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  • New online platform promotes collaboration in the Congo Basin

New online platform promotes collaboration in the Congo Basin

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Aerial view of the Congo River. Photo by A. Gonzalez/CIFOR

To address the duplication of initiatives in the Congo Basin, the Central African Forest Observatory (OFAC) – whose mission is to provide data to decision makers so they can create evidence-based policies – recently launched an interactive project monitoring platform. The online tool enables access to data and projects in the region, to promote collaboration and put an end to wasted resources.

Conservation of the Congo Basin forests is a critical, but complex undertaking. This massive tropical forest block, the world’s second largest, covers over 200 million hectares and spreads across six countries in Central Africa.

It is home to some of the world’s most critically endangered animals, such as lowland gorillas, as well as over 10,000 endemic tropical plant species.

It also provides livelihoods to 60 million people, who depend on forest resources for food, energy, and jobs – a significant economic contribution in one of the world’s least developed regions. And as if this was not enough, it stores around 46 billion metric tons of carbon, benefitting the whole planet facing climate change.

The importance of this ecosystem means that a multitude of actors, including donors, implementing agencies, national governments, and local organizations, are simultaneously carrying out conservation and development efforts on the ground.

While international interest, availability of funds, and political will are certainly good news, duplications of initiatives do happen. Information gaps and a lack of overarching coordination stand in the way of achieving environmental and development objectives.

“In the last two decades, the region has seen an exponential increase in the number of actors in the forest-environment sector,” explained Quentin Jungers, OFAC’s technical advisor, who leads the IT team behind the platform.

“The new project monitoring platform answers calls for better coordination at the regional and national levels. It will allow organizations and governments to share information, promote collaborations, and ensure harmonization.”

Read also: Can DRC’s community forests alleviate poverty?

A woman carries vegetables in Yangole, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

A call for a regional approach

Better coordination has long been part of the Congo Basin conservation agenda. In 1999, the Central Africa Forest Commission (COMIFAC), became the birth-child of all ten Central African countries; its mandate to oversee the sustainable management and conservation of the Congo Basin’s forest ecosystems.

In 2005, the finalizing of a first Convergence Plan provided a common strategy for the COMIFAC Member States and international partners to reach sustainable goals.

OFAC officially became part of COMIFAC in 2011, leading to the development of an integrated monitoring and evaluation system just a few years later.

“There are so many initiatives to support the sustainable management of Central Africa’s forests, that sometimes it is difficult for COMIFAC to have a clear vision of all the efforts that contribute to the implementation of our Convergence Plan,” explained Vincent Medjibe, OFAC coordinator at COMIFAC. “We expect this platform to give us an accurate overview of what is happening on the ground”.

Read also: Observatory addresses urgent need to monitor forests in East Africa

Digital solutions

The development of the project monitoring platform, the first of its kind in Central Africa, began in 2015 with a basic repository and took over 8 months of intense work to convert into an analytical platform, which was finally ready last year.

“We started by developing a basic database with experts, projects, and capacity building initiatives in the fields of environment and climate change, sustainable management of natural resources, and conservation,” said Donald Djossi, programmer at OFAC. Though he says the real technical challenge was to find the “interconnections” of the projects, so as to provide a comprehensive cross-view of all initiatives.

“Our goal was that all kinds of users, tech-savvy or not, could benefit from it,” added Jungers. Appetite for the platform is clear. Though it was only launched a couple of months ago, it already has an average of 60 users per week.

Users can benefit from a directory and an interactive map showing geolocation and explanation of each initiative, an analysis tab that examines the current state of projects, as well as a report generation tool.

People gather outside the parish of Notre Dame de l’Assomption in Yangambi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

Learn more: Go to the project monitoring platform website 

Contributions needed

This platform is a collaborative initiative, and its success will depend on the organizations’ will to share their projects’ information. Until now, over 651 projects have already been submitted, out of which 508 have been validated and published, a significant amount considering that they account for 5 billion euros of funding.

To contribute, it is first necessary to create a user account. This gives organizations access to a private module. Then they can fill out a form for each project. “That’s all is needed,” said Djossi.

After a project is submitted, OFAC’s team reviews the form to ensure that all information is accurate and to avoid duplications. “We need to go through this validation process to ensure that our platform is a reliable source,” explained Jungers.

To encourage organizations to feed the platform, with their user account they also get access to a free monitoring tool that can help them track the progress of their projects. “They can have a report with one click”, said Djossi.

