Announcement: ICCN and WWF have signed a new partnership agreement for the Salonga National Park
Kinshasa, 19 NOVEMBER 2021 – The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and WWF-DRC are pleased to announce the signing of a new Partnership Agreement for the country’s Salonga National Park. The agreement firmly places human rights at the centre of conservation work to foster inclusive, community-centred conservation.
Extending over 63,500km2, Salonga and its periphery are home to around 900,000 local and Indigenous peoples, with approximately 280,000 inhabitants residing in the immediate periphery of the park. Although the population is mostly comprised of sub-groups of Mongo (Bantu), there are scattered communities of the Batwa indigenous people. Communities throughout the region engage in agriculture, hunting, fishing, gathering of food, non-timber forest products, and medicinal plants for survival – and therefore have a strong dependency on nature.
Known as a bastion of biodiversity, Salonga is a critical habitat for bonobos (an estimated 40% of the remaining world population), forest elephants, Congo peacock, and other threatened species. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 and added to the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger in 1999, largely due to widespread elephant poaching and potential oil drilling, being delisted only as recently as July of this year in an encouraging recognition of efforts made by the DRC and its people.
With people living in the region facing widespread socio-economic hardship, and limited access to services, markets or capital to improve livelihoods, sustainable community-based natural resource management could provide for many local needs. The new Partnership agreement binds ICCN and WWF to ensure the promotion of community development through conservation activities. It explicitly agrees to contract a human rights organization, to work as a partner to embed rights-based approaches, a role that is being taken up by local NGO Jurec (Juristes pour l’Environnement au Congo) known for its work on rights-based approach in the environment sector in DRC.
ICCN and WWF will work to strengthen the 350 CLD (comités locaux de développement – local development committees) that are already being supported and work to intensify sustainable farming as an alternative to slash and burn agriculture, facilitate market access, support extension and setting up of seed banks and nurseries. This builds on efforts being undertaken since 2003, including in partnership with ISCO, OXFAM (since 2017) and others.
To date, communities have been supported to obtain six community forest concessions (over 170 000 ha), over 14,000 farmers have been trained on sustainable agriculture, more than 180 model farms have been established, a coffee processing and trade center inaugurated, about 300 fishermen supported, and various infrastructures built or maintained, including 185km of roads, 78 bridges, health centers and schools, storage facilities for agricultural products, grain mills, oil presses, smoke ovens for fish, and rice huskers.
In 2020, ICCN established a new Human Rights Directorate at the headquarters in Kinshasa. It is agreed that all joint activities with WWF in Salonga National Park will be undertaken on the basis of WWF’s environmental and social safeguards. This includes a ban on involuntary resettlement; establishing a protocol for escalation of incidents; the establishment of an effective monitoring & evaluation mechanism and an effective grievance mechanism.
This is in parallel to ICCN’s responsibility to ensure effective and safe anti-poaching activities which fully uphold and respect human rights. The new agreement foresees that ICCN will allow the work of a specialized law enforcement organization – Chengeta Wildlife – on the training and professionalization of government ecoguards with a focus on human rights and community relations. The landscape grievance mechanism (in the process of being established) will help ensure that any complaint raised, is dealt with the highest standards of objectivity and commitment whilst safeguarding the interest of all stakeholders. A complaint related to WWF projects or activities can also be submitted to the Independent Ombudsperson appointed by WWF for the network globally, a first for the conservation sector.
Our efforts in Salonga hinge on continued collaboration and commitment among all the stakeholders to ensure communities rights and benefits are front and centre of conservation activities – and that any human rights violations are firmly condemned and addressed. This will also be the anchor of the proposed foundation model that stakeholders aim to establish for Salonga National Park and that the new agreement intends to support the transition toward. The proposed Foundation will be in charge of managing the park on behalf of ICCN and other partners will contribute to matters of their expertise.
With a recent biomonitoring assessment confirming relatively stable populations of elephants and bonobos -1,600 forest elephants and 15,000 bonobos – it is critical to ensure conservation also delivers positive impact for the people in Salonga who have been its traditional stewards and depend on its biodiversity the most. We are looking forward to continuing our work with partners and communities in Salonga and engaging constructively with them to promote rights-based conservation in Africa’s largest forest national park.
*The new ICCN-WWF Partnership Agreement seeks to address the commitments made by WWF under the Management Response to the Independent Review which was a priority for both parties. It is centred on the following key pillars:
- Joint commitment of the parties to operationalise a partnership with a Human Rights Organization to work with ICCN, WWF and other partners to embed rights-based approaches.
- Promotion of Community Development.
- Effective and Safe Support to Anti-poaching Activities which Fully Respects Human Rights.
- Partnership with a law enforcement advisor to professionalize anti-poaching activities.
- Activities undertaken on the basis of WWF Environmental and Social Safeguards Framework (ESSF).
- No Involuntary Resettlement.
- Establishment of Participatory Governance Structures.
- Establishment of a Protocol for Escalation of Incidents.
- Establishment of an Effective Monitoring & Evaluation Mechanism.
- Establishment of an Effective Grievance Mechanism.
A synopsis of the agreement is available here.
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