The NGO Mbou-Mon-Tour has won the Ashden Award 2021, held on the sidelines of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on 4 November 2021, for its efforts in fostering environmental behaviour to aid the battle against climate change, while providing livelihood diversification options. Particularly, the award recognizes NGO Mbou-Mon-Tour’s leadership in an ICCA-GSI project that is helping rainforest communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) make a sustainable living through agriculture and tourism. The project also introduces awareness-raising on zoonoses and other pandemic risks. See the video of the Ashden Award 2021 winners here.
In DRC’s southwest province of Mai-Ndombe, the Bolobo territory is a mosaic of forests and savannas that serves as a natural habitat to one of the largest populations of endangered bonobo apes, estimated at 4,000 by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 2018. Bonobos have great cultural importance to local communities, but despite being protected by Congolese laws, their numbers are rapidly declining due to the pressure of human population growth and the incongruence of human activities to conservation laws, resulting from economic crisis and political instability. The sale of agricultural products and manufacturing of charcoal that is shipped to suppliers in the national capital Kinshasa and Brazzaville, capital of the neighbouring Republic of Congo, are the basis of the local economy. However, as communities continually face threats from climate change impacts and increasing poverty rates, they have turned to unsustainable slash-and-burn agriculture activities that have resulted in land degradation. Moreover, their reliance on charcoal production means that the communities extract wood from the forests that serve as habitats for the bonobos, leading to forest degradation, habitat loss, and increased risk of epidemics in the territory.
To address these challenges, the Small Grants Programme (SGP), a corporate programme of the Global Environment Facility that is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme, Mbou-Mon-Tour and DRC-WWF are implementing the ICCA-GSI project with Indigenous Peoples and local communities living within the Bolobo territory, including the Mbee-Nkuru ICCA and the villages of Etebe, Biangala, Mbali, Mantuka, Mabwamabwa and Odzison. The project’s objective is to strengthen conservation measures in the territory that simultaneously provide alternative income-generating options to the local communities. To reach its objectives, behavioral change is promoted in the project’s two main components: agroforestry and ecotourism. Firstly, capacity-building in agroforestry techniques combined with staple-food cash crops (e.g., cassava, amaranth, sorrel) are provided to replace unsustainable slash-and-burn agriculture and wood collection activities in bonobo habitats. This leads to the restoration and conservation of land and forest ecosystems while generating increased agricultural production for livelihood diversification, with more surplus to sell in markets.
Secondly, a community-led ecotourism initiative is being developed. The project sites’ unique natural habitat makes it an ideal place to observe the bonobos in their natural environment. Here, the activities are centered on the discovery of nature, respect for the environment, and local culture. These are complemented by awareness-raising campaigns on the risks of COVID-19 contamination and causes of zoonotic disease transmission in each of the indigenous villages.
To date, Mbou-Mon-Tour has helped six indigenous villages in obtaining the status of local community forest concessions for their lands, with community-led conservation efforts protecting 50,000 hectares of forest. As new contracts are being established with tourism companies in Europe and Africa, the ecotourism project aims to bring income to the villagers, while encouraging them to preserve their natural heritage.
The ICCA-GSI has seven other initiatives with various Indigenous groups throughout the DRC, including the Lukwangulu and Djibwe in the Tanganyika province; the Lodja in Sankuru province; and the Ehaba, Bombembe, Bongo Alola, and Lokuku in Equateur province. These ICCAs are located in different landscapes: around Lake Tele-Tumba, in mosaic forest-savannah areas along the Congo River, in the middle of the equatorial forest, in the forests of mountains, and along rivers.