13th Regional Dialogue on Forests, Governance and Climate Change: Harmonizing Tenure and Resource Policies in Central and West Africa’s changing landscapes
The 13th Regional Dialogue on Forests, Governance and Climate Change was held from 5 to 7 March 2013 at the Yaounde Conference Centre. The meeting, held under the distinguished patronage of the Minister of Forests and Wildlife was jointly organized by the Rights and Resources Initiative, the Central African Forests Commission (COMIFAC), the Cameroon Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF), and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It attracted close to 150 participants from a number of countries in Africa (Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda), Europe (France and Great Britain), from the United States of America. Representatives of governments, traditional chiefs, civil society and research institutes gathered around the theme Harmonizing Tenure and Resource Policies in Central and West Africa’s changing landscapes
Over three (03) days of intense work through plenary sessions, discussion panels and breakout groups, the following topics were featured on the agenda:
♦ Taking stock of progress in implementing the Central and West African countries’ commitments made during the conference held in Yaounde in 2009 to initiate or accelerate legal reform by 2015 to enable « legal recognition of communities as owners of forest lands ». (See text box 1)
♦ Assessing the threats posed by large scale land acquisitions, extractive industries and infrastructure in the region, by linking them to their assumed economic contributions,
♦ Evaluating strides made in relation to REDD+ in the two sub regions and their implications for the forest economy,
♦ Considering specific guidelines on-going reforms of land and forest tenure regimes in Cameroon and other Central and West African countries.
♦ Identifying proposals of the next steps on the way forward in Cameroon and the Central and West African region.
Following fruitful exchanges between participants, the meeting generally noted the progress made by certain countries in improving tenure security through policy reforms that acknowledge the full ownership rights of local communities and indigenous peoples, even though their implementation on the ground remains stagnant. It was observed that at regional level, recognition of communities’ rights is outpaced by large scale land acquisitions, which constitute a threat to their land ownership rights.
In the face of major challenges in the implementation of legislative reforms, participants formulated recommendations aimed at securing the rights of local communities and indigenous peoples and to ensure equitable economic development in Central and West Africa in order to achieve the objectives set for 2015.
According to participants, the recommendations which should be given priority consideration by donors as they support governments and civil society focus on:
♦ Implementation and operationalisation on the field of the FAO Voluntary guidelines on land tenure and the guidelines of the African Union’s Land Policy Initiative, with the assistance of civil society,
♦ Recognition, securing and protection of communities’ ownership rights to land and natural resources,
♦ Strengthening capacities of all stakeholders involved : (governments authorities, civil society groups and networks, traditional chiefs, local and indigenous communities, research institutes),
♦ The need to establish coordination between national and interstate authorities to ensure coherence and efficiency in the development and implementation of reforms, as well as land and resource allocation.
♦ The need to set up multi-stakeholder monitoring mechanisms within Central and West African regional bodies,
♦ Assessment of current national legislation on allocation of commercial rights relating to community rights and environmental standards, with emphasis on ensuring transparency in allocation of commercial rights (logging, mining, food industry, carbon rights, etc.).
Participants parted after many expressions of gratitude to the Government and people of Cameroon for their warm welcome, to the Ministry of Forest and the Central African Forests Commission (COMIFAC), satisfied with the enriching contributions and reflection conducted on the crucial issues of governance, climate change and large-scale land acquisitions in Central and West Africa.