US Forest Service Central Africa Program at Three Basin Summit in the Republic of the Congo

Brazzaville recently served as the backdrop for the Three Basins Summit, bringing together Heads of State and Governments from the Amazon, Congo, and Borneo-Mekong-Southeast Asia regions. Spanning three days, this gathering of over 3,000 delegates was convened with the aim of fostering collaboration among the three basins. Central to the discussions were shared challenges and opportunities about biodiversity management, sustainable development, and the future of the extensive tropical forests that command a third of the world’s land surface.

On the sidelines of the summit, USFS was invited to host several presentations at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) pavilion. During these side events, USFS staff was able to share current programming in the region and exchange with participants about challenges, lessons learned, and successes.

Read on for an overview of USFS staff presentations.

The USFS Illegal Logging Program Coordinator for the Republic of the Congo Brice Severin Pongui. Photo courtesy of Ouad Sept Design.

Enhancing Law Enforcement and Monitoring Networks to Combat Illegal Logging and Illicit Trade of Natural Resources

Brice Severin Pongui, the USFS Illegal Logging Program Coordinator for the Republic of the Congo (ROC), provided an overview of the ongoing initiative with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) and the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES). This program focuses on strengthening institutional capacity in ROC to combat illegal logging and associated financial crimes. Key components of the program include the development of an inter-ministerial and multi-actor task force, forest concession audits, training sessions for civil society groups on independent monitoring, public awareness campaigns regarding the negative impacts of illegal logging and the illicit trade of natural resources, and efforts to enhance law enforcement capacity through increased information sharing. Recent activities include a multi-actor workshop and civil society training sessions in Owando. Another civil society training in Pokola and forestry field audits in collaboration with the project task force, civil society groups, and local law enforcement units are planned for the upcoming year.

USFS Cameroon Country Coordinator Olivier Sene, left, presents on his work with RIFFEAC and COMIFAC. Photo courtesy of Ouad Sept Design.

Capacity Building to Support Sustainable Forest Management

Over the past two decades USFS, supported by USAID’s Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) program, has been engaged in enhancing capacity for sustainable forest management in the Congo Basin. USFS Cameroon Country Coordinator Olivier Sene was able to share his work collaborating with sub-regional institutions, particularly with the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) and its affiliate the Forestry and Environmental Training Institutions of Central Africa (RIFFEAC), as well as state training institutions, that aim to address the challenges associated with sustainable management and a shortage of local expertise. This initiative began in 2005, when methodological guides for integrated landscape management were developed, covering protected areas, community management zones, extraction zones, and landscape management. These guides were then translated into training modules with the support of RIFFEAC. Recent activities include the creation of more training modules, focusing on human rights in protected area management and the economic value of biodiversity, which involve intensive training sessions around protected areas in Cameroon and Rwanda. Currently, USFS and partners are developing a massive online open course (MOOC) on Ethics and Human Rights in Protected Area Management as well as finalizing a sub-regional Master’s program in Environmental Economics with a focus on climate finance and natural capital management. Additionally, the project aims to create more modules for transboundary landscape management and continue to support education and institutional collaboration for the sustainable management of the Congo Basin’s forests.

Eugene Chia, the USFS Central Africa Climate Change and Programs Specialist, shared USFS findings from a comprehensive participatory assessment involving NFMS stakeholders carried out in ROC, DRC & Cameroon. Photo courtesy of Ouad Sept Design.

Carbon Finance and National Forest Monitoring Systems

Establishing a robust National Forest Monitoring System (NFMS) is a prerequisite for accessing forest carbon finance in the Congo Basin, but despite progress in the REDD+ process, limited funds have flowed into the region after 15 years. Eugene Chia, the USFS Central Africa Climate Change and Programs Specialist, shared USFS findings from a comprehensive participatory assessment involving NFMS stakeholders carried out in ROC, DRC & Cameroon, highlighting challenges identified that concern institutional arrangements, resource shortages, subnational capacity limitations, and evolving policy processes. Recommendations to address these challenges were also shared, and they emphasized sustainable institutional arrangements, resource mobilization for NFMS functionality, capacity-building at all levels, and the development of national digital registries. Further suggestions include investments in national capacity for market standards, scenario analysis for optimal returns, and cost diagnostics for compliance. Similar assessments focusing on the Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea are planned for 2024.