The next step for OFAC is to use the information on this platform to produce a regional publication called “The State of the Projects”, expected in 2020. As a complementary instrument, it will analyze the impact of projects in the Congo Basin in the last 15 years, looking to better integrate them into national and regional environment policies.

“The State of the Projects will help regional policymakers understand what has been done to conserve Central Africa’s forests, and what still needs to be done,” concluded Jungers.

By Ahtziri Gonzalez, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.


This research was supported by the RIOFAC,  funded by the European Union.

This work is also part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, ICRAF, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • America’s legacy in its second term as facilitator of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership

America’s legacy in its second term as facilitator of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership

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Photo: Olliver Girard/CIFOR
In addition to being an important vehicle for forest management in Central Africa, the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) also bolsters local capacity-building. Photo: Olliver Girard/CIFOR

By Denis Sonwa, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

During the first term of the U.S. leadership of the newly created Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) from 2003 to 2005, the foundations were set for the institution to play an important role in the management of forests and natural resources in Central Africa.

Established by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Johannesburg in 2002, the CBFP has worked for more than a decade to create strong institutions and policies in Central Africa in order to address climate change impacts and threats to biodiversity.

The focus during America’s second term leading the CBFP from 2013 to 2015 was to address governance challenges, emerging threats and strategic new alliances amid a shifting global agenda.

Global concerns and agreements are continuing to shape the management of natural resources in Central Africa. This includes the move from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the landmark United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, and the realization of the Aichi Declaration of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

It is in such a context that the U.S.-led CBFP provided objectives in March 2013 to support: 1) clear and concerted African leadership, 2) actions to address critical threats to biodiversity and forests, 3) full participation in efforts to adapt to and combat climate change, and 4) effective institutions, regulatory regimes and governance to address forests and wildlife.

The July 2015 CBFP Conference of Partners in Yaoundé was an opportunity to revisit these objectives and looked to the future of sustainable forest and natural resources management in Central Africa.

Academic success

In order to enhance leadership in Central Africa, one achievement has been the creation of the CBFP Academic Consortium, a network that links international universities (mainly American, but poised to grow quickly) to local universities and other institutions in the region, with the goal to support research and capacity building. This move supports the Network of Environmental and Forest Training Institutions in Central Africa (RIFEEAC), which has been a critical platform under the management of the late Dr. Ibrahim Sambo.

For the past two years, CIFOR has continued capacity building in post-conflict context through the Master’s and Ph.D. programs to elevate research institutions and universities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). During this time, the University of California, Los Angeles completed an important milestone by creating the Congo Basin Institute (CBI) housed at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Yaoundé-Cameroon. The CBI will train Africans and Americans in multidisciplinary research and offer access to world-class facilities. To consolidate the region’s research agenda, CIFOR has started to bring together the Research institutions that will need to work closely with RIFEEAC.

With the aim of capacity building, the academic consortium is expected to increase its focus beyond biodiversity conservation and to recruit academic institutions from Europe and Asia. The post-conflict research and university support process initiated by CIFOR in DRC needs to be extended to the Central African Republic, and the consideration given to youth at the regional level needs to be expanded to the national and sub-national levels.

A recent CIFOR study under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry shows that youth at the local level are often not consulted during governance planning and decision-making processes. In addition, African leadership needs to broaden its considerations beyond biodiversity conservation to consider the recently agreed upon SDGs.

Looming large

Overcoming threats to biodiversity and forests is the primary aim of the CBFP. In addition to the well-established threats from agriculture and poaching, illegal trans-boundary wildlife trafficking is linked to other security issues, and has emerged as a compelling new threat. Moving beyond the traditional protected areas network, the U.S. is supporting the extension of the Wildlife Enforcement Network (WCN) from the horn of Africa to the heart of the continent.

The region hosted an international conference on the illegal exploitation and trade in African Wildlife in Brazzaville where these issues were discussed with leaders from across the continent. The idea of trust funds was presented during the 15th CBFP conference of partners in Yaoundé as a potential option to sustain biodiversity conservation. And, CIFOR continues to support research findings on bushmeat, moving the problem from a wildlife conservation issue to one of food security in order to assure protein for local communities living within forest landscapes. Conflict and post conflict situations prevailing in certain parts of the heart of Africa will continue to fuel the threats to biodiversity and forests.

