The Rainforest Foundation UK research in Republic of Congo reveals vulnerability of indigenous forest communities to climate change.
Forest communities in the Congo Basin, the second largest rainforest in the world, are already experiencing the impacts of climate change and are likely to be among those hardest hit, Rainforest Foundation UK field research in the county has documented.
Rainforest Foundation UK travelled to the remote northern province of Likouala, in the Republic of Congo, in July 2012, to carry out research on the impacts of climate change on indigenous forest communities alongside partners from indigenous peoples organisations. The Rainforest Foundation UK spent nine days in the community of Boucy Boucy in northern Republic of Congo working with the 200-person strong community of Bayaka forest peoples.
Having reached the community by an internal flight from the capital, a car and boat, the research team carried out a number of participatory exercises – such as mapping what activities happen at what time of year and how this has changed, and discussing environmental changes they have experienced – as well as a transept walk in the forest and individual questionnaires with community members. A particular emphasis was put on ensuring that all groups had a chance to be heard especially women and older and younger community members.
The research is part of a regional study, also being carried out in Kenya and Nambia, financed by the World Bank. The Rainforest Foundation UK is heading up the research in the Republic of Congo with local NGOs and indigenous peoples organisations. The goal of the research is to analyse and document how indigenous peoples in Africa are affected by climate change and identify strategies that could minimize its adverse impacts.
The Boucy Boucy community members reported that their lives have become more difficult in recent years due to increased temperatures and reduced rainfall. Both have direct health impacts. Less rain, for example, leads to stagnant, polluted water, which can cause disease and is a breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The community is also suffering from degradation of the forest areas.
Bayaka are financially poor and highly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods which makes them acutely vulnerable to climatic changes. In addition they have very little support from state services and their way of life is often not understood or respected by external actors. However, the research team also identified how traditional knowledge and coping strategies of the community could help them adapt. Bayaka have an intimate knowledge of the forest, especially when it comes to gathering medicinal plants (leaves or bark of trees) to combat fever and coughs or gathering resources. In addition, their traditional semi-nomadic way of life could allow them to adapt more quickly than settled farmers in Africa.
Nathaniel Dyer, Policy Advisor on Climate Change and Forests at The Rainforest Foundation UK , said, “It was a great privilege to live and work with the community in Boucy Boucy. They were very motivated to take part in the research and helped us understand a great deal more about the challenges they are facing now with a changing climate. The Bayaka are masters of the forest and have a lot to teach us about how to care for it”.
There are an estimated 50,000 indigenous peoples of a total population of 3.7 million in the Republic of Congo, which is approximately the size of Germany. The Rainforest Foundation UK has been working in Republic of Congo for over 10 years and helped support a Law on Indigenous Peoples Rights, which passed in 2011 and is a first in the Congo Basin region.
The final report will be launched by the end of 2012 and made available on the The Rainforest Foundation UK website.
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