Governance structures established for REDD+ implementation and their adaptation to the institutional and ecological conditions in Equateur province of the DRC.
This report is one of the outputs of the project 'Man and forests - an evaluation of management strategies for reduced deforestation,' which aims to evaluate the different management regimes established to protect forests and improve livelihoods under the so-called REDD+ framework- reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. One component of this project focuses on assessing the management regimes established to implement REDD+ at the local level and how well the regimes are adapted to the local institutional and ecological conditions. The present report discusses a REDD+ pilot project in the Democratic Republic of Congo led by the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) with support from the Congo Basin Forest Fund. The pilot project started in 2013. It is located on two sites-Bikoro and Gemena in the Equateur province. The forests are owned by the state, but managed under customary tenure. The investigations entailed interviews with the local people in the pilots, local authorities, project organizer and its partners in the field. It also included field observations and review of policy documents. The key findings indicated that the pilots contain high forest biomass with varying threat of deforestation. The Bikoro pilot contains huge stocks of swamp forests that make conversion into other land use difficult, which reduces the risk of deforestation. The Gemena pilot contains huge stocks of dense, humid lowland that intersects with savanna woodland and grassland. This forest landscape is easy to convert into other land use that poses a high risk of deforestation. The existing dual legal framework for forestland allocation and management, containing multiple authority structures and the absence of a community management system, constrain the establishment of the REDD+ regime. The project organizer has designated local actors as partners to implement the project activities in the pilots. While the law on community forestry that recognized community management rights of forests was recently approved, the modalities and guidelines that define the operationalization of these rights and the authority structure(s) are yet to be defined and approved. The project organizer has established village organizations and customary landowners have been elected as leaders of these organizations as a means to harmonize the organizations with existing customary institutions. These organizations still lack the necessary institutional arrangements to function. Some of the challenges encountered by the project organizer included a huge delay of fund disbursement from the project funding institution. This has hampered the implementation of project activities in the pilots. It is noted that the project partners have limited capacity to implement and coordinate a performance-based project such as REDD+. They also lack knowledge about account reporting to effectively use project funds, which leads to poor relationships with communities. This has also delayed the implementation of project activities. Contractors and customary organizations have been used to implement early demonstration activities. Further, a negative perception is observed on these activities among local people because they were not included in the process. No management regime that restricts the use of forests for conservation purposes is yet established. Hence, business-as-usual continues in the pilots. The project organizer conducted a participatory mapping exercise in the Bikoro pilot in 2013-14. The local people are still waiting for these maps to be validated so operational rules can be established for use and monitoring. With respect to ecological conditions, since no REDD+ management regime has yet been established, evaluating how well the regime is adapted to the local institutional and ecological conditions has not been possible.