REDD+ is entering an exciting new phase. After years of preparation, an increasing number of countries are advancing in the implementation of REDD+ actions on the ground. One such country is Democratic Republic of the Congo, where FAO recently launched a four-year project in Equateur province with financial support from the REDD+ National Fund (Fond National REDD+ - FONAREDD).
The integrated project, called Programme Integré (PI-REDD), is carried out in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and within the framework of the country’s REDD+ national strategy, building on support provided by the UN-REDD Programme. It aims to reduce emissions by addressing the key drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, including shifting agriculture, logging and charcoal/fuelwood production, among others. The project aims to collaborate with communities in four territories, providing support for improved resource governance, climate smart agricultural practices, agroforestry, forest tenure rights security, wood energy efficiency and the provision of family planning services. Indigenous peoples and local communities play an important role in bringing about more sustainable resource management, so their active engagement from the project outset is crucial. Obtaining the Free Prior and Informed consent of project beneficiaries is a critical first step that needs to occur before future project activities.
With 153 million hectares of forest, more than half of which is dense rainforest, Democratic Republic of the Congo holds more than half of the forests of the Congo Basin, representing nearly 10 percent of the world's tropical rainforests and 45 percent of Africa’s (FAO, FRA 2015).
The rural roads of the province are in poor condition and reaching Itipo village requires a full day of travel. The village population is divided between the Bantu people who occupy the more accessible area of the village near the main road, and the indigenous Batwa people in the interior. Villagers want to resolve recent land conflicts with a logging concession operating in the area as logging is occurring in the forests that communities claim as their own. Access to important forest products such as caterpillars has decreased significantly, and wildlife such as pangolins has become rare. Furthermore, attempts to enforce benefit-sharing agreements with the logging concessionaire have failed.
On a recent trip, the project team facilitated a participatory mapping exercise to gain a better understanding of the village’s resources, assets and key challenges. Mwanza Chomba, a schoolteacher and village chief lamented the lack of follow up from a previous training session on family planning and requested supplies of contraceptives, currently unavailable in the village. Village women bear heavy burdens in terms of physical labour for farming, care for the household and children, collection of firewood and other forest products and cooking. As one woman reflected, “Customs weigh heavily on women. They become older quickly.”
To reduce the physical and mental stress and address inequalities, the project team took careful note of all of concerns. The information collected will help refine the proposed activities, should the Itipo villagers decide to engage with the project. This community has expressed a strong interest in PI-REDD, and the first steps have been taken in a participatory process to request their formal consent.
All the partners involved in the project are excited to continue to engage stakeholders and meet the needs of local communities. Such efforts will ensure the project not only contributes to the fight against climate change by reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, but improves livelihoods of forest communities in the region.
The success of such integrated projects, which are currently implemented in several other provinces of Democratic Republic of the Congo, will support the country in reaching its climate change and sustainable development goals and commitments.