Restoring and Conserving the Congo Basin with sustainable agriculture

The Congo Basin is the second largest intact tropical forest in the world, and, like many other crucial landscapes, its very existence is under threat. A growing population, deforestation, inconsistent governance and the effects of climate change have made it one of the most vulnerable places on earth. Yet, there is hope for the Basin, and there are workable solutions to turn this trend around, save the forest and provide jobs for local communities. Teams from the WWF are heavily engaged in this area to help prevent the loss of this essential landscape, with a particular focus on deforestation and poaching prevention. The WWF Landscape Finance Lab (the Lab) is working with partners to augment the teams’ work and, among other projects, help shore up local economies by strengthening cocoa farming and building it into a more sustainable livelihood option.

Within the Basin and spanning over Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Gabon are protected forests, known as TRIDOM, after the Dja, Odzala and Minkebe areas. Because of the density of the TRIDOM landscape, it has become a hotspot for large-scale mining, poaching, bushmeat trade and forest conversion for commodity crops.

Taken together, these factors and trends mean the Congo Basin will continue to suffer from habitat loss and deforestation without impactful interventions. Fortunately, a growing number of local actors, governments and NGOs are prioritising the Congo Basin for conservation efforts. An international consortium led by governments from all over the world and supported by the World Bank and UN agencies has formed the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP), which is committed to long-term forest conservation and forest management.

Strategies for conservation and a need for innovative financing solutions

WWF, also a partner to the CBFP, has been working in the area since 1993 and was instrumental in forming the three national parks that make up TRIDOM. Its shared vision has been to encourage the sustainable use of natural resources for the benefit of local people and to help “wildlife and ecosystems flourish in a connected network of protected areas.” To do this, WWF and international and local stakeholders are supporting five interconnected strategies.

All told, WWF’s efforts in TRIDOM represent some of the most comprehensive and robust conservation and deforestation mitigation efforts in the Congo Basin. To help strengthen the work, the Lab has partnered with local WWF teams to mobilise finance for sustainably managing the TRIDOM landscape, with an emphasis on conservation, ecosystem restoration and sustainable production. Ultimately, the Lab seeks to support the development of a network of protected areas and to strengthen local communities through the sustainable use of natural resources and provide incentives for them to participate in conservation.

“What we are trying to do in the Congo Basin, through innovative financing approaches, is help enable the teams on the ground support local stakeholders in their efforts to effectively manage forests, halt deforestation, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Marianne Smallwood, the Lab’s Landscapes Lead.

In 2019, the Lab formed a TRIDOM Landscape Finance Team to design and provide funding access for bankable projects in the area. By 2021, the team will have at least one finance project either ready for or under implementation in each of the three countries that TRIDOM represents.

Sustainable agriculture solutions

WWF-Cameroon, IDH — The Sustainable Trade Initiative and the Lab have joined forces to design the Green Commodity Landscape Program (GCLP) to promote sustainable cocoa production, forest protection and social inclusion in the cocoa supply chain in Cameroon. The overall goal of the initiative is to increase sustainable cocoa productivity while contributing to forest protection and improving farmer and community livelihoods.

This programme is unique in its approach in that it focuses on productive activities to incentivize conservation and prevent deforestation. By working with companies sourcing from the landscape, and engaging with farmers and local communities, the programme helps ensure long-lasting commitment to saving forests in the Cameroon area of the TRIDOM complex.

Cameroon in particular is a major grower of cocoa, the fifth largest producer of the commodity in the world. Cocoa is traditionally practiced in agro-forestry in Cameroon, but the Government’s objective to double cocoa production as well as increased migration due to the current crisis in the South West of the country puts the remaining forests under further pressure. . WWF, IDH and local stakeholders are determined to reverse this trend, seeking to steer the industry into sustainable modes of production, and to create additional job opportunities in the landscape, while contributing to forest protection.

So far, the GCLP has carried out an in-depth study guided by three pillars: production, protection, and inclusion. It helped identify pathways for producing more cocoa on less land, enhancing communities’ livelihoods, and incentivizing forest protection. The program will be further shaped and refined by landscape-level coalitions bringing together representatives from local authorities, farmer organizations, civil society and companies, to ensure inclusiveness of the plans.

“Our work in TRIDOM is one of our flagship programmes,” said Paul Chatterton, founder of the Lab. “This area is one of the most important places in Africa for wildlife, yet we also recognize and appreciate its enormous value to local economies, so our solution is able to pair the protection of the forest with maintaining or even generating economic activity in the area through our landscape approach.”

A long term commitment

In addition to the GCLP work, the Lab also supports other crucial programmes in order to help mobilise finance. For example, the Government of Cameroon is implementing a REDD+ readiness strategy, and the WWF is placed to develop emissions reductions strategies, monitoring and evaluation techniques, information systems on environmental and social safeguards and other tools. The Lab has also contributed to developing the National Investment Framework of the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI).

“The Lab’s role is partly behind the scenes to influence the direction of programmes and the funding mechanisms behind them,” added Smallwood. “But as we move forward and tap new sources of financing, we will be able kickstart a number of projects that help conserve and restore the TRIDOM landscape.”

Cameroon, Congo, Gabon

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