and Bili Uele where they are involved in improving the effectiveness of protected area management partnering with local wild life authority, the ICCN that is supported technically as well as financial.
The support includes setting up management units, surveillances, performance business plans, ensuring the use of new technologies, managing community conservation strategy among others.
Akpona underlines the change AWF has brought to this remote area and to its poverty stricken populations supporting the bordering communitiesin the development of agriculture through initiative like distribution of improved seeds, good agricultural practices and other income generating activities.
One of the major project undertaken by AWF was to ensure accessibility of the MLW landscape to the Capital Kinshasa by establishing Congo shipping project. The 500-ton green ship found no reliable transportation for the residents in the landscape but now they are able to transport their harvests and the ship brings back manufactured products from the capital.
The shipping project has provided a reliable way for the residents on its 11 port stop-over on the Congo River and ensures Maringa-Lopori-Wamba stay connected to the rest of the world while increasing production and access to the markets.
The Africa Wildlife Foundation realized another important component in the landscape which is gender balance. This required empowering women achieved through partnering with RFDR (Reseau des Femmes oeuvrant pour le Developpement Rural) to raise production, do literacy classes and develop alternative income generating activities for women and make sure women are also part of decision making processes.
“The landscape is very remote with no TV, no telephone and people don’t know about laws,” says Akpona emphasizing a need to educate and sensitize the local populations about conservation and other sustainable developments.
Among other local NGO’s AWF has partnered with is a group of lawyers enforcing laws including environmental laws and which shares information in the right way for instance sensitizing the locals not to sale bush meat in local markets. And this is tackled through developing some livestock initiatives for the communities.
Working with communities
AWF has been able to work with communities in this part of the Congo for over 10 years, an achievement that has been based on four elements that include; trust, transparency, pre-consent of community and putting into consideration the cultural values of the area.
This approach has ensured sustainable conservation which started with educating the local communities why it was important to conserve and what are their options.
“We are not there to oblige communities to do what we preach, but the benefits have forced those who first though were there to take away their forests but seeing the benefits from communities who worked with AWF later requested our intervention,” says the Akpona.
He emphasizes that, “We convince them (communities) to do conserve for themselves.” The approach ensures sustainability even when the project comes to an end the good work continues since the people know the advantages of doing it.
The work in MLW has produced success stories for the residents who now boost income generating projects which promotes conservation and the most important element was the changing of perceptions on the importance of landscape and the possibility to value resources.
AWF has developed participative land-use plans and engaged residents inthe active management of the forests in which they live, all while delivering livelihoodimprovements. This way it caters for conservation of ecosystems in the Congo Basin.
Such work ensures that vulnerable and endangered wild animals and the habitat is secure which in turn would be catastrophic as scientists warn that if they are not protected some species will be wiped out completely by 2050.