The Congo Basin is the world’s second largest rain forest after the Amazon and is an area of 228,000,000 hectares, comprising the Republic of Congo, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon. As the second largest lung of the world, the Congo Basin shelters approximately 26% of the planet’s rain forests and a wealth of biodiversity. It contains over 10,000 plant species, 1000 bird species and 400 mammal species.
The Congo Basin forests are crucial to the survival of humanity. In fact, they generate oxygen which contributes to the quality of the air we breathe. They also play an important role in climate stability. Indeed, they absorb rainfall and release it slowly into the atmosphere throughout evaporation during sunshine, creating air masses and clouds, which in turn lead to rainfall. They help regulate local and regional rainfall. Most of the rainfall sprinkling Africa comes from the Congo Basin.
Moreover, the Basin forests help slow global warming by storing and sequestering carbon. While the Basin forests are useful in maintaining climate stability, they also serve as crucial sources of food, medicine, clean drinking water and recreational activities.
Unfortunately, according to some sources, two million acres of the Congo Basin forests disappear every year due to logging, mining, agriculture and firewood for a growing population. This rate of forest loss is threatening. The United Nations estimate that the disappearance of forests negatively impacts the lifestyle of people and threatens the wildlife established in this area. The removal of forests in the Basin causes greenhouse gas emissions, thus igniting the repercussions on global climate change. It is believed by scientists that two thirds of the Congo Basin forests could be lost by 2040, unless adequate efforts to protect them are firmly implemented.
Given the immense risks associated with the degradation of the Congo Basin, the Government of the Republic of Congo has undertaken numerous efforts at the national and international level.
The main objective of the Government of the Republic of Congo is to reconcile development and ecology. Accordingly, the Government of the Republic of Congo has adopted a set of policies, which include:
- A new Forestry Code: (Law No.16-2000), which tackles the following points:
- To establish an appropriate legal framework for the sustainable management of forests on the basis of a rational management of resources;
- To reconcile the use of forest products with forest conservation requirements and biological diversity for a sustainable development;
- To integrate NGO’s and local populations in the classification of forests;
- Timber exploitation must obey the provisions of special permits (which only allow the use of accessory products). The processed products must be consumed by craftsmen in the locality in which they are cut to meet the needs of local people;
- A better knowledge and a durable management of the forests’ ecosystems;
A conservation program of ecosystems, notably through the creation and managements of protected areas. As a great reservoir of biodiversity, Congolese forests covering 20 million hectares or 10% of the Congo Basin are among the richest in Africa. In order to protect them, 16 parks have been created since 1935. According to this policy, protected areas have been expanded by the Government of the Republic of Congo. These protected areas include three national parks, four wildlife reserves, a biosphere reserve, a reserve community, two hunting areas, four sanctuaries to protect chimpanzees and gorillas. Nowadays, there are three national parks and one lake reserve community project that account for one of the most successful conservation accomplishments of the Government:
- Odzala-Kokoua National Park: Established in 1935, this park covers an area of more than 1, 3 million hectares. Covering a broad spectrum of habitats such as savannahs, swamps, flooded forests, it houses a large concentration of lowland gorillas and 15 species of primates. It also has one of the largest populations of forest elephants and buffalos, and the last lion population of Central African forests. The Odzala-Kokoua also harbors 444 of the 626 birds species identified in Congo. Furthermore, out of the 4397 plant species listed in the Congo, a total of 1,150 have been raised in this area. The conservation activities enable the integration of protected areas in the economic and social life of the people while improving their living conditions, by implementing sustainable farming systems and fighting against poaching without degrading their national habitat;
- Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park: Established in 1993, this national park sprawls over an area 426,800 hectares, and is one of the largest forested areas in western central Africa, covering nearly 2% of Congolese forests. It has a rich flora and fauna that shelters large mammals, such as elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, panthers, more than 300 bird species, and 1000 plants. In the context of conservation, the American NGO, WCS-Congo (Wildlife Conservation Society) has cooperated with the Congolese Ministry of Forests to encourage better managements of these protected areas. WSC Congo has launched various education conservation campaigns in surrounding schools to educate children about the importance of wildlife conservation;
