Q&A: The challenges of monitoring a forest three times as large as France

Land use planning is the first step if conservation, timber production, mining activities and agriculture are to co-exist.

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PhD student Prosper Sabongo measures the tree canopy in the billage of Masako, Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

PhD student Prosper Sabongo measures the tree canopy in the billage of Masako, Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

YAOUNDE, Cameroon (24 May, 2013)_As international donors consider funding programs targeting the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), one of their key expectations is that beneficiary countries will provide sound monitoring and reporting on the state of their forests.

A new study published by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) highlights the challenges facing the Democratic Republic of Congo in building capacity to manage international anti-deforestation assistance.

With 180 million hectares of forested land spread across six countries, the Congo Basin rainforest is the second largest contiguous rainforest in the world.

CIFOR’s regional coordinator for Central Africa, Richard Eba’a Atyi, previously worked as an expert on forest monitoring in Kinshasa, the DRC’s capital. Here he tells Forests News about his experiences. 

Q: What was your involvement in forest monitoring when you worked in the DRC?

A: Between August 2007 and September 2010, I took part in the establishment of an observatory for the forests of Central Africa. This included publishing a report on the state of the forests in the region every two years.

The DRC needs some kind of overview of how they can best utilize the national territory, keeping intact the places they want to set aside for forests.

We first defined indicators to help us collect information for six countries including the DRC, and we set up a national working group to collect the data. The indicators concerned the forest cover – that was mainly done through remote sensing; production from logging concessions; and protected areas of conservation. We also monitored the institutional and legal framework of the country.

The national working group had to fill forms that we had developed, to describe how those indicators had evolved. We then called an annual workshop for data validation before we wrote the state of the forests report.

Q: What was your assessment of the country’s capacity to monitor its forests at the time?

A: The capacity was very poor. Most of the human resources were located in Kinshasa, with almost no capacity to monitor what was happening in remote provinces.

Additionally, the forestry department did not really have access to data related to forest taxes from the tax department. They did not have a reporting framework in place to receive and archive data coming from the logging companies. Sometimes the union of logging companies itself helped us by sending their own data.

Before I was posted to Kinshasa, I conducted a study for WWF on the capacity of the DRC’s forestry administration to enforce the forestry law and related regulations. You wouldn’t believe it – they had around 10 people in the control service to deal with the whole country.

Q: What information do you have about progress since then?

A: There are a few positive points. The private logging companies are really working hard to meet the demands of the market, for certification for instance. Also, the law requires that they do forest management plans. Some logging concessions have conducted forest inventories, and this is now available at the level of the forestry administration. Another positive point is that since they have set the national REDD+ strategy, they have a framework to monitor biological, social and economic aspects of forest utilization.

However, the disconnect between the provincial authorities and the central government in Kinshasa is so big that the REDD+ strategy is not yet implemented at the provincial or local levels.

The central government that is presenting REDD+ to the international community has no control at the provincial and local levels. This has been working because the political troubled spots are still there: when you hear from Katanga, the eastern provinces, the political situation there has not settled and this really decreases the power of the central government to monitor forest resources all over the country.

Q: Why is monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) important to implement REDD+ policies?

A: MRV is key – first to establish the baseline situation on deforestation, carbon stocks, but also on annual changes whether in physical data such as forest cover, forest inventory, volumes of carbon stock or in the social setting. This is about having baseline information and monitoring later how things are changing: are we really making progress in terms of reducing carbon emissions or at least reducing deforestation?

Q: What should be the DRC’s next priorities to reach a point where its monitoring capacity is sufficient to implement REDD+ programs?

A: Unfortunately, the main priority is beyond the forestry sector. It is at the institutional level – to improve the coordination and the communication between the central, provincial and local governments. This is key. Then they certainly need to have some kind of national-level inventory of forestry resources.

The DRC needs some kind of land use planning for the country to determine how forest conservation, forest management for timber production, mining activities and agriculture can co-exist. At the moment, if they have a contract with a Chinese company for palm oil, they choose an area somewhere regardless of whether it is good for conservation. They also give mining permits everywhere.

The DRC needs some kind of overview of how they can best utilize the national territory, keeping intact the places they want to set aside for forests.

Richard Eba’a Atyi is the regional coordinator of CIFOR’s Central Africa office. He can be contacted at

This research is carried out as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by the Department for International Development (DFID), AusAid, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and the European Commission.

This issue was discussed at the two-day conference Sustainable forest management in Central Africa: Yesterday, today and tomorrow Yaounde, Cameroon. 22-23 May, 2013.

For more stories on the future of Central Africa’s forests, visit

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