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WWF’s REDD project in Mai Ndombe, Democratic Republic of Congo: No consultation, no transparency, and communities paid less than DRC’s minimum wage

By Chris Lang - REDD Monitor, November 1, 2017

WWF’s largest REDD project in Africa is in Mai Ndombe province, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to WWF, the results so far are “very encouraging”. On its website, WWF states that, “The participatory approach through local development committees has proven to be a success with effective achievements.”

But a recent report by the Congolese NGO, Ligue Congolaise de Lutte Contre la Corruption (LICOCO), challenges these claims. LICOCO’s report is based on an independent observation mission to the territory of Mushie in Mai Ndombe.

The report looks into whether WWF is implementing the governance tools developed by DRC’s National REDD+ Commission.

WWF was hired by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation of Nature and Sustainable Development to run the REDD project in four territories: Bolobo, Kwamouth, Mushie, and Yumbi. The project is part of a Forest Investment Program project titled Improved Forested Landscape Management Project (PGAPF), which has US$37.7 million funding from the World Bank.

LICOCO’s mission

LICOCO spoke to local communities via 70 local development committees (comité local de développement, CLDs), and the Administrator of the Territory of Mushie.

WWF representatives in Mushie, however, did not answer LICOCO’s questions, saying that WWF Kinshasa “had not given them permission to meet LICOCO’s mission”.

Before the PIREDD project started, an NGO called Cercle pour la defense de l’environnement (CEDEN) carried out capacity building on REDD in Mushie. Another NGO, AMARE, worked on the structuring of the local development committees, and rural agriculture and management committees (comités d’agriculture rurale et de gestion – CARG). A total of 70 CLDs and 70 CARGs have been set up in the territory of Mushie.

LICOCO comments that all the work carried out by NGOs should be assessed to determine the level of ownership by local communities.

LICOCO writes that, “Everyone we met said that they were disappointed that the promises made to local communities were not respected by WWF.”

And LICOCO’s findings are critical of WWF:

  • WWF did not respect the principles of free, prior and informed consent.
  • WWF consider the CLDs and the CARGs to be the beneficiaries of the project, meaning that rights holders and landowners are not recognised in the project. LICOCO is concerned that the CLDs do not represent the local communities of Mushie.
  • WWF’s project leader in Mushie did not consult the land chiefs to negotiate sites for tree nurseries, or for acacia and orange tree-planting activities.
  • WWF does not involve members of the Territorial Administration in the project. The Administrator of the Territory of Mushie told LICOCO that he does not know how funds are allocated to the REDD project.
  • Planned construction projects have not yet started, including the rehabilitation and repair of local officials’ offices, and the construction of bridges to facilitate transporting agricultural products.
  • Local communities were concerned that WWF allocated more funds to operating costs (such as renting office space, renting hotels, staff travel) than financing the infrastructure planned under the project.

Lack of transparency

LICOCO observed a lack of transparency on the allocation and use of funds earmarked for activities that had already started. There was also a lack of accurate information on project implementation. For example, LICOCO writes, the local development committees are not aware of the project logical framework, or the costs of carrying out the various activities.

One member of the local development committee in Mpoko village told LICOCO that he does not know the exact amount allocated for carried out activities in Mpoko. he said,

“There is no document showing the planning of the activities. We are not involved in the design of the project, and even less in its realisation.”

No consultation, let alone free, prior, and informed consent

Several local development committee members told LICOCO that they had never taken part in any activity related to REDD education in Mushie. LICOCO writes that WWF has never organised outreach or community education activities on REDD.

A member of the Rural Agriculture and Management Committee in Duama village told Licoco that they had not been consulted either during the design or the implementation of the project. He had not given his consent to the project carried out by WWF in his territory.

WWF has printed leaflets in French explaining the project. But the leaflets are not distributed. WWF does not organise awareness-raising activities. The vast majority of people living in Mushie are illiterate.

Similarly, WWF has produced a complaint management form in French, but the form is not distributed to local development committees for distribution to local communities. The forms are kept at the WWF office in Mushie. The village of Mbale is more than 200 kilometres from WWF’s office in Mushie.

Any complaints that are made are forwarded to the WWF office in Kinshasa. The Forest Investment Program makes the final decision about complaints made by local communities.

Several village chiefs told LICOCO that they have been waiting more than five months for WWF’s response to their complaints.

Payments in violation of DRC’s minimum wage law

On its website, WWF explains how it pays local communities – presumably referring to payments to the local development committees. First, communities receive 10 cents per acacia seedling produced. The community then prepares the land and plants the seedlings. WWF explains that three months later, “they receive their first payment for the establishment of the plantation (US$75 per ha)”. Six months on, the community gets another payment of US$50 per hectare, “if the seedlings have been properly maintained”. Then nothing for 18 months. Then communities receive a third payment of US$25 per hectare “if the area is thriving”.

LICOCO’s report notes that this is breach of several of the the governance tools developed by DRC’s National REDD+ Commission, and comments,

Local communities are workers who are totally ignored by WWF and paid in violation of the guaranteed minimum wage law.

At the start of the project, WWF promised tractors to help communities preparing the land for tree plantations. When LICOCO visited Mushie, no tractors had arrived. So far, communities has established plantations by hand.

The villagers in Mbali have planted 65 hectares of land. But when the payment after three months was due, WWF said that more work was needed. Communities had to work, without payment until five to seven months after the trees were planted.

One villager In Mbali told LICOCO that since WWF’s REDD project started, his income is less than 10% what he used to earn from cattle farming, down from US$480 to US$45 per month.

LICOCO writes that one villager told them that WWF’s project “is being carried out to further impoverish them instead of bringing development”. He said, “We plan to put an end to this project in our village.”

LICOCO wrote to WWF asking for information about the PIREDD project, and asking for a response to the report. In both cases, Hicham Daoudi (pictured right), the Project Manager for the PIREDD project at WWF, replied. But he did not answer any of LICOCO’s questions. Instead he asked LICOCO to contact the Forest Investment Program.

In its report, LICOCO points out that WWF is the project manager, and as such has the responsibility to publish all the information related to the project. The information should be available in Mushie, and in a language understood by local communities. When the report was published, LICOCO had received no comments from WWF about the report.

Among LICOCO’s recommendations is that the project should be taken away from WWF.

PHOTO Credit: Julie Pudlowski / WWF

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