Introducing a landscape approach to tropical timber concessions in Central Africa could make the difference between development and disenfranchisement for local populations.
Alain Karsenty, Research Director at the French agricultural research organization Cirad, made this argument at a discussion at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum in Paris on 5 December, which brought together more than 3,200 people to explore the role of land use in achieving climate and development goals.
He said that proper management of these concessions necessitates a land-sharing paradigm with multiple uses – what he calls “Concessions 2.0.”
“You cannot avoid the condition of land sharing in Central Africa simply because of the size of the concessions,” Karsenty said.
The Congo Basin is one of the last places on Earth with tracts of forest large enough to support concessions of a million hectares or more. Yet with so large an area, efforts to secure local claims to concession lands such as the “Mapping for Rights” project by RFUK have revealed that overlap between the concession, these customary titles (known as “finages” in French), and protected areas is “very common.”
“The systematic mapping of finages inside and outside the concessions and participatory management will create room for a new conception of community forestry,” Karsenty said.
That new conception embodies the idea of sustainable forest management, which is prominent in the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals.
Around the world, some 50 percent of tropical forests are “managed” to produce timber and other products, which are often one of the few revenue-generating options available to developing countries. Karsenty and his colleagues argue that local communities need to be included in managing these huge areas in the Congo Basin.
“This evolution will be acceptable only with the previous recognition of the communities’ customary territories within the concessions,” he said in his presentation at the Forum.
“Without a land-sharing model to harmonize the multiple uses of the forest, local communities will find themselves increasingly marginalized and often forced into destroying more forests for agriculture.”
You cannot avoid the condition of land sharing in Central Africa simply because of the size of the concessions.
The current situation can create winners (the concession operators) and losers (communities), Karsenty said – but once local populations’ territorial rights are recognized, the operating companies should encourage them to invest in activities that will provide sustenance and livelihoods.
Those activities could include agroforestry, recreational hunting and the development of cash crop plantations, such as cocoa or oil palm, on degraded savanna lands, he added, all of which give local populations a stake in the health of the ecosystem.
Karsenty and his colleagues also propose including local committees in making decisions about land use. Under such a model, the timber itself would remain the province of the companies, albeit with “benefit-sharing” schemes that several Central African countries already have in the works.
This “Concessions 2.0” model might also include strategies such as payments for ecosystem services to finance fuelwood plantations, all in an effort to boost the participation and development of local communities.
“The evolution will be to shift from a model of exploitation to a broader spectrum of activities,” Karsenty said.
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