The role of land use planning in Central Africa - CBFP

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Report: The role of land use planning in Central Africa


Policy Brief: Land use planning in Central Africa - 30 years of progress and emerging lessons learned The role of land use planning in Central Africa

The Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) Roadmap for 2020-21 identified several key topics that the German Facilitation intends to emphasize together with the whole Partnership. Among these is “sustainable land use”. The roadmap sets out to encourage discussions towards a longer-term objective: to move towards regulative harmonization and minimum standards within the region for the sustainable optimization of all natural resource and land use as a means of supporting conservation, biodiversity, sustainable management and, above all, the economic development of the populations of Central Africa. This brief addresses this objective.


The Congo Basin (CB) countries have fast-growing populations with increasing domestic social and economic development needs that must be met to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). National development visions and strategies lay out ambitious plans to meet these needs, and at the same time to supply, and benefit from, global commodity markets. Commercial forestry, industrial agriculture, extractive industries (oil, gas, mining) and infrastructural expansion compete with small- to medium-scale agriculture for rural land. Economic growth depends on investment in transport and energy infrastructure to power homes, process goods, and improve regional integration and market access.


All these require more land – and in the CB, much of this land is forested. These forests are not only home to local people, but also harbour globally valuable biodiversity and vast reservoirs of carbon. Reducing forest loss is crucial in efforts to minimize climate change. The CB forests are naturally dynamic – expanding and contracting with long-term climate cycles. It is projected that their extent will shrink rapidly with predicted climate change. Economic development will inevitably accelerate forest loss. The questions are therefore not if, but where forests must be cleared for essential development; where forests should be maintained, or planted, and to what extent; who gains and loses from clearing forests versus maintaining them; and how benefits and costs will be distributed.


Land use planning (LUP) and Land Use Plans (LUPs) have been heralded by CB Governments, development partners, civil society, and the private sector alike as an essential foundation for better land governance, more coherent and sustainable rural development planning and reconciling competing interests in land in fast growing CB economies. However, stakeholders do not yet have a common understanding of the very concept of LUP, its purpose, scope or good practice – each having their own expectations and prioritising different outcomes.


CB governments and ministries responsible for planning typically perceive LUP as a tool for informing the better distribution of transport and energy infrastructure as well as social services to enhance regional integration; for improving access to markets; and for accelerating and balancing socio-economic development. Meanwhile, rural-sector stakeholders (ministries of forestry, environment and agriculture, donors, NGOs, private sector) hail LUPs as tools to plan for more coherent and sustainable rural development; to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in the context of REDD+; to develop voluntary carbon market projects; to pave the way for deforestation-free supply chains or payments for environmental services (PES); and to help meet Nationally Determined Contributions to the UNFCCC. While these different understandings can be reconciled, much work remains to be done to reach a common understanding of the purpose, process, and good practices of LUP at national, regional and local levels to achieve mutually desired outcomes – including how they can improve outcomes for forests.


Conclusions and outlook: Adapted local LUP processes can serve as a foundation for securing tenure, reducing social conflicts between external and local actors, or even within forest adjacent communities meeting the SDGs, implementing REDD+ and operationalizing the many commitments to zero deforestation commodity production.


Due to actual or potential land use conflicts between sectors and users, LUP as a mechanism to address both sustainable development and climate change is first and foremost a political process and not just a technical one. A highest priority is therefore to create a formal space for dialogue about the purpose and importance of integrated LUP, in which relevant stakeholders are present and understand their role in a fully inclusive process.


A next priority is to clarify how the different LUP instruments (national, regional, and local) will be aligned horizontally between sectors, and vertically between national, regional, and local decision-making bodies in the context of ongoing decentralization. This alignment must be constructed simultaneously with the completion of the legal framework and the preparation of the LUPs in a pragmatic and iterative approach. Practice and lessons learned will inform LUP policy.


Preparing LUPs requires a carefully orchestrated mix of participatory processes, technical tools, communication, and negotiations towards agreements on the future direction of integrated development, informed by global and national policies and mechanisms. Integrating the logic of international climate and biodiversity agendas into local planning is becoming essential to trigger new funding opportunities.


To succeed, LUP must describe not only the future allocation of land, but also clarify land and tree tenure; establish new land and resource governance institutions and mechanisms that ad-dress historical deficiencies (on the side of both the state and traditional authorities); describe the necessary investments to intensify agricultural production; and define performance-based incentives for forest conservation, sustainable commodity production; and how such incentives will be paid, and shared. An LUP that aims to deliver on all these goals is ambitious indeed. But without such ambition, many of the global commitments to meeting the SDGs, eliminating deforestation from commodity supply chains, and tackling climate change will not be met.


Such complexity appears necessary to address the multiple land use and land governance challenges faced in rural areas of the Congo Basin and to harness new opportunities. LUP should be presented as a unifying process that allows many objectives to be achieved simultaneously. If tackled separately, these initiatives might well be counter-productive and will certainly be even more confusing to all stakeholders, especially local communities.


However, this complexity also increases the risk of failure – both during the preparation of LUPs, and during their implementation. LUPs that integrate all these factors will likely not evolve out of a bottom-up approach alone. The diverse stakeholders will need to be convened regularly, will require careful guidance to understand the policy framework and new opportunities (for zero deforestation commodities, PES, REDD+ mechanisms etc.) and will need expert facilitation, supported by technical tools, to reach a consensus on the sustainable development strategy for each planning jurisdiction. There are no obvious shortcuts that will deliver a better result. Building a well-trained cadre of LUP experts is a high priority.


Finally, we recommend that while it may be helpful to harmonize data collection standards across the CB region, it is unlikely that there is a one-size-fits-all LUP methodology as the context and legal frameworks in each CB country differ.


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