We must find solutions to these crises. Increasing research attention on zoonosis such as Ebola needs to happen. Sustaining the livelihoods of smallholders living in forest landscapes also needs to be part of the solution to protecting biodiversity and forests.

Expanding the scope of the CBFP

Since the first U.S. facilitation of the CBFP in the early 2000s, attention to climate change has increased. In 2009, through the Global Climate Change initiative, the U.S. signaled its interest in helping African countries prepare for extreme weather and climate events, develop clean and affordable systems and reduce deforestation in the Congo Basin and elsewhere in Africa.

Since President Barack Obama’s objective of reducing deforestation dovetailed with biodiversity protection, the U.S. has been supporting the Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) as well as the Central African Satellite Forest Observatory (OSFAC) as vehicles to address the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) agenda in the region. Assessing and protecting forest habitats and resources have thus gained more importance in the CARPE and OSFAC initiatives.

REDD+ responses in the region have hence been mainly on some pilot projects but also on MRV (Monitoring Reporting and Verification) process. CIFOR established the first GHG (Green House Gaze) lab in Central Africa. Partners of the CBFP Support countries of COMIFAC in developing their INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) in the perspective of UNFCCC COP 21of Paris. Adaptation to climate change did not meet the same donor attention as REDD+. Nevertheless, adaptation is now part of the 10 years convergence plan of COMIFAC.

Focusing on institutional effectiveness has resulted in the revitalization of key groups within the Central Africa Forests Commission (COMIFAC). New private sector and agricultural institutions have joined the CBFP since 2013, and the ten-year convergence plan (2015-2025) has been published. The State of the Forest Report 2013 was published with key findings on emerging threats, and a specialized state of the forest report on protected areas was released in 2015.

The emphasis on highlighting local leaders is an innovation that all partners can benefit from, and will hopefully strengthen the coordination and resolve of the Conference on Dense and Humid Forest Ecosystems of Central Africa (CEFDHAC) to continue to play a key role in local governance of forest resources.

Expecting that CBFP will continue to strengthen COMIFAC and its constituencies (including its technical groups and platforms), it is hoped that coverage will be expanded to topics such as livelihoods, agriculture, capacity building, water and energy in the forest landscapes of Central Africa.

In July 2015, when the announcement was made regarding the transition of CBFP’s leadership to the European Union (EU), it was clear that the second term of U.S. facilitation spurred new actions and pathways.

In 2016, the EU have the challenge of defining a new road map for the CBFP, which is eagerly awaited by all partners.

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  • Understanding wildlife hunting means knowing people, animals and the numbers

Understanding wildlife hunting means knowing people, animals and the numbers

Boy selling the rodent agouti in Guyana. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR
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Boy selling the rodent agouti in Guyana. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR
Boy selling the rodent agouti in Guyana. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR

By Deanna Ramsay, originally posted at CIFOR’s Forests News

For many living in rural parts of the world, hunting wild animals offers both a vital source of protein and extra cash. In Cameroon, that work can result in additional annual income of €80, according to a recent study.

Defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2011 as, “The harvesting of wild animals in tropical and sub-tropical countries, for food and for non-food purposes,” bushmeat hunting is simultaneously mundane and a hot topic.

In a keynote speech titled “Wildlife: A forgotten and threatened forest resource” at the annual Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) meeting, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees, and Agroforestry director Robert Nasi discussed the bushmeat issue in the Congo and Amazon basins.

“The use of wild animals as a resource for local people is an exceedingly important issue, and generally overlooked. The hunting and eating of wild animals is widespread, essential and socially acceptable, but is de facto criminal activity in most countries,” he said.
Stall selling bushmeat. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR
Selling bushmeat. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR

With the recognition that millions around the world use wild animals for food and income, and that such practices can negatively impact biodiversity, researchers are focusing on the extent of people’s dependence, looking at quantifying matters such as wildlife harvest numbers, consumption amounts and the accrued financial benefits.

Round numbers

Generating appropriate data on extraction from the wild helps elucidate the importance of wildlife for poor people, as well as contribute to necessary conservation work.

“Some groups argue that conservation of areas is bad for local people. It is possible to achieve a balance, but better data are required to establish how both protection of biodiversity and the needs of people can be made compatible,” said John E. Fa, a senior research associate at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and coordinator of CIFOR’s Bushmeat Research Initiative.

