TRIDOM: Tri-National Dja-Odzala-Minkébé
Eleven protected areas extend over 42,319 km² or 24% of the landscape and contain some of the most pristine natural sites remaining in the Congo Basin: Odzala, Mwagna, Ivindo, Minkébé, Nki-Messok Dja complex, Ntokou Pikounda, Boumba Bek.
TRIDOM is a large mammal stronghold: it may hold a (declining) population of 25,000 elephants, as well as large numbers of gorillas and chimpanzees (more than 40,000). The landscape has a very low human population density: close to 1 inhabitant/km². Together with a low road density, this explains why TRIDOM is so important for large and medium-sized mammals.
Almost 97% of TRIDOM is forested, and the area has a very low deforestation rate (estimated at 0.19% per decade over the period 1990-2010). Close to 65% of the landscape is covered by logging concessions. TRIDOM is also home to an indigenous BaAka population of around 10,000 people.
TRIDOM is rich in baïs (forest clearings) that are visited by elephants, gorillas, buffaloes, giant forest hogs, sitatunga, pythons and other large animals. Many baïs have a rich mineral soil.
TRIDOM is covered by a 2004 agreement, by which the three governments commit to a coordinated approach and sustainable development of the interzone in between protected areas. It is also one of the 12 COMIFAC-recognized priority transboundary conservation programmes in the Congo Basin. TRIDOM is also proposed as a “Man and Biosphere” Reserve (UNESCO-led feasibility study on-going). In 2014, the three governments also signed an anti-poaching collaboration agreement which provides the procedures that bi- or tri-national joint patrols must follow. It creates a new structure (the TRIDOM brigade) and allows bi-national patrols to enter up to 20 km into a country’s territory.
WWF in TRIDOMWWF started working in TRIDOM in 1993 and had field bases in all three countries. WWF has been contributing to the creation and management of three national parks, developing the landscape approach, supporting anti-poaching capacity and application of wildlife law, developing community management systems, stakeholder platforms and private sector collaboration, monitoring wildlife and human impact, and supporting sustainable rural livelihoods. TRIDOM is also one of WWF's priority landscapes in the Congo Basin.
In TRIDOM, wildlife and ecosystems flourish in a connected network of protected areas, logging and mining concessions, enabling development of local communities via sustainable use of natural resources, and incentives for participating in conservation.
WWF's work in TRIDOM is structured around 5 inter-connected strategies:
- Combating Wildlife Crime: Curtail the ongoing poaching crisis by improving the effectiveness of patrols, full prosecution of wildlife criminals, systematic species monitoring, widespread communication and local society engagement.
- Protected areas: Ensure effective conservation in focal Protected Areas, and drive the creation of 6,000 km² of new Protected Areas.
- Community development: Promote sustainable development to help local communities benefit from conservation and sustainable management of natural resources, and dissuade them from poaching and commercial bushmeat hunting.
- Sustainable Forest Management: Push to ensure that logging concessions covering 30,000 km² provide effective protection for (managed) natural forests and wildlife.
- Responsible Mining and Infrastructure Development: Steer mining and infrastructure projects to apply a “no-net loss or net gain of biodiversity” policy, and minimize the biodiversity impact of the Chollet Dam project.
Our work has been made possible through the generous support of our donors: EU, USAID, USFWS, UNESCO/CAWHFI, GEF/UNDP, Save the Elephants, Adelle Foundation, FFEM.
Messok Dja and ongoing FPIC efforts
In 2017, WWF began a “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” (FPIC) process with affected or potentially affected communities. This involved the participation of both indigenous and Bantu communities living in the vicinity of the proposed area, to ensure their voices are represented, now and in future forest governance.
As part of these efforts, WWF commissioned two expert independent bodies to assess, support and lead consultation efforts (FPIC) underway and based on their reports submitted in 2019*, we are currently working with stakeholders to identify the various options for conserving the forest while benefiting local communities.
