Covering a land area equivalent to the size of Western Europe, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of Africa’s richest countries in terms of natural and human resources. Supported by ample rainfall and fertile soil, the nation’s vast forests and mineral resources are reservoirs of potential wealth for the nation’s 65 million citizens.
Despite this abundance of natural resources, the DRC’s formal economy essentially collapsed during the last few decades due to mismanagement, lack of capacity and political will, and social unrest following two damaging wars between 1996 and 2003. The GDP per capita is now one of the lowest in the world—$300 in 2008—and the national faculty for environmental management is limited.
But the DRC is turning itself around. The recent democratic election, coupled with the support of the international development community, provides an incredible opportunity to promote strong governance and help the country develop on a sustainable track.
This growing political will and commitment to sustainable development is exemplified by recent events in the DRC forest sector: events which were supported by the World Resources Institute.
Accounting for 60 percent of forest coverage in the Congo Basin (120 million hectares), the DRC’s forests provide shelter, food, medicine, and spiritual and cultural value to the Congolese population. After the most recent war ended, the government initiated significant steps to shed necessary light into activities taking place within the country’s forest industry in order to curb illegal logging and deforestation.
These efforts culminated in a new Forest Code in 2002. The Forest Code replaced colonial rules and regulations, and for the first time set a foundation for sustainable, socially responsible forest management in the DRC. In conjunction with a 2004 moratorium on the issuance of new logging concessions, the new Forest Code mandated a broad list of environmental, forest management and social requirements that would now apply to all logging operation titles in the DRC. To achieve these, the DRC government in 2005 launched a multi-stakeholder forest title conversion process, or legal review, designed to convert old logging titles into new forest concessions that would respect the new Forest Code.