Landscape management in the Congo River Basin

Thinking (and acting) big

How resilient are protected areas in the face of the usual litany of threats, including illegal logging, encroachment, bushmeat hunting and mining? The answer is, not that much. Thankfully, there are alternatives, which WWF and partners are turning to.

The limits of protected areas

The problem is that many protected areas, the usual solution of choice to protect biodiversity, often fail to fulfil their aims. They are often too small to maintain the full range of species and ecological processes, and funding (and therefore staff) is insufficient to guard their boundaries.

Then there’s the human factor; local people sometimes resent the presence of protected areas when they perceive that natural resources found inside them are no longer available to them.

Integral parts of a landscape

So does that mean we should give up on protected areas? Far from it. Often, protected areas are the critical starting point for the sustainable management of a wider space – a landscape. And at that level, we can envision an area where habitat and wildlife conservation, agriculture and logging (among others) all have a place.

What’s in a landscape?

For ecosystems to persist, we need to think on a large scale. With landscapes, we can envisage a conservation package where land is used for a variety of purposes, including human activities and biodiversity conservation.

The balance concept

Landscape planning is based on the concept of preserving intact core areas with increasing human use and influence radiating outward.
WWF survey team. Minkébé, Gabon
© WWF / Michel GUNTHER

This is how we do it

Successful conservation requires economic as well as ecological sustainability, 2 factors that are often at apparent loggerheads. So how do we do we reconcile them?

Landscape development requires a thorough knowledge of the area. Not only do we need to know where the local elephant population’s watering hole is, but also where forest concessions have been allocated for logging, their plans for expansion (if any), where and what people are cultivating, the road network etc.

With this information at hand, a picture of land-use begins to emerge. We then carry out careful planning, integrating all stakeholders that stand to be affected by landscape management decision – from municipalities to small community groups – to integrate the goals of conservation and human use.

Deploying landscape management

The landscape approach is not unlike a business growth model. Capacity is gradually built up and more and more of the landscape is covered with conservation activities.

For WWF’s activities in Minkébé, Gabon, this means that successful experiences at site level – such as a policy on hunting in logging concessions or co-management agreements with gold-mining communities – are progressively replicated all over the landscape.

Due partly to WWF’s success in Minkébé, the landscape approach is gaining acceptance in Gabon. Now, WWF’s strategy is to get protected areas within every remaining large forest, which can then act as a catalyst for nature management in the larger forest block.

Landscapes in practice in the Congo River Basin

In the Congo River Basin, the ‘landscape approach’ story begins at the dawn of this millennium. WWF played an instrumental role in the process leading to the adoption of the 'Convergence Plan', a conservation strategy adopted by the Commission of Ministers in Charge of Forests in Central Africa (COMIFAC), as part of the Yaoundé Process.

To be successful, parks should be embedded islands in an ocean of good nature.

Pauwel de Wachter
WWF Minkébé Project Leader

In 2000, a WWF-sponsored workshop in Libreville, Gabon, involving more than 150 national and international specialists concluded that not everywhere in Central Africa could be, or should be, a priority target for conservation.

The outcome of the workshop was a series of piority landscapes - large tracts of wilderness, identified by (among others) their uniqueness, their resilience and the viability of species found inside them.

For example, the landscapes span the ranges of species such as forest elephants, hornbills, or giant tiger fish, allowing for seasonal variations in their movement patterns.

Landscapes, capturing ecological diversity

The landscapes that were identified cover about 680,000 km2, capturing the majority of essential terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem functions of the Congo Basin. They also provide a framework for management planning and implementation.1

1USAID CARPE. 2005. Forests of the Congo River Basin: a preliminary assessment. Balmar. Washington DC.


Not everywhere in Central Africa could be, or should be, a priority target for conservation

Conservation priority-setting workshop

 / ©: Congo Basin Forests Partnership
[click to enlarge] Priority landscapes of the Congo Basin Forests Partnership
© Congo Basin Forests Partnership

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