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Mapping resources for survival

A group of indigenous people outside a hut in the forest of Impfondo. Impfondo is located at least 800 km north of the capital Brazzaville. Communities living in remote areas often lack access to social services such as healthcare are often left out in di
(Laudes Martial Mbon/IRIN)

Villagers in the Republic of Congo's Plateaux nord region have started mapping their forest resources, in a move officials say will help to protect their interests.

"We began making maps which show where we grow things, where we hunt, fish and gather - everything which allows us to live from day to day," said Denis Bongo, village headman in Assengue, Ollombo District.

"With the ongoing exploitation of the forest, we have in the maps a bargaining tool [for] discussion [with logging companies] to help us [protect] what we hold most dear to us - our children."

The initiative started in the first half of this year in Assengue, Ibangui, Epounou and Inga villages in Ollombo District, with the aim of protecting their livelihoods in the face of rampant deforestation and logging activities.

Implemented by the Congolese Human Rights Forum (OCDH) with the Rainforest Foundation of UK (RFUK), the project aims to promote the rights of forest communities to access, control and utilize the forests in accordance with Congolese law.

It is also being implemented in two other countries in the Congo basin - Gabon and the Central African Republic. Funding came from the UK Department for International Development.

"Its aim is to ensure that the forest communities, the authorities and civil society in each of the three countries have the capacity and resources to accurately map the occupation and use of the forests and provide data to help decision-making relating to forests and forest communities," said Georges Thierry Handja, the project coordinator.

The maps show areas where local people grow food crops, fish, gather berries and other food resources and where they hunt. They will be used as a tool in negotiations with logging companies and the authorities.

"What is a plus, is that local people support the project and are themselves making the maps and registering their interest," said Joseph Moumbouilou, head of studies and projects in the Congolese Ministry of Forest Economy.

"In the process of planning the units of forest land that are to be exploited, we will henceforth use this data, which will allow the interests of local and autochthonous communities to be taken into account."

A similar project in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008 trained “Master Mappers” to help more than 500 villagers use GPS technology to map their forests.


Laudes Martial Mbon/IRIN
Timber destined for export at Brazzaville river port. The forestry sector is Congo's second biggest earner of foreign currency after oil and has given employment to some 10,000 people over the past decade, making it the country’s second biggest employer...
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Financial crisis threatens timber jobs
Timber destined for export at Brazzaville river port. The forestry sector is Congo's second biggest earner of foreign currency after oil and has given employment to some 10,000 people over the past decade, making it the country’s second biggest employer...

Photo: Laudes Martial Mbon/IRIN
The maps are an important bargaining tool for discussion with logging companies, say residents (file photo)

Village participation

"People talk to us about exploitation of the forest, but what exactly are we going to gain?" one villager, Parfait Nganguia, asked. "We know what we will gain if our forests are preserved, given that these forests do not have abundant game and the rivers don’t yield as many fish as in the past."

Like many other villagers in Ollombo, people in Assengue get most of their food from the forest, including cassava, meat and fish. Cassava leaves are also important because they are sold in the markets at Ollombo and the capital, Brazzaville, bringing in much-needed income.

"There is a rush for the trees," Réné Ngongo, from the local NGO, Organisation Concertée des Ecologistes et Amis de la Nature, which was working with the RFUK.

"What is at stake is enormous," he added. "Two-thirds of the people in Congo depend on this forest to provide food, medicines and building materials. It is critical for the survival of the people and animals."

According to official data, Congo's forests cover 22.5 million hectares or 65 percent of the national territory. In the 1970s, timber was the country's main economic resource before oil took over.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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