Championing Forest People's Rights & Participation in the Congo Basin #EUCFPR

 Country Context

Congo Basin

The project is implemented in Cameroon and Central African Republic (CAR). Cameroon and CAR have already negotiated and signed VPAs on 6/10/2010 and 28/11/2011 respectively; and are now in the VPA implementation phase. As timber extracted from CAR will leave via Cameroon, it is essential that coordination between the two countries is improved in the VPA implementation phase. The CIDT has learnt that focussing efforts on adjoining countries improves the chances of successful implementation. Working with two countries that are geographically close will help facilitate cross border fertilisation of ideas and lessons, which can then be taken to other countries in the VPA process. It will also enable there to be a specific focus on the cross border forests between the two nation states”.

Relevance of the action

Illegal logging undermines many essential elements of national and international development. The FLEGT action plan attempts to deal with this in an innovative and holistic way by linking forest governance reform to improved access to EU markets. Following the negotiation and signing of VPAs in partner countries, it is now essential that stakeholders continue to be actively engaged in the implementation of the VPAs’. The project focuses on four key issues: (1) Community representation in VPA Processes; (2) Rights and land tenure issues; (3) Capacity building and experience sharing; and (4) Curriculum development in Higher Education.

Community representation in VPA processes

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Cameroon

Cameroon signed a VPA with the EU on 6th October 2010 and is now in the VPA implementation phase. During the negotiation phase, there was no direct representation of indigenous people (IPs) or local communities (LCs) on the national negotiating committee but these groups were represented indirectly by civil society organisations from the Forests and Communities Platform (ECFP).

In the implementation phase, the quality of community participation in Cameroon has improved as community representatives have two seats on the National Monitoring Committee – one for an indigenous people’s representative and one for a local community representative. Ensuring the legitimacy and genuine representation of these seats has proven difficult and effective structures for relaying information back to communities have also been lacking.

The project aims to address these challenges through working with local organisations to improve both representation and communication between elected members and their respective communities.

CAR

CAR signed a VPA with the EU on 28th November 2011 and, like Cameroon, it is also now in the implementation phase. Direct representation of indigenous people (IPs) and local communities (LCs) in both the negotiation and implementation phases has been lacking. Both groups have been represented indirectly through CSOs from a national platform, Gestion Durable de Ressources Naturelles et de l’Environnement (GDRNE). The flow of information between members of this platform and the communities they represent has been hindered by a lack of financial resources and appropriate mechanisms and hence forest communities lack information about VPA and opportunities to have their opinions and interests heard.

The project aims to resolve these challenges through supporting local partners working with IPs and LCs to identify strong participatory structures, facilitate selection of representatives, ensure continuous communication and build their capacity to contribute meaningfully to forest governance.

Land tenure issues

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Marginalisation of forest dependent communities leads to conflict and poverty. This reduces communities’ ability to input meaningfully into discussions leading to decisions being made without their input, further entrenching their marginalisation. Reducing marginalisation by recognising tenure rights is therefore key to effective VPA implementation.

Cameroon

Cameroon is in the process of revising its 1994 Forest Code and implementing regulations. It is also drafting the regulations needed for the institutional and procedural reforms required for FLEGT licensing to become operational. The Cameroon VPA sets out a number of planned reforms in addition to revision of the forestry laws, including improving the laws relating to the domestic timber market; community, communal and private forests; social and environmental aspects; and integration of the relevant provisions of international legal instruments duly ratified by Cameroon. In relation to harmonisation with international law, the planned revision of Cameroon’s land law and policy initiatives relating to recognition of the rights of IPs will be key and the project is providing legal guidance to support these processes.

CAR

CAR is unique in Africa in having ratified the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation. Policy discussions are now under way to implement ILO 169 through CAR’s national laws. This requires the active participation of IPs and support from CSOs, to ensure that policies are in line with IPs interests. The drafting of a new national constitution following the political crises in 2013 also provides an opportunity for civil society to actively participate in decisions around forest policy and legislation. The project is providing legal support to partners in CAR who are actively engaging with the constitution commission and high level government decision-makers to promote the interests and rights of local forest communities and IPs.

Capacity building and experience sharing

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National partners in Cameroon and CAR have all been actively involved in awareness raising and providing information on the FLEGT VPA to local and indigenous communities during VPA negotiations. However, opportunities for experience sharing between in country actors and internationally have been limited. This action will provide support needed by local partners to continue the invaluable work of informing and building capacities of communities and also provide opportunities for FLEGT VPA actors to share and learn from each other through high level national, regional and international meetings.

Curriculum development in Higher Education

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Consultations with Heads of forestry training higher education institutions and local partners have emphasised that curricula as well as teaching methods need modernising to include current and future forest governance initiatives, issues and trends. The project will provide capacity building opportunities and help modernise training programmes for the forest sector in project countries.