Tropenbos DR Congo assisted communities to apply for local community forest concessions, which give them the right to use and manage their forests. Within the degraded parts of these concessions, Tropenbos DR Congo has been promoting agroforestry to improve livelihoods without putting pressure on the forest. This effort resulted in a surge of farmers adopting cocoa agroforestry practices throughout the Bafwasende landscape in 2022.
The vast tropical rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) is under dire threat from the expansion of logging, mining and agriculture, amid widespread poverty and societal tensions. To encourage sustainable forest management while also addressing poverty, the government has been granting local community forest concessions (LCFCs). These give communities the right to profit from the sustainable exploitation of land and forest resources and are a legal instrument to prevent expropriation by third parties. A concession is governed by a community forest committee, consisting of several elected community members.
Since the administrative procedures are complex, Tropenbos DR Congo has been assisting communities with LCFC applications. With their help, three concessions have now been granted in the Bafwasende landscape, covering 89,750 hectares. Another 26 concessions are in process, covering an additional 729,821 hectares. Simultaneously, Tropenbos DR Congo has been working with traditional chiefs — many of whom initially perceived the LCFCs as a threat to their power — and has succeeded in cultivating a more supportive attitude among the chiefs toward the community forest concessions.
Within established concessions, Tropenbos DR Congo has been helping communities of Indigenous shifting cultivators to develop sustainable land-use practices. Their efforts focus not only on managing the natural forest, but also on promoting sustainable agroforestry within parts of the concessions that were previously deforested. For an example, Tropenbos DR Congo looked at the Yira migrants who recently settled in the Bafwasende landscape. The Yira have a long tradition of cultivating cocoa in agroforestry systems, and they have successfully established profitable cocoa agroforestry farms not long after arriving in the area.
In the view of Tropenbos DR Congo, cocoa agroforestry — which combines cocoa and other tree species in mixed land-use systems — was a model that indigenous farmers could learn from. They therefore organized a trip of around 40 Indigenous farmers, including many women and young people, to Yira villages to learn about cocoa agroforestry. When the participating farmers returned to their home villages, they became champions of cocoa agroforestry among their fellow villagers. To further broaden support for cocoa agroforestry in the landscape, Tropenbos DR Congo worked closely with local chiefs; as a result, two influential chiefs started promoting agroforestry among Indigenous communities.
At the community level, Tropenbos DR Congo helped farmers to establish nurseries for cocoa and indigenous trees, and provided training courses on cocoa cultivation, as well as on post-harvest processing and trade. They also organized meetings between farmers and cocoa buyers, where buyers would explain procedures, prices and quality requirements.
These efforts paid off. By the end of 2022, there was a boom in farmers planting cocoa in the Bafwasende landscape. In response to the rapidly growing number of cocoa-cultivating farmers, cocoa traders have started flocking to the area in search of cocoa beans. To mitigate the risk that the expansion of cocoa agroforestry would put more pressure on the natural forest, Tropenbos DR Congo has facilitated participatory land-use planning, helping communities define areas for cultivation, forest conservation, and sustainable logging. These local spatial plans fit within provincial plans and are backed by local communities as well as the relevant government agencies.
Tropenbos DR Congo will continue to help local authorities to improve planning, and to implement and enforce these plans. They will also continue to support the development of markets for sustainable and deforestation-free cocoa, to improve local livelihoods without putting extra pressure on the forest.
This article is part of the TBI Annual review 2022.