Rainforest Foundation conservation study-Protected areas in the Congo Basin: failing both people and biodiversity?



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The past few decades have seen a dramatic expansion in the establishment of protected areas around the world. While their primary aim is the conservation of biodiversity, many protected areas are also home to local and indigenous communities who have over many generations based their livelihood, culture and identity on these landscapes and ecosystems. The current international consensus is that protected areas should harmonise conservation and social needs. Practically putting this in place, however, has proved challenging, and especially so in the Congo Basin.


In this study, we examine this issue in the Congo Basin, an area comprising 3.7 million square kilometres and home to some of the largest stands of remaining tropical forests. We base our study on a sample of 34 protected areas across five countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, and Republic of Congo) to assess what impacts – both positive and negative – these areas are having on local and indigenous communities, as well as in terms of protecting biodiversity.


Forests and communities in this region face enormous threats, notably from destructive development models which often squander natural resources while having severe negative impacts on local populations. These threats are escalating, and hence assuring effective conservation measures both within and without protected areas is an urgent task. Whilst there is a continuous narrative and flow of information on issues such as the impacts of logging concessions, palm oil developments, and infrastructure etc., there has been very little consideration of the effectiveness of what goes on inside the protected areas that are often posed as being the key response to environmental destruction.


Forest peoples and conservationists often share the core ultimate objective of protecting the integrity of the Congo Basin rainforest (although their particular motivations may vary). Whilst in other regions (such as Amazonia), there have been some successes in forming powerful strategic alliances, in the Congo Basin the relationship between forest peoples and conservationists is largely conflictual. This study unpacks some of the reasons why conservation efforts are failing to strike this partnership...


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