Workshop on Integrated Transboundary Land Use Planning in the Congo Basin Brings Together Regional Experts and Stakeholders

The Congo Basin in Central Africa is home to a vast ecosystem of rivers, forests, and diverse wildlife. However, these forests are facing numerous threats. Deforestation, wildlife trafficking, and illegal logging threaten the survival of various species, and climate change further endangers these ecosystems and the livelihoods of the over 75 million people who live in the region.

But forests, endangered species, and climate change don’t respect national borders, so countries are finding ways to collaborate to protect their forests and natural resources. Working together enables the development and implementation of comprehensive conservation strategies that transcend national boundaries. An important part of this process is integrated land use planning.

What is Transboundary Integrated Landscape Planning (ILUP)?

Integrated Landscape Planning (ILUP) is a process used to help manage competing land uses and interests in our environment. ILUP optimizes land and resource use across diverse sectors like housing, agriculture, industry, and conservation within a defined landscape. Informed by scientific insights, it’s a way to create adaptive strategies that are responsive to evolving conditions, such as climate change, changes in forest cover, species distributions, and agricultural productivity. ILUP aims to use all available information for effective, and adaptive, planning.

ILUP is a collaborative effort that engages stakeholders from diverse sectors, aiming to reconcile differing goals, needs, and activities within a landscape. This process uses spatial analysis to identify changes in land use, potential conflicts, and areas earmarked for conservation, restoration, and development. It then interprets societal development objectives and sectoral plans into actionable strategies for specific areas. Through an analysis of past, present, and potential future scenarios, ILUP fosters a shared vision among stakeholders, providing the foundation for decision-making geared toward maximizing benefits while mitigating adverse impacts. This inclusive approach necessitates the involvement of governments, private entities, local communities, and marginalized groups. It requires consultations, consent from affected communities, and comprehensive environmental and social impact assessments.

The ILUP process can be used across different scopes—local, national, or transboundary. Transboundary integrated landscape planning recognizes the interconnectedness of ecosystems spanning geopolitical boundaries, vital for preserving biodiversity, ecosystem services, and supporting local communities. International collaboration in managing these areas can better addresses threats like habitat fragmentation, illegal activities, and wildlife trafficking, while promoting environmental conservation and sustainable development.

Transformational Change in Sustainable Forest Management in Transboundary Landscapes of The Congo Basin: A Collaborative Program

USFS and the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) have partnered to work on advancing integrated transboundary land use planning to enhance sustainable forest management in the Congo Basin, with a specific focus on the Monte Alén-Monts Cristal (MAMC), Tri-National Sangha (TNS) Complex, and Lac Tele and Lac Tumba transboundary landscapes. In early 2023, USFS, working with diverse stakeholders, completed a pre-assessment of the current state of national-level land use management planning efforts in target countries and across transboundary landscapes.

In September 2023, a regional consultation workshop took place in Kinshasa to share the results of the pre-assessment and develop an Integrated Transboundary Land Use Planning (ILUMP) methodology. UNEP-WCMC and USFS invited experts and stakeholders from six Congo Basin countries—Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon—to share information about their landscapes and address challenges in transboundary land management. Participants exchanged insights on planning methodologies, discussed areas for improvement, highlighted key players and their roles, and discussed the main challenges in landscape management.

The workshop brought together stakeholders and experts from six Congo Basin countries. Photo courtesy of Sam Mayenda.

The opportunity to exchange on a regional level is an important step in successful transboundary landscape management. For Mengue Ebang Gaspar lutero, the Child Project Coordinator in Equatorial Guinea, it was an opportunity to meet his counterparts in person. “Meeting stakeholders from Gabon with whom we share the Mont-Alen-Mont-Cristal is so exciting for me […] The idea of putting us in the same working group during the workshop was an opportunity to build relationships […] I am hopeful and optimistic for improved multi-sector collaboration, engagement, and methodologies for sustainable forest landscape management in and beyond the landscapes,” he said.

During the workshop, participants were encouraged to bring documents such as Protected Area Management Plans, Community-Based Natural Resource and Extractive Zones Management Plans, and Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments to inform discussions. Discussions centered on addressing challenges in transboundary land management, finding ways to harmonize planning tools, effectively engaging municipal councils, protecting indigenous rights, ensuring resource access, and promoting community participation in development planning. Developing data-sharing mechanisms, strengthening stakeholder capacities, integrating natural capital accounting and climate change into management plans, and establishing or revitalizing institutional frameworks were just a few of the proposed recommendations that came out of discussions.

Kozo Simplice Desiré, the Central African Republic representative of the Network of Indigenous and Local Peoples for the Management of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa (REPALEAC), expressed his enthusiasm for the inclusion of representatives from marginalized groups in the workshop. “Indigenous Peoples and local communities, primarily dependent on forests for cultural, economic, and nutritional benefits, often face a lack of consultation and inclusion of their views during the implementation of management plans, leaving them exposed and dissatisfied.” Ensuring that the needs of all stakeholders are considered in transboundary management plans is vital to their success, especially as marginalized groups are more vulnerable to climate change and have historically received limited attention under national policies.

Participants during a working group session. Photo courtesy of Sam Mayenda.

In response to workshop recommendations, USFS and UNEP-WCMC will collaborate to develop a land use planning methodological process. This process will integrate natural capital accounting, vulnerability to climate change, and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities. The Central Africa Forest Commission (COMIFAC) and ECCAS (Economic Commission for Central Africa State) will lead the regional organization to review the methodologies, conduct a validation workshop, and provide training on priority themes identified by child project stakeholders during the workshop.

The Transformational Change in Sustainable Forest Management in Transboundary Landscapes of the Congo Basin program is a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded program. USFS is working with national and local project partners to ensure integrated land use management planning processes are broadly and meaningfully participatory and that customary land mapping and climate change considerations are fully integrated into the land use management planning process across countries in the Congo Basin.

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