The Ituri Forest landscape, located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is one of Central Africa’s most biologically diverse regions and is particularly rich in bird species and mammals. The forest supports the largest remaining population of the Congo’s endemic rainforest giraffe and okapi, as well as large populations of elephants, owl-faced monkeys, weavers, a great variety of insects, 17 species of primates, 2 species of forest pigs, 10 species of forest antelope, and the forest buffalo. More than 300 species of birds and 500 species of butterflies have been identified in the landscape, which covers more than 24,000 square miles in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo. Agriculture and natural resources make up the largest share of the economy of the DRC (the country alone accounts for 34% of the carbon stock in Africa) and these sectors place significant pressures on the local ecosystem.
High biodiversity threats
Several surveys revealed that the main threats to the okapi and other wildlife in this region are slash and burn agriculture, commercial hunting for bush meat markets, gold mining and poor land use planning. The Ituri Forest landscape is adjacent to some of the most densely populated and conflict-prone regions of Central Africa. More than an estimated 300,000 people already occupy the landscape and its immediate periphery and the demographic and economic frontier is rapidly encroaching from the east and south.
Despite the importance of the agricultural and natural resource sectors, public investment in agriculture in all African countries is low. The development of agriculture must be fostered in such a way that will yield improvement in the livelihoods of the smallholder farmers and other stakeholders in the sector. It is clear that if the country were to pull itself out of poverty using its own resources, the forestry sector would also have to be strengthened substantially. Against this background, the challenge remains of how existing agro forestry systems can be intensified and improved for local farmers while protecting the unique biodiversity of the Ituri Forest landscape.
What measures already exist?
Some existing measures already seek to provide tools for allocating and managing land to achieve social, economic, and environmental objectives in the Ituri Forest landscape. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Pact, Conservation International (CI), Gillman International Conservation (GIC) and Congolese government have made great strides in capacity-building within the landscape.
There is room, however, for work on participatory land-use planning and food security, as the two are often interconnected. A spatially explicit approach to defining and assessing land-use options can contribute to promoting synergy to assure the long-term resilience of productive systems and food security. Highlights of the Ituri Landscape experience may include the necessity of stabilizing farming areas and the importance of participatory land-use. This can be achieved by creating platforms for dialogue between stakeholders, including those in the private sector.
For the most part, the current management and use of resources in the Congo are happening in a context of peace, however much more focus is put on the fact that the extraction of natural resources in the northeastern Congo creates conflict and strife. To assume a successful management approach, the project in the Ituri landscape is a collaborative effort to help conservation organizations, development actors and the government understand that it should be in the mutual interest and objective of everyone to find solutions to maintain the integrity of the biodiversity of the landscape, while also at the same time striving for peace and the “development of man.”
Taking a landscape approach
Adopting a landscape approach would have a range of impacts, such as preserving forests, increasing the number of useful trees in the landscape, improving agricultural production and food security, restoring degraded land and halting further land degradation and desertification, conserving biodiversity, contributing to poverty eradication, mitigating the effects of climate change and promoting a greener economy. The mix of these outcomes would vary according to context and local needs as well as the aspirations of stakeholders within the Ituri Forest landscape. The landscape approach embraces various landscape functions and seeks to manage land at a range of scales necessary to ensure sustainable development.
How can agroforestry at large, and specifically for the Democratic Republic of Congo, be adapted for areas that are rich in natural resources yet also facing strong environmental, social and economic pressures? Adopting a landscape approach is certainly a good place to start.Jacques Famili Sumbu is an agronomist with specialization in leadership and organization management. He works with Samaritan’s Purse International Relief in eastern DRC as Supervisor of Agriculture and Livestock, as well as with the Gender and Development Network. Featured photo by the author.