Posted on 27 November 2019
Many communities we work with are very remote, and they often still live by gathering food from the forest and subsistence agriculture.
The Democratic Republic of Congo holds nearly 60% of the Congo Basin’s tropical forests. In this country that’s larger than Greenland, communities still rely heavily on forests for their food, fuel, and livelihoods. WWF-DRC has been working with in Maï-Ndombe to protect their forests – and the resources those forests provide them – so they can ensure they are still standing for generations to come. We talked with Carine Mauwa Munyaga to learn about how that happens on the ground.
What is your role at WWF?
I am the MRV Officer for WWF-DRC, and one of my main roles is working with local partners to prepare Indigenous peoples and local communities to be able to participate in REDD+ in Maï-Ndombe. This includes explaining what REDD+ is and what their role could be in the process, so they can decide whether or not they want to be engaged. In the other direction, I also work with national and local NGOs so they can understand the objectives, strategies, and community roles in REDD+.
What is one thing you are currently working on?
Many communities we work with are very remote, and they often still live by gathering food from the forest and subsistence agriculture. It is very difficult for them to get support for managing their natural resources because of how hard it is to travel to where they live. We help them establish Local Development Committees (CLDs, per their French acronym) and map their territories and resources so they can see what they actually have and make decisions about their forests and land using that information.
How did you get involved in this kind of conservation work?
I come from a city in the eastern DRC, Bukavu, located not far from the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, which is a national park that shelters eastern lowland gorillas. This Park is managed by ICCN, the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation, and its partners. In the framework of environmental education, ICCN and its partners used to publish brochures, posters, and children’s magazines. One of these magazines was much appreciated and widely read in town, called Kacheche
after the black and white wagtail bird, of which I was a fan in my youth. This magazine allowed me to learn about great apes and forests, especially though its games like crossword puzzles and the errors’ game, where you compare two images and look for the differences between them. These were among my first contacts with the world of conservation.
Once at university, in the College of Agriculture, I oriented myself toward the Natural Resources Management Department to learn more about forests and their challenges. I even conducted a study, “OVERVIEW ON THE LIVING CONDITIONS OF MANATEES, Trichechus senegalensis (Link, 1795), IN ITS CONGOLESE HABITAT,” as a partial requirement for my Master’s degree.
When I learned that WWF was looking for an MRV expert for a REDD+ program, it was an opportunity for me to apply conservation at the base and focus on carbon aspects with Indigenous peoples and local communities who are true conservators based in their traditional knowledge. That's how I've been with WWF-DRC since 2016.
What is the most important thing for program staff to remember when they work with communities to protect their forests?
To ensure the effective participation of all community strata, especially women, children and Indigenous peoples. In traditional communities, the woman is the first user of the forest. Her involvement in forest protection activities from the very beginning ensures the sustainability of the actions. Not only is the woman the first user of the forest - which is her supermarket - but she also ensures the rearing of the children within the household. Changes in her behavior regarding her use of the forest will also bring about behavioral change in others, including in her children and other children in the community. This ensures long-term behavioral change in relation to forests and the resources they provide.
Indigenous peoples, having played an historical role in the sustainable management of forests, will always have a place in forest conservation and protection activities in terms of exchange of experience and local knowledge. Making sure they are empowered to participate is crucial.
Can you share an achievement you are proud of from your work?
There is so much to say regarding this question, but I’ll share one among many under the theme of payment for environmental services.
Semendua Ombaon is a village with a land area of nearly 5,700 ha located in the Kutu district of Maï-Ndombe province. The inhabitants are primarily Bantu, but Pygmy Indigenous people also live there. WWF has been working with this community since 2017, helping them to organize a CLD, map their territory and resources, and plan for the future use or conservation of their land.
From there, activities followed focusing on organized reforestation within the framework of payments for environmental services. First, communities were trained in techniques and practices of establishing and maintaining tree nurseries, and planting tree species such as acacia, avocado and safou
, also known as butterfruit or African plums. These trees were selected because they offer livelihood support to the communities through fruit or honey, or because they can replace natural forests as the source of wood for fuel and energy within a few years. Training was carried out in such a way that there would be an exchange of knowledge among the different participants, namely national and local NGOs, the local technical agricultural school, local communities and Indigenous peoples, while ensuring a 30% representation of women. The community received a small payment for healthy and well-cared for saplings or trees at three phases of the process, for a total of $150 per hectare.
This was this community’s first experience with reforestation, and they planted 20 ha with acacia, avocado, safou
, and coffee in degraded lands 9 km from its dwelling area. These lands had once been forests but had been degraded to the point where they turned into a savanna environment that was subject to intense fires. One year later, the communities already see the benefits of their work. The trees they planted protect their village from the strong winds that come across the savanna, the return of certain animals and insects including edible worms and honeybees, the transfer and exchange of knowledge among stakeholders, the collaboration between local communities and Indigenous peoples, and the improvement of learning conditions at the technical school, thanks to the funds obtained through the payments.