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Independent forest monitoring in Congo finds its voice

Apr 29, 2020 | FLEGT Policy News

Independent forest monitoring capabilities in the Congo Basin are being revolutionised with the help of a collaborative project to strengthen the monitoring role of non-state actors. That’s the view of the Centre for International Development and Training (CIDT), part of the UK’s University of Wolverhampton and the body leading the four-year Citizen Voices for Change (CV4C): Congo Basin Forest Monitoring Project

The aim of CV4C, according to the latest newsletter on the project’s achievements, is to ‘strengthen the capacity, influence and long-term viability of independent monitor organisations (IM) to perform essential watchdog functions. This was to be achieved through ’increased organisational and operational capacity; improved quality and availability of independent information; viable, constructive and sustainable networks; and effective engagement and response from forest law enforcement agencies, law makers and judiciary in national forest policy processes’.

The project countries are Cameroon, Republic of Congo (Congo), Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Gabon. At the outset, says the CV4C report, their IM was characterised by weak institutional capacity, inconsistent methodology and a lack of clear quality standards.  Consequently monitoring findings were rarely acted on by the authorities.

“Additionally, the monitoring work done by civil society, indigenous peoples and communities was not readily accepted by the private sector, law makers, anti-corruption committees, importers or EU Competent Authorities,” says the newsletter. 

The initial phase of CV4C involved analysis and needs assessment of the IM sector in each country. Project regional partner, the NGO FLAG, then drew up operational procedures against a set of principles, criteria and indicators (PCI) for each stage of the monitoring process.

“These PCI and their accompanying toolkit are a lever for regional standardisation via the new Pan African Network of IM organisations and are a powerful foundation to build IM credibility and enhance quality,” says the CV4C newsletter.

The project also promoted use by IMs of platforms such as FLEGT Watch and the Open Timber Portal, and hosted EU ‘lobby tours’ to ‘improve recognition and acceptance of the role of monitoring in improving forest legality and transparency’.

With financial support from CV4C and technical backup from CIDT, Cameroon’s Standardised System of Independent External Observation (SNOIE), developed by NGO FODER, secured conformity to ISO 9001:2015. This, says the report, provides a ‘stamp of quality assurance’ for independent monitoring and boosts private sector acceptability of SNOIE, a system being replicated in the Congo, the DRC and Gabon.

In the CAR, the CV4C is reported to have enabled collaboration between civil society and government to develop an organised, structured system of monitoring, while in Gabon IM training has enabled ‘rigorous follow up of monitoring activities’. Subsequently Gabonese IM reports have led to dismissal of government agents and sanctions against companies involved in ‘illegal [forest] exploitation’.

In the DRC, CV4C has ‘enabled action on a plan’ to form RENOI, a nationwide network of IMs and in Congo it has facilitated regular monitoring missions by the civil society organisation CAGDF – 99% of forest permits in the country are now monitored.

Click here for the CV4C newsletter.