Thinking BIG: the Congo Basin Forest Partnership
by Andrew Tobiason, BCTF
For more than 20 years, international conservation groups have worked with counterparts in local communities and governments to save wildlife in Central Africa. Poverty, corruption, AIDS and war plague the region, and arguments for protecting wild animals and places are usually secondary to hunger relief and economic development. Meanwhile, countries desperate for capital sell natural resource rights to logging and mining interests without accounting for the needs of citizens who depend on the forest daily, and without consideration for traditional ownership and management practices. Logging industry infrastructure of roads, trucks and camps has become the primary facilitator of a commercial bushmeat trade.
International NGOs like Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have pressed on, working with African governments to successfully establish a number of protected areas. Management for these areas has required bold experiments working with communities and logging operations just outside the boundaries, to ensure that parks benefit locals and are not undermined by demand for timber and bushmeat. Preliminary results suggest real progress towards a better future for wildlife and people. Social and political problems, at first prioritized over conservation measures, have been partially addressed through better management of natural resources. This realization has highlighted the need to expand on conservation programs and invest in managing the resources of the Congo Basin at the landscape level. And so, after years of dedicated effort to raise awareness among politicians in Africa, Europe and the United States, the result is a 30-member collaboration of governments, NGO’s, and industry groups: the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP).
CBFP was launched by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Durban, South Africa in September 2002, where he committed up to US$53 million in American support for conservation and sustainable resource use in the six Congo Basin countries. This sum will be distributed between 2003 and 2005, and matched many times over by NGOs and other governments in the partnership. $12 million per year for three years will be disbursed through the Central African Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE), a USAID program begun in 1995 with a mandate to assess the environment in nine countries in the region. With the goals and financing of CBFP, and after consultation with NGOs and government agencies, CARPE is now moving to a second phase that focuses on implementing strategies for protecting and managing landscapes in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Republic of Congo. As a tangible sign of this new focus, CARPE headquarters moved from Washington, DC to Kinshasa, DRC in January 2003.
The six African countries of the Congo Basin Forest region agreed on the principles of CBFP well before Secretary Powell’s announcement (See “The History of a New Initiative” on page 4). In 1996, the Conference of the Central African Moist Forest Ecosystems (CEFDHAC, also known as the Brazzaville Process) was created by the CBFP countries plus Burundi, Rwanda and Sao Tomé and Principe. CEFDAC was a technical forum for the exchange of ideas and experience in the management of the Central African forests. In 1999, heads of state from CBFP countries (plus Chad, minus DRC) signed the Yaoundé Declaration, a product of the Yaoundé Forest Summit in which signatories agreed to strong commitments for regional cooperation to improve resource management, create trans-border protected areas, harmonize forest policies, combat poaching, and develop sustainable use approaches in consultation with extractive industries, ecotourism service providers, and rural populations. With the Brazzaville and Yaoundé Processes working towards similar outcomes, a meeting of the Conference (now “Council) of Ministers for Forests of Central Africa (COMIFAC) was held in December 2000. There, it was declared that the Brazzaville and Yaoundé processes would merge, and COMIFAC would be the only ministerial conference for coordinating forest management and conservation policy in the region.
COMIFAC I worked with WWF and other NGOs to prioritize conservation measures for eleven landscapes (see map, next page). In 2002, the COMIFAC II meeting was initiated with the Democratic Republic of Congo joining its Central African neighbors signing the Yaoundé Declaration; DRC’s participation was critical given that it contains 55% of the Congo Basin forests. COMIFAC II resulted in the "Plan of Convergence,” an action plan for promoting sustainable forest management in the region. The eleven priority landscapes and the Plan of Convergence agreed on by COMIFAC form the framework for CBFP activities.
CBFP relies on the belief that a relatively small annual amount of targeted conservation investment will yield substantial returns in the short and long term. By creating viable and operational national reserve systems and promoting sustainable development of renewable resources, CBFP promises to (1) reduce illegal and abusive logging practices, (2) reduce illegal trade and corruption, (3) reduce rates of deforestation, (4) reduce biodiversity loss from habitat destruction and bushmeat hunting, (5) increase civil society participation in decision making, (6) promote better governance and transparency, (7) increase security and the rule of law over large areas, and (8) improve local health by reducing consumption of poisoned or diseased wildlife. The conservation organizations responsible for coordinating implementation of these solutions - WCS, WWF, Conservation International (CI) and African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) – are all BCTF Supporting Members. CBFP holistically addresses many of the root causes of the bushmeat crisis.
Having secured three years of funding at the level perceived necessary ($15 million per year), the lead NGOs in the effort are now seeking to maintain this level of funding for at least ten years. What could ten years of funding create? Mike Fay of WCS offered a few realizable achievements in his March 2003 testimony before the House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa:
More than 25 million acres protected in 27 national parks in six Congo Basin countries, all with adequate infrastructure and management/ enforcement personnel
More than 50 million acres of managed logging concessions and other lands
More than 1000 local jobs working in natural resource management
More than 300 villages participating in and benefiting from resource management activities
Establishment of a vibrant and competitive ecotourism industry
Better financial sustainability from tourism, national government participation and other revenue streams
Over 60 million dollars in private investment, part of several hundred million dollars in total investment by the US, EU, other national donors and matching funds from NGO’s, businesses and industry groups.
The Congo Basin Forest Partnership has ambitious goals, but builds on a firm foundation of African government support, NGO expertise, and a worldwide public that demands a better future for the Congo Basin. The activities planned will have a major impact on the bushmeat crisis, by providing lasting protection for Africa’s wildlife, and real options for Africa’s people.
For more information on the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, see these resources used to prepare the report and history above:
Saving the Congo Basin: The Stakes, The Plan. Hearing before the Subcommittee on Africa of the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, 108th Congress, First Session. 11 March, 2003. Testimonies of Hon. Walter H. Kansteiner III (State), Hon. John F. Turner (State), Hon. Constance Newman (USAID), J. Michael Fay, Ph.D. (WCS), Richard Carroll, Ph.D. (WWF). Available at http://wwwa.house.gov/international_relations/afhear108.htm#Hearings/Meetings%20of%20108th%20Congress
Congo Basin Forest Partnership. Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, 108th Congress, First Session. 24 July 2003. Testimonies of Hon. Walter H. Kansteiner III (State), Hon. John F. Turner (State), Hon. Keith Brown (USAID), J. Michael Fay, Ph.D. (WCS), Tony Mokombo (WWF). Available at http://foreign.senate.gov/hearings/2003/hrg030724a.html
Congo Basin Forest Partnership: U.S. Contribution. Fact Sheet from the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Department of State. 2 December 2002. Available at http://www.state.gov/g/oes/rls/fs/2002/15617.htm