One of the many State-building weaknesses of Congolese authorities and their international partners is the total absence of an integrated land use strategy. One blatant bit of proof is the allocation of mining and oil concessions within protected areas; another is the lack of effort to reconnect the fragmented national territory through an integrated road and rail network.
Agriculture, forests, energy and water tend to be viewed by policy-makers and development experts as distinct challenges: an integrated (sometimes referred to as holistic or systemic) approach is practically non-existent. This is one of the main issues discussed in Congo’s Environmental Paradox. The policy landscape relating to these sectors is covered by vertical silos with few horizontal connections.
There are however a few counter examples: USAID’s Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) has designed and adopted an ambitious ‘landscape’ approach and the European Commission is pursuing an integrated conservation management strategy in and around the Virunga National Park. USAID implemented its Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (ICDPs) approach in Africa in the 1980s but with limited results.
More broadly however, efforts to improve the sustainable management of Congo’s forests focus on the forest sector sensu stricto. This is necessary but not enough because sustainable use of forests can only be achieved by looking beyond the sector itself. There are inevitable linkages between forests, water, energy (ranging from cooking charcoal to the mega Inga hydroelectric dam) and agriculture.
Deforestation throughout the Congo Basin and in the DRC in particular is driven by specific human activities (agricultural practices, the development of roads and cutting down trees) and social processes (demographic growth, urbanization, trade, governance and culture). All of these causes and processes are interconnected.
The underdevelopment of hydroelectric capacity causes deforestation and therefore contributes to climate change. Food insecurity in the DRC clearly stems from production and transportation weaknesses but there are other causes too. Artisanal mining is one example because it has tempted large numbers of farmers to trade their hoes and machetes for picks and shovels.
Inadequate transportation infrastructure, like the energy deficit, is a cross-cutting problem with negative implications for land, forests and water management. This pertains to difficulties in getting crops from field to market and timber from forest to sawmill or port.
Resolving ambiguous land tenure systems is an institutional challenge is something that no Congolese government has been willing or able to tackle. The conflicting logics that oppose customary views of land ownership with those the State appear to be intractable. Coming to grips with this conflict is also a social challenge because forests are embedded in social contexts that influence how and why people use, depend upon and exploit other resources, such as agricultural land and water.
This is just one more urgent priority that the government and opposition groups should be discussing in the months ahead of electoral deadlines.