Guyana offers a lot of bushmeat such as this Aposematic hawkmoth caterpillar (Isognathus sp.) with an uncharacteristically long tail. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR)
Guyana offers a lot of bushmeat such as this Aposematic hawkmoth caterpillar (Isognathus sp.) with an uncharacteristically long tail. Photo: Manuel Lopez/CIFOR

Better access to information and research data is required across fields and disciplines. Taking this into account – and that for hunting what little information available is dispersed – there is now a resource that collates datasets on subsistence hunting and related practices from around the globe called OFFTAKE.

At ATBC, Bushmeat Research Initiative member Lauren Coad discussed the database – which she helped to develop – that aims to provide accurate information on the harvest of wild animals and to inform policy.

“Bushmeat research has been mainly site specific and gathered by NGOs and academics. This data needed to be brought together, and we are continuing to add to it,” she said during her talk, which focused on bushmeat consumption figures in Central Africa.

In recently published research in International Forestry Review, seconded CIRAD scientist at CIFOR Guillaume Lescuyer and Robert Nasi looked at another side of the bushmeat equation, determining the financial (i.e. trade) and economic (i.e. self-consumption) benefits derived from bushmeat from the full range of actors in Cameroon.

There are an estimated 552,000 people in the country who hunt for income, subsistence and a combination of both. Lescuyer and Nasi calculated a net financial benefit of hunting in rural areas as €10 million a year and a net economic benefit of €24 million.


“People have not been that interested in the question of quantifying the importance of bushmeat. That is why we decided to do a financial analysis – this has not been done before in Cameroon, and our findings are powerful,” Lescuyer said.

Win-lose?

Lescuyer and Nasi found that local hunting was rewarding, with a profit margin of approximately 22 percent. They also determined that the annual turnover of the bushmeat sector is much higher than previous official assessments at close to €97 million, with the contribution to Cameroon’s GDP as substantial as the mining sector.

Equipped with figures indicating the economic significance of the practice for the rural poor and local and national economies, the question emerges – are such practices sustainable?

Some say no. But, as bushmeat discussions can revert to familiar debates that position conservation against livelihoods, numbers, again, are vital. Having studied bushmeat for decades, Fa said measuring sustainability is a difficult task.

“One problem is we know very little about tropical animals and their biology, including reproduction. Even if you have abundant data on the species out there you also have to know the fluctuations in how many animals a hunter gets per day,” he said. And, the consumption figures that emerge often vary in comparison to extraction numbers. These discrepancies mean more studies on tropical animals and human practices are needed, Fa said.

Too legit

Honoring both concerns, researchers are recommending a combination of on-the-ground changes and government policy steps. “Up to 80 percent of rural households in central and western Africa depend at different levels on bushmeat for their daily protein requirements and essential income. A blanket ban on the trade would endanger both humans and wildlife,” Nasi said.

Developing alternative protein sources in rural areas, working to reduce demand in urban areas and enforcing bans on exports has been advised. “Alternative meats could be a good way of deterring people from eating bushmeat, but that is more likely in big cities because they don’t rely on it,” Fa said. Fostering the consumption of other proteins is a long-term goal, but addressing urban consumption is key in the short-term, Lescuyer said.

At ATBC in Montpellier, Nasi discussed the problem of bushmeat exports to Europe, advocating for better law enforcement. “You can walk five minutes from here and I can bring you back a duiker leg from a small grocery. There is no reason why anyone in Europe should be eating bushmeat.”

For researchers, it is time to use the hard numbers and data emerging to clarify a complex issue. “There has been a one-way view for the last 25 years without success. It is time to try something else. It is time to legitimate the debate around bushmeat,” Nasi said.

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  • Beyond Timber: forest management models for transforming conflict into cooperation

Beyond Timber: forest management models for transforming conflict into cooperation

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Author: Ceci P.; Taedoumg H.; Gotor E.; Spedding V.

The competing needs of different groups who depend upon the Congo Basin rainforest can be met if innovative, new research-based models for multiple-use forest management are employed. The models, together with accompanying policy guidance, have been endorsed by the region’s forest administration body COMIFAC and offer the potential to alleviate both the conflict between groups and the pressures on the landscape, allowing livelihoods and forest to flourish. Underpinned by groundbreaking, multi-disciplinary, international research, the models embody combined insights into local people’s needs, the ecological and genetic basis of forest sustainability and regeneration, and the interests of commercial logging outfits.

