“The overall picture in the Congo Basin is that local communities and forests are under acute threat.

This is because the national governments want to become emerging countries ([market] economies), so they’re trying to attract investors with tax incentives and by giving them significant rights to exploit large areas of forested land. This is not just happening in the forest sector - the Congo Basin is becoming a new frontier for agribusiness, mining and large infrastructure projects like dams for electricity and energy.

But despite this worrying backdrop, local civil society is trying to have a stronger voice.

Man from village in Cameroon

In the Congo Basin countries, civil society’s participation in public debates has historically been very timid, and they have operated in a very restricted space. However the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU has paved the way for a multi-stakeholder approach to developing public policies. 

That's partly because of support from organisations like Fern and other NGOs working in the region, and also because the nature of the VPA requires that all stakeholders are at the table and have a say in negotiations.

Villlagers in Pygmy village in Central Africa

It was significant that civil society was able to participate effectively in forest legal reforms in 2018 that were instigated by the VPAs.

In the Republic of Congo (RoC), for example, civil society contributed to the draft Forest Code. They were able to include recommendations related to community forestry and the halting of the illegal conversion of forests. 

Our partner OCDH (Observatoire Congolais des Droits de l’Homme) also had a big policy success in October 2018, when the government of the RoC adopted a regulation banning large agricultural projects in forested areas.

African man describing effects of deforestation

In the Central African Republic, thanks to the advocacy efforts of our local partners, CIEDD (Centre pour l’Information Environnementale et le Développement Durable) and GRDNE (Platform Durable des Ressources Naturelles et de l'Environnement), as well as ourselves, communities were able to participate directly in VPA meetings for the first time since the process was launched. This helped them feel empowered enough to protest abuses and rights violations by logging companies.

In March our partners visited the EU and where were able to have a constructive and open dialogue with EU decision makers.

And in France Fern and its local partners from African VPA countries and Vietnam were commended by policy-makers for our expertise on forest governance and for making an effort to have a dialogue with EU decision-makers, giving them first-hand information on the challenges on the ground, and the impact of EU policies on people and forests.

Fern partners visit in Brussels

Another 2018 highlight was the event we initiated in November at the European Parliament on the new EU budget and what it means for forests and communities. We were able to provide information to the Parliament on the importance of the environment in the new EU development budget. 

We also hosted an event with EU parliamentarians in Brussels in March - which was the first of its kind - highlighting the importance of forest governance in VPA countries’ in reducing their emissions as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Climate Agreement. 

Team photo from the Fern partners visit in Brussels

It’s really important that we continue informing the public and EU decision-makers about the impact of forest destruction and land grabbing on local communities; and that we convey the voices of marginalised communities to them. Not by being spokespersons, but by trying to improve people’s understanding of the challenges they're facing. If we don't do this work who else is going to?”

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