From the Congo Basin.

Author:Nelson, John
Position:FROM READERS - Letter to the Editor

[on communities challenged by conservation]

Mac Chapin's article in the last issue of World Watch accords powerfully with the perception of "Big Conservation" held by many indigenous and local communities from Central Africa. Chapin cited few Central African examples to illustrate his case, but the Forest Peoples Programme's (FPP) experience of working in the Congo Basin shows clearly that his conclusions are as relevant to this area as to the many others he cites. In Central Africa, indigenous and local communities' rights to access and use their traditional lands are being threatened and denied with the active support of Big Conservation and their donors, in spite of international and national guidelines and legislation protecting them. These internationally driven conservation processes threaten the destruction of indigenous livelihoods due to the imposition, by outsiders, of parks, reserves, and new landscape protection regimes that disregard local peoples' rights.

Below we provide a description of the context in which Central African conservation processes are being supported by Big Conservation, with a focus on one planned "landscape" overlapping Cameroon, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo. This is a story of how the "depersonalization" of Congo Basin forests by Big Conservation, with donor support, affects the rights and livelihoods of millions of poor indigenous and local communities.

Corporate Conservation Targets Communities' Forests

Across Central Africa over 450,000 square kilometers now fall into protected areas, comprising almost 11 percent of its land, an area the size of Cameroon. The total area to be zoned for conservation there is set to grow steeply as ongoing processes to designate new areas are finalized, and other priority "hotspots" are identified. These area advances are due primarily to the efforts of governmental and non-governmental conservation agencies working in Central Africa through long-term conservation efforts to establish transboundary protected areas, and other new "landscapes" to be supported through the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) targeting Central Africa ecoregions that could double the amount of lands zoned for protection in the Congo Basin.

In Cameroon, this new approach is best exemplified by the TRIDOM project, a new transboundary conservation initiative between Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, and Gabon that will join together a tri-national "interzone" bordered by Minkebe, Boumba-Bek, Nki, and Odzala National Parks and the Dja Wildlife Reserve. The TRIDOM project will ultimately lead to a regional land use and management plan that will govern access to and use of forests upon which many communities rely.

In May 2004 the World Bank Global Environment Facility (GEF) approved a US$10.5 million Full Project Grant towards TRIDOM that, it is claimed, will protect 7.5 percent of the Congo Basin from...

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