Concretely, the outcomes of these reports were presented to all stakeholders in Messok Dja at a workshop in Ouesso, Northern Congo in November 2019. Led by the NGO consortium of Brainforest, Comptoir Juridique Junior and Cercle des Populations Autochtones de la Sangha, accompanied by a fourth NGO (FGDH) acting as an independent observer, the workshop brought together representatives of 35 of the 37 concerned communities around Messok Dja, the two impacted logging companies, the government (delegation of Indigenous Peoples, delegation of Protected Areas, delegation of Forest Economy), CSOs and WWF to identify a way forward. Following two days of in-depth discussions, the participants agreed on the following recommendations:
- Expedite the consultation meeting between the Forestry Administration and the logging companies (SEFYD and SIFCO) with a view to redefining the new boundaries of the FMUs as well as with the Ministry in charge of Mining;
- Continue the Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process, in accordance with the regulations in force in the Republic of Congo and in accordance with the international legal texts duly ratified by the Republic of Congo;
- Update and transmit for validation to the Forest Administration the various reports of background studies (ecological, socio-economic, cartographic, vegetation and wildlife inventories);
- Define the type of protected area before the meeting of the classification commission;
- Take into account the grievances of local and indigenous communities before starting the classification process;
- Activate the classification procedure in accordance with the regulations in force in the Republic of Congo;
- Plan the meeting of the commission of the project for the classification of the Protected Area of the Messok-Dja Forest Massif by countersigning the related act.
Following these recommendations, WWF believes that the communities living in and around Messok Dja are inclined to continue the dialogue on the future of these invaluable forests and we look forward to supporting this process; helping to adapt efforts as necessary and to share the learnings from the effort.
The culmination of these efforts could be a final act or decree awarding a stronger protection status for one of the Congo Basin’s most biodiverse sites that underpins the health and well-being of its ecosystems, wildlife and communities. But the communities can also propose a different future for this forest. The way the process evolves cannot be foreseen and can take a long time - the government of the Republic of Congo first started considering a different protection status for Messok Dja in 2011. As WWF, we remain committed to working with all stakeholders to identify the best way forward to protect these lands and the people and species that depend on it. Read more about the efforts in Messok Dja here.
In December 2019, we supported the organization of the first workshop of the newly established Messok Dja natural resources governance platform with 21 representatives (including 7 indigenous peoples and 7 women) from local communities, two representatives from the private sector, seven representatives from civil society and three representatives from local authorities attending.
Three thematic committees have subsequently been set up:
1) a committee for monitoring the implementation of commitments resulting from the FPIC process,
2) a complaints management committee composed of community representatives, local authorities and civil society to manage the handling of the complaints and
3) a think tank committee to address issues arising related to Human-Elephant Conflict and local development.
In 2019, the government of the Republic of Congo updated the country’s legal provisions on obtaining Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from Indigenous Peoples to establish bottom-up participation and consultation of communities in advance of development on or changes in customary land and resources rights within an indigenous population's territory.
WWF, along with many other organizations, has long advocated with the Republic of Congo to strengthen its legal provisions on FPIC and congratulates the Republic of Congo for taking those steps in 2019. With the strengthened provisions now in place, WWF is discussing with the Republic of Congo government and other partners how to support the lead for FPIC work by the Republic of Congo's Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and the Promotion of Indigenous People and Ministry of Forestry Economy to assume the responsibility for advancing and strengthening ongoing work. As we continue our collaboration with our partners and stakeholders on a number of other work streams in the region, we will continue to support and advocate for FPIC, and look forward to contributing to these efforts as part of the FPIC Consultation Committee the government will establish.
(*Read the reports of the consortium of local NGOs (Comptoir Juridique Junior and Cercle des Populations Autochtones de la Sangha from the Republic of Congo and Brainforest from Gabon) and the Forest Peoples Programme along with the proposed WWF management response plan dated September 2019.)