To tackle climate change and conflict, DRC communities take ownership of reforestation

June 14, 2023
The TCMR-supported nursery in Kalemie. Credit: Franck Kaseya/Pact

To build lasting peace among communities that have long suffered from violent conflict, those communities must be deeply engaged in solutions.

This is the approach that Pact and our partners take in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where we are working to foster peace between the Twa and Bantu communities through the USAID-funded Tanganyika Conflict Mitigation and Reconciliation (TCMR) project.

"Engaged communities are always important in development, but when it comes to conflict-sensitive communities, it is essential," says Pact’s Rehani Jumane, project manager for TCMR. 

In listening to communities and examining the drivers of conflict between the Twa and Bantu, it was clear that climate change and its impact on local livelihoods and food security were a significant factor. As a result, TCMR includes several activities that are building resilience to environmental shocks through community-based natural resource management, including watershed management and forest restoration.

DRC is a country of enormous natural resources, with a vast forest estate covering 22.5 million hectares. But these forests are endangered because of environmentally destructive practices. Tanganyika’s Kalemie territory is a case in point: Certain forest plant species with important uses and virtues that have existed for ages are now almost impossible to find.

The TCMR-supported nursery in Kalemie. Credit: Franck Kaseya/Pact

To undertake reforestation, TCMR launched a collaboration with a key local partner, the University of Kalemie, to build a botanical nursery with the capacity to hold 100,000 seedlings.

The university began by leading a Pact-supported survey in 20-plus villages of Kalemie to identify native and non-native plant species and their uses, the causes of their deterioration and any community strategies for maintaining biodiversity.

"It was critical to understand the needs and choices of the community," says Pact’s Jacques Mukinzi, a natural resource management specialist.

TCMR and the university engaged local leaders, who eagerly joined the effort.

"I am aware of the negative consequences of climate change," says the chief of Kalemie’s Kamangu village." I'm committed to supporting this project to enable us to change things, so that our forests can again become what they once were."

The TCMR-supported nursery in Kalemie. Credit: Franck Kaseya/Pact

A total of 26 tree species have been planted in the nursery with the help of the local community, including trees valued for food, timber, medicinal and cultural uses, and as fertilizing plants in agroforestry. Community members who run the nursery have attended capacity-building sessions on nursery management and reforestations issues, and they receive steady pay, helping to stabilize life for their families.

Among them is Evariste Maloba. "This project gives us a living and knowledge that is beneficial for us and for future generations," he says. "Thanks to the nursery, our forests will continue to be dressed in their old-fashioned splendor."

The nursery’s seedlings are already supplying the forests of targeted villages, church concessions, schools and even some private claimants' concessions across Kalemie territory. In all, at least 50 hectares will initially be covered. As seedlings have grown, community members have gained valuable knowledge on the benefits of trees and reforestation through awareness-raising sessions.

"We have received the plants we need, in particular the plant known locally as kilapo," says Selemani Byalubi, village chief in Mtoa. "The benefits of this tree were called upon every time a forbidden act was committed in the village, and if the perpetrator didn't come forward, we would take all suspects under this tree, and thanks to the virtues of the kilapo, we could identify the perpetrator."

A nursery as a place of learning  

The nursery has become a place of attraction for visitors, who enjoy making discoveries about native plants and their uses. University of Kalemie students spend internships at the nursery improving growing practices.

"Plants that used to germinate after six months are now able to germinate after three months, thanks to pre-sprouting practices and the support of staff from Pact," says Grace Baguma, an agronomy student. He is one of the students who have visited the nursery for research and experimentation. Every month, some 400 students visit the nursery.

TCMR has also partnered with communities in Tanganyika Province to establish natural resource management committees to curb forest destruction, and additional nurseries are being built to produce even more seedlings to be sown by Twa and Bantu community members under the committees’ supervision.

"We partner with local communities, the provincial government and territorial authorities so that they can develop the skills they need to responsibly manage and benefit from the natural resources around them," Mukinzi says.

"Our reforestation work has been driven by the community at every stage."