The tropical forests based in the North-eastern Congo provide a home to extraordinary numbers of flora and fauna including many endemic species including the Grauer’s gorilla, Bosman’s potto and the Congolese peacock. These vast forests are also home to some 40 million people.
However, widespread extreme poverty – most people living on less than $1 a day – has resulted in limited livelihood opportunities and low capacity for people to protect their natural resources. Multiple threats from forest communities such as agricultural expansion, poor agricultural practices and livestock grazing are putting increasing pressure on these precious forests. Equally, the commonly used agricultural practise of slash and burn followed by poor crop rotation results in the further destruction of trees to create ever more fields. Capacity
External encroachments into the forests in activities such as mining and commercial logging and increased unsustainable trade in natural resource products is also proving very damaging.
Reducing deforestation is essential:
– to help prevent a significant release of greenhouse gas emissions, which would dramatically impact global climate change; and
– to preserve the habitat for the sake of the many species of plants, animals and people living in and depending on the forest.
The overall aim of this project is to set up two community-led reserves – REGOLU (Réserve de Gorilles de Lubutu) and REGOMUKI (Réserve de Gorilles de Mukingiti & Kingombe) – as functioning conservation units reducing deforestation, poaching and supporting the development of sustainable livelihoods to empower the communities within them.
Specific project objectives are as follows:
The progress of this project to date has been in direct response to the requirements of the community in order to self-empower them and improve their futures. Regular community meetings are held with local people to encourage them to identify their needs and possible sustainable livelihoods that they can depend upon as a source of socio-economic development.
These include activities such as:
– Agro-forestry and agricultural practices where farmers are better informed of sustainable agricultural techniques, such as crop rotation and the use of organic fertilisers with crop yields and soil fertility being vastly improved. This enables fields to sustain crop production for longer, thus reducing the need to cut more fields from the forest area.
– Crafts using sustainably sourced locally found materials have been implemented.
– Hosting regular meetings to ensure local people fully understand the laws regarding fishing, hunting and land tenure around the forests. Currently there is a very low level of awareness compounded by complex, governmental processes. Equally, it is an opportunity to raise awareness about the threats to the forests and the impacts of climate change amongst the communities.
– Piloting A micro-credit scheme has been piloted on 40 beneficiaries (39 women and 1 man) They have received a loan of $100 each (with a 5% interest rate) and training to implement sustainable livelihood activities. Demand for this scheme is rising.
– Installing over 400 energy efficient stoves which use a significantly reduced amount of wood compared to traditional stoves. Equally, these stoves help to improve the health of community members, particularly women and children, due to the reduction of toxic fumes, and spending less time collecting wood in the forest.
– Training of 41 biomonitoring patrol teams to set up and run these reserves, and provision of necessary equipment to provide effective, consistent and continuous biomonitoring activities. These patrol teams have already proved very successful in protecting the forests and its biodiversity: dismantling 1,612 snares, destroying 129 illegal camps and 100 smokehouses in 1 year. They are also monitoring 15 Grauer’s gorilla groups. Equally, these individuals are benefiting from a source of income and increased knowledge in skills.
This vast region of forest in the north-eastern Congo Basin hosts an unusually wide variety of habitats (evergreen/montane/semi-deciduous forest, lowland rainforest, savannahs and swamps) and with over 10,000 species of plant, are of great climate significance globally.
They store around 17 billion metric tons of carbon – approximately 8% of the Earth’s total forest store of carbon.
The forests are home to some 40 million people who depend on them for their resources and livelihoods. 100% of households asked stated they use wood for cooking, to keep warm, produce light, iron clothes and for grilling meat. Nearly 80% of the population rely on agriculture for the livelihood.
Average life expectancy is 41.1 years. Education rates are low, 27% of men are uneducated compared to 60% for women.
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) – the world’s first international wildlife conservation organisation – mission is to conserve threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are sustainable, based on sound science, and which take into account human needs.
The Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) partners with FFI on this project. They have a mission to assure the protection of the fauna and flora in the network of protected areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to encourage research and tourism and to manage stations for capture and domestication of wild animals. ICCN manages five World Heritage sites including the Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest park, and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park which conserves a large proportion of the endangered Grauer’s gorilla population. For more information: www.iccn.cd