Combatting Illegal Logging: Independent Forest Monitoring with Civil Society in the Republic of the Congo
With over 60% of its landmass covered by forests, illegal logging is a critical threat to the forests of the Republic of the Congo (ROC). Unauthorized and unsustainable timber extraction contributes significantly to environmental degradation, the disruption of sensitive ecosystems, and the destruction of natural habitats for countless species. Deforestation can also impact local communities, threatening their livelihoods and access to resources like food, medicine, and clean water. One important tool being used to empower communities and address these challenges is Independent Forest Monitoring, also known as IFM.
IFM brings together civil society organizations, governments, and independent monitors to assess forest activities independently. It serves as an external check on how forests are treated and used, ensuring compliance with the country’s regulations. IFM’s primary aim is to safeguard forests for the benefit of the environment and communities by closely observing forest activities. It involves vigilant observations, data collection, and analysis to identify and report unsustainable or unauthorized timber extraction. This approach helps uncover irregularities in logging practices, promotes transparency, and fosters accountability—crucial elements in reducing illegal deforestation, protecting the rights of communities, and influencing national-level policies.
IFM brings together civil society organizations, governments, and independent monitors to assess forest activities independently. Photo courtesy of Daniel NDINGA.
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS), in collaboration with the Cercle d’Appui à la Gestion Durable des Forêts (CAGDF) and the Comptoir Juridique Junior (CJJ), conducted a three-day workshop on IFM from October 9th to 11th, 2023 in Owando. Participants came from civil society organizations already active in IFM and were joined by provincial government representatives from the Cuvette and Cuvette Ouest departments, including the Ministry of Forest Economy, the Ministry of Labor, and the Ministry of Environment, Sustainable Development, and the Congo Basin. The workshop aimed to enhance the capabilities of local civil society actors in monitoring and investigating illegal logging and the associated timber trade within ROC as well as at its borders.
Throughout the workshop, various presentations covered topics such as the legal aspects of labor and environmental control mechanisms, requirements for wood exportation, forest and environmental control mechanisms, and the principles and values of IFM. These sessions emphasized the importance of careful planning, field missions, data analysis, and report validation in IFM procedures. Discussions also focused on forest resource access, taxation, forest management principles, social and environmental impacts, and tools for IFM data collection.
Jean Jacques PEYA, one of the workshop participants. Photos courtesy of Daniel NDINGA.
On the workshop’s final day, participants engaged in practical field missions that simulated real-life IFM missions. Divided into two groups, they went through the entire process of an IFM mission, covering aspects like organizing travel, ensuring everyone had appropriate protective equipment, touring logging concessions, interviewing staff, collecting documents and photos, observing working conditions, and noting the coordinates of different tree species. Post-mission, the groups analyzed their findings, compiling them into a comprehensive report.
“This training was very welcome, and I learned a lot, such as how to use a GPS,” said Arsène Tsontsouomi, one of the participants who works as an administrator. “I’d love to have more opportunities like this to improve my skills and learn how to better use these types of tools.”
Dieudonné Abbo, who works to help associations improve agricultural productivity, agreed. “I am happy that I was able to participate in this training, it was useful for me personally but also useful for my organization. I learned how IFM can be used to defend the interests of the general population. I can now help them better understand their rights and how to push for change.”
Careful planning, field missions, data analysis, and report validation is vital in IFM procedures. Photo courtesy of Daniel NDINGA.
In collaboration with the U. S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) and Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), USFS is working to help strengthen the institutional capacity of government, law enforcement, forestry officials, and communities to combat illegal logging and related financial crimes in Central Africa. In ROC, USFS works closely with various ministry offices to identify priority intervention areas to focus training and resources and support national and regional coordination concerning trafficking issues. USFS is also partnering with civil society groups, NGOs, and independent monitors to spread awareness, build capacity, and increase transparency in the logging sector.