CoNGOs: NGOs collaborating for equitable and sustainable community livelihoods in Congo Basin forests

CoNGOs is an IIED-led UK consortium that aims to achieve improved governance and practice in equitable and sustainable community forestry livelihoods in the Congo Basin.

April 2016 - September 2019
Locally-controlled forestry
How IIED supports just transitions towards locally-controlled forestry that safeguard biocultural heritage, enhance entrepreneurship and improve prosperity within diverse and resilient landscapes
A woman carries firewood in the rainforest

Millions of people live in the Congo Basin rainforest and rely on the forest for natural resources (Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR, Creative Commons via Flickr)

Countries in the Congo Basin are at a crossroads in managing their lands and forests. Governments in the region have the ambition to transform their countries to 'emerging economy' status within the next two decades, and national strategies aiming for economic growth focus on the exploitation of natural resources including forests, and the rapid development of agribusiness and energy infrastructures, often at large scale.

But the huge number of small-scale producers, working on farms and in the forest, whose economic aspirations might unleash much more equitable and sustainable growth, are not adequately supported.

Community forestry has been one avenue through which stakeholders in the Congo Basin have sought to support participatory sustainable resource management and development. However, 'community forestry' is also a contested idea.

There is an urgent need, not only to clarify, recognise and secure customary rights of forest-dependent communities, but to ensure that policies and laws as well as services aiming at supporting implementation offer real opportunity for those communities to participate in, and contribute to, sustainable economic progress in line with their own development visions.

What did IIED do?

This project worked directly with a range of key stakeholders in forest dependent communities, such as forest and farm producers, indigenous peoples, and women's groups, to help build the foundations for a more inclusive and equal forest and land use sector in the Congo Basin.

The project was designed to contribute to achieving the anticipated impact of the Department for International Development's (DFID) Improving Livelihoods and Land Use in the Congo Basin Forests (ILLUCBF) programme to support the development of sustainable and secure community livelihoods in the Congo Basin.

Over a period of more than three years this initiative pursued country-specific actions and regional learning exchanges to achieve the following outputs.

  1. Improved evidence on viable options for community forestry, including strengthening of rights, generated and verified by relevant stakeholders in the Congo Basin countries
  2. Stronger capacity of community organisations to pursue resource rights security and commercial forest and farm production options, and articulate policy changes in national forest governance and land use planning processes, and
  3. More effective policy engagement and implementation in support of sustainable and profitable community forestry through the collaboration of rights-holders, civil society organisations and national institutions in subnational, national, regional and international policy processes.

Learning exchange

Approaches and opportunities for supporting community forestry enterprises (18-20 July 2017, Kribi, Cameroon)

The first annual CoNGOs learning event focused on approaches and opportunities for supporting community forest enterprises. It was attended by CoNGOs consortium UK and in-country partners, members of the Forest Connect network from Africa, Asia and Latin America, and representatives from the Cameroon Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife.

A field visit was carried out to a community mangrove business run by a women’s fish-smoking group. Members of the Forest Connect network presented examples of best practice from existing knowledge networks, and participants heard about the business incubation techniques currently being used to develop community forest-enterprise opportunities in Cameroon.

Two blogs from the event, by IIED’s Duncan Macqueen and by Cameroonian  partner Centre for Environment and Development (CED), highlighted the learning exchanges, and the event was also covered by local news channel Canal 2. Its report can be watched on IIED's YouTube channel or below.

Community forest livelihoods in the Congo Basin: stepping up action (6-8 February 2019, Yaoundé, Cameroon)

A total of 55 practitioners, policymakers and donors from eight countries met for three days to exchange their experiences of working at the frontier of influencing and advancing community forestry in the region.

The purpose of the event was to exchange lessons from the CoNGOs project but also other initiatives in the region with a particular focus on the DRC experience. A field trip to a community forest was included in the programme.

One of the key outcomes of the meeting was the development of a joint statement for collaboration on community forestry priorities in the region. The Yaoundé Declaration, signed by 18 organisations and individuals, is a call for action and support to build on the achievements made to date to ensure the forests of Africa are sustained into the future.


An independent evaluation was carried out to assess the performance and achievements of the project. Its main findings indicated that the project was:

  • Relevant: given that community forestry still has a low profile in the region, with low levels of knowledge and capacity to harness its full potential, the project was found to be timely and appropriate. It targeted all key stakeholders who can play a role in enhancing community forestry, supported by a flexible and bottom-up approach and application of tools to ensure good co-ordination between partners.
  • Effective: the project supported communities to secure, or initiate the process of securing, some 90,000 hectares of forest land. At a political level, the project gathered and stimulated strong collaboration between NGOs across the region, strongly influenced legal reform processes and contributed to the elaboration of the Brazzaville Roadmap (PDF) on community forestry.
  • Sustainable: the project gathered a strong body of evidence on diverse topics relating to community forestry; provided training and application of market analysis and development to strengthen community enterprise and forestry entrepreneurship, and established a small grant scheme for community co-operatives.

In summary, the independent evaluation found that the project laid the framework for lesson learning and scaling up of community forestry in the Congo Basin.

IIED’s management response to the independent evaluation outlines how IIED will use the comprehensive recommendations to guide future work to strengthen organisations of forest producers to improve livelihoods and protect forests.

