The densely forested northern Likouala Department of the Republic of the Congo lies deep in the Congo Basin. Here, residents from a local community were happy one year because favourable agricultural conditions had produced tonnes of surplus corn. Villagers were keen to get the produce to market, but there was one major obstacle. They didn’t have a truck for transporting the corn from their village to the market.
Ensuring a fair share in the Republic of the Congo
Villagers welcome improved models for sharing local development funds
This example highlights a common problem in the Republic of the Congo. Communities are meant to receive funds through concession contracts that oblige logging companies to pay for local development projects. But even though companies release these funds, the money often gets lost through inefficient spending, bureaucratic hurdles and corruption. As a consequence, many villagers can't access the money and are still waiting for basic necessities like fishing equipment, farming supplies and water pumps.
Also, funds are often not distributed equitably among community members. In many cases, women and indigenous people do not receive as much support as other villagers.
Communities getting involved
Local development funds are managed jointly by government representatives, concession holders and local community members. The EU REDD Facility is working with these fund managers to make sure that commercial forestry revenues earmarked for community development are spent fairly on local needs.
The local development funds are used to develop small projects aimed at improving community livelihoods. The money is used to buy inputs to grow crops and raise animals on farms, and to ensure better health services and clean water supplies.
Brice Baketiba is working with the EU REDD Facility in the Likouala Department. The area is covered in tropical forest and is home to one of the world's largest populations of western lowland gorillas. But communities here are impoverished, and administrative bodies lack the basic capacity to channel concession funds into projects that benefit local residents.
Brice says villagers are happy to receive help because they have not received this type of direct support before.
"We noticed that the beneficiaries, the local communities, wanted to be involved and became really committed." Brice says.
Led by the EU REDD Facility, the project’s approach is to fine-tune the system rather than develop a new benefit distribution model from scratch. This is because improvements can be made by drawing on existing knowledge and experience. The system of revenue disbursement in the Republic of the Congo is fairly advanced compared with other African countries, because concession holders must comply with legally binding sustainability standards and provide local communities with financial support.
Technicians hold diagnostic meetings with villagers
Town of Minganga in the Likouala Department
Source: EU REDD Facility
Investigating the problems
The first step of the initiative was to investigate where current problems lie within existing benefit sharing mechanisms in the forest sector. In Minganga, located in the Mokabi-Dzanga concession near the Central African Republic border, technicians held meetings with villagers to find out whether people are happy with the funds, and what their main needs are. They also met with local authorities and forest concessions holders.
An assessment across the whole Likouala and Sangha departments revealed the main problems. These include weak internal governance and a lack of technical and human capacity in regional administrations and villages.
"We noticed that a lot of things were not working" says Brice, who works as the National Technical Assistant for local development funds. "The money was not reaching the beneficiaries, the projects were badly designed, or there was no proper monitoring” Brice says.
Legal ambiguities mean that departmental authorities and local communities are often in charge of setting their own rules for local development funds. But these communities do not always have the technical know-how and experience to design the projects.
"Accountants were involved in the work but they don't understand development projects, including planning, design and monitoring" says Lucien Mansissé, the Likouala Department Representative.
When we organised training sessions, we noticed that the beneficiaries, the local communities, wanted to be involved and became really committed.
— Brice Baketiba, National Technical Assistant for local development funds
Ensuring good fund management through law
To improve the system further, the EU REDD Facility project is helping develop legally binding rules to ensure fund management activities are clear and accountable. Forest management experts from the EU REDD Facility are working with teams on the ground to consult the government on the implementation of new legal decrees.
"The most interesting part is that we can propose improvements by amending the legal texts," says Brice.
The project is coordinating with other EU initiatives to regulate forest management practices. These include the European Union's Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. The EU FLEGT Action Plan aims to reduce illegal logging by strengthening sustainable and legal forest management, improving governance and promoting trade in legally produced timber.
The EU REDD Facility is assisting in this process by undertaking a participatory, bottom-up investigation to gather stakeholder knowledge. They are using this information to assess and identify where the legal texts can be improved.
Going forward, the facility is looking to cooperate with the country’s National REDD Coordination to help clarify the legal framework guiding local development funds.
Technicians hold a training session on local development funds
Town of Moualé in the Likouala Department
Source: EU REDD Facility
Realising environmental and livelihood benefits
The local fund distribution system in the Republic of the Congo could also play an important role in REDD+, an international climate change mitigation scheme. REDD+ aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through reduced deforestation. The REDD+ acronym stands for ‘reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, conservation of existing forest carbon stocks, sustainable forest management and enhancement of forest carbon stocks'.
Under the REDD+ scheme, developing countries will receive funding if they reduce emissions from their forest sectors. These funds, also known as benefits, create incentives for stakeholders to participate in REDD+ and encourage behaviour change. It is important that funds are shared in an efficient and equitable way to ensure that forest communities and other stakeholders are encouraged to get involved in sustainable land use projects.
By helping to improve systems of fund distribution in the Republic of the Congo, REDD+ benefit sharing models will function more effectively. Projects are already underway that compensate local communities for undertaking low forest impact activities, such as sustainable cocoa production.
And Brice says these types of fund distribution systems are set to grow in number.
"The new system can be adapted in the REDD+ mechanism," says Brice. "It is more efficient with less cost. All the improvements that we made were really interesting, to such a point that the National REDD+ Coordination in the Republic of the Congo considers this work as a model."