Georges Tchatchambe, the USFS Community Forestry and Natural Resource Management Specialist, presents results from a project supported by USAID’s Tanganyika Conflict Mitigation and Reconciliation program. Photo courtesy of Ouad Sept Design.

Reforestation, Conservation, and Youth Empowerment

Georges Tchatchambe, the USFS Community Forestry and Natural Resource Management Specialist, presented results from a project supported by USAID’s Tanganyika Conflict Mitigation and Reconciliation program, which aimed to address deforestation and offer practical trainings to students in the Tanganyika Province. Project activities included the construction of a new plant nursery site at the University of Kalemie and training programs for university students, primary school children, and agricultural cooperative leaders. Over 70,000 seedlings, including various local species, were propagated, and experiments involving germination techniques, different soil mixtures, and natural fertilizers and pesticides were conducted on the nursery site. As a result of this project, USFS is now involved with the Conserving Critical Congo Basin Forests (C3BF) program, which focuses on afforestation and reforestation initiatives in DRC and ROC. The C3BF program, funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), aims to conserve and maintain existing Congo Basin forests, prevent deforestation, and increase overall forest cover through national efforts. USFS is currently providing technical assistance aligned with national priorities, including community forestry initiatives and degraded land rehabilitation. The program also includes the establishment of a Youth Climate Corps in DRC to address climate change mitigation, promote youth employment, and achieve reforestation targets.

USFS hosted a panel on the Women’s Initiative for Climate Action (WICA). The panel was moderated by Lisa Louvouandou, a WICA fellow from ROC. Photo courtesy of Ouad Sept Design.

Women’s Initiative for Climate Action (WICA)

On the summit’s final day, USFS hosted a panel on the Women’s Initiative for Climate Action (WICA). Launched in 2021 and funded by SilvaCarbon, WICA aims to enhance the capacities and participation of women in Central African countries in national climate change processes. The training program includes seminars, workshops, webinars, a diploma program on greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting, and internships. Lisa Louvouandou, a WICA fellow from ROC, moderated the side event. USFS Gabon Country Coordinator, Nelly Houtsa, began the session with an overview of the WICA program and its impacts. WICA fellows Tiriel Lokoka and Jacquie Gakosso from ROC then shared their experiences, detailing the program’s impact on their professional development. Both are now working at the National Forest Inventory Agency (CNIAF) following their completion of the program. Lastly, Mr. Claude Francois Itsouhou, a WICA program instructor, emphasized the program’s importance in national efforts to reduce and account for GHG emissions. Mr. Itsouhou is a senior advisor in the Ministry of Industries and a member of the national working group on GHG emissions and removals, who offers webinars on greenhouse gas accounting in the Waste sector and Industrial Processes sector to WICA fellows.

(Left to right) Rene Siwe, Central Africa Regional Technical Coordinator, Brice Severin Pongui, Illegal Logging Program Coordinator for ROC, and Exaucé YOKA, ROC Program Assistant during the summit. Photo courtesy of Ouad Sept Design.

For USFS, the summit was an opportunity to share current work and exchange with colleagues and government officials. Eugene Chia, the Central Africa Climate Change and Programs Specialist at USFS, was struck by how many government entities from beyond the Three Basins were in attendance. “The huge participation of governments that are not part of the three basin landscapes shows the importance of these landscapes to the global effort to fight climate change”. He hopes that, following the summit, there will be “more commitments in relation to the mobilization of finance both from the donor and recipient countries”.

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