Published by Bioversity International 2016

Download full brief here

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  • Multiple ways for Congo Basin forests to flourish

Multiple ways for Congo Basin forests to flourish

Agriculture, chainsaw logging and hunting were identified as the main sources of conflict with industrial timber exploitation. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
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By Harry Pearl, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

View on the Congo river in DRC. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
View on the Congo river in DRC. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

Two hundred million hectares, and sixty million people. That’s the size and feeding power of the forests of the Congo Basin — the second largest expanse of tropical forest in the world. Yet this large resource area has often been a flash point for conflict, frequently because of poor forest management and illegal activity.

The problem is particularly serious in Central Africa’s concessions, where industrial timber exploitation has often been considered to have negative impacts on agriculture, hunting and small-scale logging.

Can allowing a forest concession to be used in multiple ways reduce or even resolve conflict and allow people to use the forest legally and peacefully?

Providing forest users with clear incentives to work together could reduce conflict and improve the management of Central Africa’s timber concessions, according to a new study.

Multiple-use forest management — using the forest in several ways (wood, gardens, bushmeat, wild food, environmental uses, tourism) — is seen by advocates as a more equitable and balanced use of resources among multiple users.

This form of management has been integrated into the forestry laws of Congo Basin countries since the mid-1990s, mainly through the management of timber concessions, but, according to the study, its application has had limited success.

There have been two main obstacles: not enough emphasis on local stakeholders, and a lack of financial incentives for different groups to take part.

CONFLICT, DEBATE, FORESTS

Providing forest users with clear incentives to work together could reduce conflict and improve the management of Central Africa’s timber concessions. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
Providing forest users with clear incentives to work together could reduce conflict and improve the management of Central Africa’s timber concessions. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

Guillaume Lescuyer, a scientist seconded to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)  from the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and one of the report’s authors, says both issues need addressing.

“We have to look at the real conflicts among stakeholders and forget a little bit about the debate about international public goods, such as protecting biodiversity or storing carbon,” he says.

“The other issue is we have to deal with financial costs and benefits if we want to convince stakeholders to change their behaviors,” he says.

As part of the study, the authors assessed six timber concessions in Cameroon, Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Around each concession, five to seven villages were studied and 10 to 20 percent of households were sampled over a year — 308 households overall.

Researchers also interviewed key stakeholders who were not located in the sample area, namely logging companies and government representatives.

Agriculture, chainsaw logging and hunting were identified as the main sources of conflict with industrial timber exploitation. Once these were pinpointed, the researchers looked at ways to resolve the disputes and estimated the costs of resolution. The last step was crucial, as it gave stakeholders a clear idea of the costs and benefits associated with the implementation of a multiple-use scheme.

“We have to provide monetary costs and benefits,” Lescuyer says. “One of the issues is that there is no effective financial incentive to do multiple-use forest management.”

REALISTIC COMPROMISES

Agriculture, chainsaw logging and hunting were identified as the main sources of conflict with industrial timber exploitation. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
Agriculture, chainsaw logging and hunting were identified as the main sources of conflict with industrial timber exploitation. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

By providing a clear financial evaluation — in this case, over a 15-year period — stakeholders could accurately assess the cost of compromise against their incomes.

In the six timber concessions studied, all stakeholders put forward “realistic compromises” to implement multiple-use forest management in timber concessions, and possible compromises emerged.

Logging companies would finance local development in activities such as agroforestry or breeding. This would cost the companies money, Lescuyer says, but the trade-off would be a tax reduction as a means of compensation.

And because local people would benefit from these new activities, they would be required to reduce some illegal activities in the logging concessions.

“The state would accept reducing forestry taxes for the logging companies, but they can expect some new socioeconomic development because there will be new activities at the local level,” Lescuyer says.

The authors say that the fact that local communities, logging companies and the government could come to a consensus raises questions about the existing model for timber concessions in Central Africa.

In three of the case study areas, the promotion of multiple-use forest management needed input from outside the concessions, such as support for agroforestry and plantation initiatives.

This shows the importance of taking into account external factors that can influence change in concessions, such as commodity prices or the improvement of roads.

Lescuyer says the lessons of the study are applicable to timber concessions across the Congo Basin, and he hopes governments and logging companies take note.

“Ultimately, concessions shouldn’t be dedicated solely to timber exploitation,” says Lescuyer, “They should be seen as part of a broader landscape for sustainable development.”


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