Protecting my ancestors’ forest

Bruce Ebengo, community delegate from the Inongo territory in the Mai-Ndombe Province, reflects on the impact of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Emissions Reduction Programme Document (ERPD) on Indigenous People and local communities (IPLC). Mr. Ebengo was selected by the IPLC to represent them in the ERPD and received training on capacity building, knowledge sharing and participation in the REDD process.

Democratic Republic of Congo’s Emissions Reduction Programme

I’m a local community delegate and I’m working on REDD+ as a result of a capacity building meeting. I was trained on REDD+ issues (by WWF and partners) and in turn train the Indigenous People – the Pygmies – as well as the local communities – the Bantus – to promote safeguards and to bring the local and indigenous communities together. We are working on community capacity building and sharing knowledge. We are trying to show them what is happening and what will happen to us if we don't properly use our forests, what lives in the forest, and what the forests produce for us.

In villages that are mixed, there used to be conflicts between the local communities and Indigenous People. Conflicts like land boundaries. If someone had greater means than someone else, they would take one, two, or three kilometers of the forest from their friend by force. But that doesn't happen anymore. Now people understand each other and are working together. After receiving the training and working with them, we've prevented almost all conflict.

Moreover, there has been a big change in how communities manage biodiversity. Before receiving training, people in the community used the forest however they liked and did whatever they wanted: set fires wherever they could to get mushrooms and get caterpillars quickly, cut down any trees, even bushes and small trees, which could produce something useful in the future, like caterpillars. But now they don't cut down or burn trees anymore. They've learned that's not how we're going to use and treat our forests.

Women are also really involved in biodiversity. Before, they were given parcels of land that weren't even enough to meet their own families' needs. Bantu women would force indigenous women to work in their fields and they could not manage forests. We worked with indigenous women and showed them how to manage the forest. Now, we have learned that even women have ancestors who had forests, and they can have the power to talk to the public or the government. Since receiving the training, indigenous women are starting to manage their own land. They're no longer working behind the Bantu women and now have their own forests.

Sharing the land

We've historically had a problem with land rights. Landowners, land managers, and traditional leaders have land, but that land hasn't been mapped. We needed mapping to stop land conflicts and Indigenous People were worried about land tenure. Many have no documents for their forests, but they know, for example, that one person's land goes from here to there and another's goes from there to there. That's how it used to be. But now, people have been educated, and they're asking to calculate the areas of each forest to know who owns them. Because anyone can come cut down trees with a fake document. They take advantage. What can you do if you have no document proving it's your forest?

Before, the Bantus would take the indigenous peoples' land and many discussions used to be imposed. But now we have consensus before taking decisions regarding the management of natural resources and Indigenous People have started working for themselves.

Overall, the communities have learned that NGOs, civil society, WWF, and experts are coming here to show them what is going on in today's world. They understand. They have learned quickly. But as for the risks, there are always people who say, "Are these people going to take our land, our forests, later on? Could they come back again later? Are they getting ready to do something bad to us?" That has always existed.

The biggest, most important change today is that we all work together. We vote on what we can and can't do. It wasn't like that before. It was, for example, "You take the land from here to there. You cut down the forest. You work. The rest of the forest is for the Bantus and local communities." The Indigenous People and indigenous women could not go to those forests. If they did, they'd be forced to work and wouldn't benefit from them. So in terms of safeguards and FPIC, both sides are freely consenting. They get along. They're getting along so they can do something.

I really appreciate the work that WWF, the CN-REDD, and others in civil society are doing and recommend that more trainings take place so people can continue to learn and we can all share the profits. If field missions happen only once or twice a year, people could lose knowledge.

The REDD+ process is the hope of a new social and economic order. We have to bring people together, be with them, live with them, share all sorts of joys, and be together to enjoy our time on earth.

This commentary was transcribed from an interview with Mr. Ebengo and translated from French.

Bruce Ebengo

Bruce Ebengo is a provincial coordinator of REPALEF, a network of indigenous and local people for the management of forest ecosystems in DRC. Under ERPD, Mr. Ebengo is the community representative from Inongo territory in the Mai Ndombe Province. He helps coordinate communication between NGOs, government agencies and the Indigenous People, and works with communities to implement REDD+ at the local level and to help them manage forests sustainably.

What are your thoughts?