Additional resources

Video: Documentaire projet CoNGOs, Tropenbos DRC in collaboration with Media Pour le Paix (2019)

Video: Defending our lands by claiming our rights, Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), (2019)

Video: Terre sans titre – les Bagyeli d’Océan, FPP (2019)

Allocation of community forests in the Central African Republic: lessons learnt from the pilot experiences and recommendations for political and legal reforms (PDF), Rainforest Foundation UK (2019), Project report

Cameroon FPIC training materials: ‘Communities in Control’, FPP (2019) (in French)

Blog: Cameroon: the Bagyeli women strongly opposing Biopalm, by Madeleine Ngeunga, FPP (14 May 2019)

Blog: What the Congo Basin can learn from Filipino community forestry laws, by Tanja Venisnik (21 February 2019)

Blog: Foresterie communautaire dans le Bassin du Congo: un besoin d’être soutenu par la législation, CED (15 February 2019)

Press release: Protecting needs of forest-dependent people is key to saving Congo Basin forests, IIED (8 February 2019) | en français

Press release: Empowering communities in forestry laws key to stopping global deforestation, ClientEarth (7 February 2019)

Interview: Communities can help forests thrive: interview with Nathalie Faure, ClientEarth (6 February 2019)

Bringing community forestry to the next level: a review of European support in the Congo Basin, Emeric Billard (2019), Fern report | en français

Community forestry: opportunity or mirage for women in the Congo Basin?, Eulalie Guillaume (2019), Fern report  | en français 

Blog: Voice of the communities: why we need community forests in the Central African Republic, Rainforest Foundation (UK) (2019) 

Blog: Forest loss affects women and children disproportionately, by Marie Ange Kalenga, Fern (2019) | en français 

Report: Making community forests work for local and indigenous communities in the Central African Republic: anthropological perspectives on strategies for intervention (PDF), Robert Moise with Marjolaine Pichon, Rainforest Foundation (UK) (2019) 

News: Historic first in the Central African Republic as communities gain rights over their local forests, Rainforest Foundation (UK) (2019) | en français

Report: Community forestry in Cameroon – an overview of the community perspective, Luc Moutoni (2019), Forest Peoples Programme | en français

Video: Micro-trottoir: a gouvernance forestière et climatique en RCA du point de vue des communautés locales, by CIEDD, GDRNE (2019) (French language only) 

Article: Réflexion sur la place de la femme dans les instances au Cameroun, CED (2019) (French language only) 

Issue paper: Note thématique sur la faisabilité d’une grille de légalité pour les forêts communautaires en République Centrafricaine, by Plateforme GDRNE (2019 (French language only) 

Blog: Learnings on gender from the Congo Basin, by Anouska Perram, Forest Peoples Programme (2019) | en français

Challenges and opportunities in the adoption of community forestry by local communities and indigenous peoples in the Republic of Congo (PDF), Lassana Koné (2019), Forest Peoples Programme report | en français

Atelier de validation de l’étude de faisabilité sur une grille de légalité pour les forêts communautaires en RCA – Bangui, 6 mars 2019, GDRNE Workshop report

Communities at the heart of forest management: How can the law make a difference? Nathalie Faure, Benjamin Ichou, Tanja Venisnik (2019), Client Earth report 

Statement: Cameroon: Declaration by NGOs & Associations on land grabbing by the government & Biopalm Energy Ltd., Forest Peoples Programme (2019) | en français

Rendre la foresterie participative plus efficace en Afrique centrale dans le contexte de l’agenda 2030 - La feuille de route de Brazzaville (PDF), FAO (2018)

Video: Community forests in Cameroon: what have we learnt so far? Fern (2018)

Video: How community forestry can contribute to development and stability, Fern (2018)

Video: Community forests in the Congo Basin: what is the EU’s role? Fern (2018)

Press release: RoC – dialogue between public institutions and IPLCs of Ngombe Carrefour, Ngatongo and Kabo, Forest Peoples Programme (7 November 2018)

Blog: How community forests are thriving in Tanzania, Benjamin Ichou (2 October 2018), ClientEarth

Blog: What can we learn from community forests in Nepal? Nathalie Faure (6 February 2018), ClientEarth

Blog: Améliorer la gouvernance forestière et climatique grâce à la foresterie communautaire, CED (9 January 2018)

Presentation: Le cadre légal relatif à la gestion communautaire des forêts est-il favorable? ClientEarth (2018)

Video: Vidéo de plaidoyer: une boîte à outils, Wagnon, J (2017)

Blog: Helping create a model of community forestry in the Republic of Congo, by Tanja Venisnik, ClientEarth (12 December 2017)

Blog: Les acteurs de la foresterie communautaire partagent leurs expériences, CED (31 July 2017)

News: Securing community forests and improving livelihoods in the Republic of Congo, Lassana Koné, FPP (2 May 2017)


UK consortium partners:

Client Earth


Forest Peoples Programme (FPP)

Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK)

Well Grounded


Association OKANI

Centre for Environment and Development (CED) (French language site)


Central African Republic:

Réseau des Populations Autochtones et Locales pour la gestion durable des écosystèmes forestiers de Centrafrique (REPALCA) 

Centre pour l'Information Environnementale et le Développement Durable (CIEDD)

Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Tropenbos International

Republic of Congo:

Organisation pour le Développement et les Droits Humains au Congo (ODDHC)

Forum pour la Gouvernance et les Droits de l'Homme (FGDH) (French language site)

Comptoir Juridique Junior (CJJ)