- Conkouati-Douli National Park: Sprawling over an area of 504,950 hectares on the border of Congo and Gabon on the Atlantic coast, the park covers the zone from the Atlantic Ocean to the highlands and savannas of the Mayombe Forest. This national park was founded in 1999. According to some studies that were conducted by specialists, it houses forest and aquatic ecosystems that constitute an important sanctuary for wildlife. This national park is marked by the presence of 48 species of mammals, over 400 bird species out of 552 identified in Congo, 41 species of reptiles, 4 species of marine turtles, 50 species of fish, dolphins, whales, elephants in forests, gorillas, chimpanzees, and mandrills and buffaloes. There are also panthers and hippopotamus. This park has recently been the subject of a zoning which delimits two central nuclei in which resource extraction is prohibited. However, areas of eco-village development or use were left allowing the local community to satisfy its need for firewood, hunting, meat and fish. In cooperation with the African Timber Organization (ATO), the World Bank, the Organization for the conservation of fauna in Africa (OCFSA) and the Conference on Eco-systems and humid dense forests of Central Africa (CEFDHAC), the Government of the Republic of Congo has integrated local population in the decision making of forest resources management;
- The Lake Tele Community Reserve: The Lake Tele Community Reserve located in Likouala (Northern of Congo) was established in 1998. It is a vast expanse of swamp forest. Its long process of creation results from a patient consultation of the populations involved in the ecological preservation of the region, while allowing them to take advantage of their natural life. The reserve is important because of its extraordinary biodiversity but also as an economic support to the 10,000 people who inhabit it. As one of two reserves of Central Africa which aims to preserve flooded forests, it is the proud host of other habitat types such as lowland forests on land, and savannas. Lowland gorillas, forest elephants, panthers, buffalos and crocodiles of forests also live in this reserve. In addition, it possesses a very rich diversity of birds (250 species) and a large number of migratory birds make their nests in this area each year. The rivers and lakes harbor a variety of fish;
- A durable use of forests resources;
- The promotion of afforestation and reforestation projects;
- The enhancement of national capacities, notably the forestry administration;
- The enhancement of the sub-regional, regional and international cooperation.
- The Central African Forestry Commission (COMIFAC): The COMIFAC is the primary body of authority that supervises regional decision making on the conservation of the Congo Basin. It is made up of forestry ministers of participating Central African countries (Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Chad, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Central African Republic) which are under the head of a Secretariat. COMIFAC have so far hosted two important Congo Basin conservation forums and summit. In 2009, it hosted its 10th anniversary with a Heads of State summit of the 6 Congo Basin countries.
- Congo Basin Partnership ( CBFP): The CBFP constitutes a network made of up of 175 individuals, donor governments, international organizations, COMIFAC members ( Chad, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Gabon and the Republic of Congo), international NGOs and regional and national institutions with the primary objective of improving the management and protection of the Congo Basin. In 2004, it received aid under the 2004 Congo Basin Forest Partnership Act passed by the US Congress. The current partnership is also financially supported by the USAID program and the Central African Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE). CARPE injects approximately $17 million per year into the project. It is the United States’ largest conservation project in Africa.
- Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF): Launched by the British and Norwegian Governments in order to combat climate change in developing countries, the fund disburses $150 millions to provide highly sophisticated technology, such as satellite camera monitoring of deforestation to track threats and improvements of the Congo Basin. The fund also finances community based conservation projects, an effort to engage community led development efforts in the Republic of Congo.
- Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation ( REDD): The REDD is a mechanism adopted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCC) in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009,whose goal is to combat deforestation worldwide. If implemented in the short term and long term, it will deliver millions of dollars to impoverished communities in Congo in carbon credits, educational campaigns to mobilize awareness to fight global climate change, and disaster risk funds to mitigate the devastating consequences of climate change.
- Summit of the 3 Rainforest Basins: From May 29th to June 03rd, 2011, His Excellency Denis SASSOU N'GUESSO, President of the Republic of Congo hosted the Congo Basin, Amazon Basin, and the Mekong summit, a highly praised initiative by the international community to foster environmental protection and combat global climate change in Africa in these vital areas.
- United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Also known as Rio +20): As the spokesperson of the African Continent at the Rio + 20 Earth Summit that took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from June 20th to June 22nd, 2012, President Denis SASSOU N'GUESSO in union with his African counterparts called for a renewed political commitment to sustainable development through the preservation of the environment. The establishment of a green economy within the context of sustainable development that will help create jobs and thus reduce poverty was highly accentuated by the African member states at this earth summit.