Promoting environmental justice and social sustainability in the Congo Basin
Submitting InstitutionUniversity College London
Unit of AssessmentAnthropology and Development Studies
Summary Impact TypeEnvironmental
Research Subject Area(s)
Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences: Forestry Sciences
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Studies In Human Society: Sociology
Summary of the impact
Dr Jerome Lewis's research defining how to implement free, prior and
informed consent has led to effective and equitable relations between
indigenous forest people and FSC-certified forestry companies operating in
the Congo Basin (over 4 million ha). It enabled forest people to monitor
illegal logging and improve forest governance and has been adopted by
forestry organisations in the region. It was instrumental in setting up
the Centre d'Excellence Social which recruits students from the region to
train a new generation of forest managers with the skills required to put
the newly defined social principles into practice, as well as Radio Biso
na Biso, a community radio station which disseminates indigenous views on
local issues, logging and conservation.
Research at UCL Anthropology by Dr Jerome Lewis (lecturer at UCL since
2007) seeks a better understanding of how to promote the application of
free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) in the relations between local
forest people and powerful third parties. He has worked in the Congo Basin
with forest communities since 1993 and through regular research visits,
notably to Congo-Brazzaville, gained unique insight into local culture and
society, and the impact of national and global forces on forest peoples'
lives and livelihoods. Since the late 1990s there has been an increasing
international effort to regularise the application of the concept of FPIC
to govern the relations between third parties seeking to exploit or
otherwise impact on local peoples' land or resources.
Together with Luke Freeman (lecturer in Anthropology at UCL since 2007)
and Sophie Boreill (Anthroscape Ltd), between 2006 and 2008 Lewis visited
some of the most advanced forestry companies in Democratic Republic of
Congo, Republic of Congo and Gabon to identify effective practices they
employed to develop partnerships with local people. Based on the
observation of cultural differences between Northern conceptions of
`consent' (a signature) and local ideas (a process of mutual
satisfaction), following Lewis's arrival at UCL, he and his colleagues
identified and drafted clear guidelines for implementing an FPIC approach
to relations between powerful industrial companies and local people that
would be meaningful for both parties [a, b]. This was used to define the
steps required to apply FPIC in the context of forestry certification
schemes [a]. To do so required the development of new engagement methods,
organisational approaches, and specially adapted tools (both hard and
software) to enable well-informed and fairer discussions to be possible
between these different groups, and so that local forest people can
accurately map their lands and resources, and monitor logging activities
in their forest areas [c, d].
Regularly returning to the forest for research means that Lewis maintains
regular contact with local people. When visiting in 2008 to set up the
community radio station Biso na Biso, local Mbendjele Pygmy
hunters asked Lewis to develop a means for them to monitor illegal
poachers so that government enforcement agents would be more effective at
catching them. This led to the Extreme Citizen Science Research Group
(ExCiteS), established in 2011 to develop the methodologies, technologies
and theory to enable any community to set up its own ExCiteS project.
Based in UCL's Department of Geomatic Engineering, Lewis co-directs the
research group with Professor Muki Haklay. In 2012-13 ExCiteS successfully
developed and trialled iconic software based on the Android operating
system which can be uploaded onto cheap smartphones to enable non-literate
people to collect information that scientifically describes and geo-tags
their resources, or specific environmental problems that they are
concerned about, such as resource damage during logging (Cameroon 2008 [c]
and Congo 2013), or poaching (Congo 2012-3 [e]). Lewis developed the
iconic language and a robust methodology for co-developing software and
introducing these new technologies among forest peoples [c, e, f].
Currently the project has begun to develop geographic information analytic
tools (supported by ESRI) to enable non-literate people to benefit from
the analytic power of GIS to support them in managing their local
References to the research
[a] 2008 Free, Prior and Informed Consent and Sustainable
Forest Management in the Congo Basin. Jerome Lewis, Luke Freeman and
Sophie Borreill. Berne: Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs,
Intercooperation and Society for Threatened People Switzerland. Translated
into French. http://assets.gfbv.ch/downloads/fpic_congo_report_english.pdf.
Output went through a rigorous peer-review process.
[b] 2010 Free, prior and informed consent: Implications for
sustainable forest management in the Congo Basin. In Governing
Africa's Forests in a Globalised World. Ed. Laura German, Alain
Karsenty and Anne-Marie Tiani. London: Earthscan, pp. 319-331. With Luke
Freeman and Sophie Borreill. Available on request. Output went through a
rigorous peer-review process.
[c] 2012 Accessible technologies and FPIC: independent monitoring
with forest communities in Cameroon. In Participatory Learning and
Action 65: 151-165. London: IIED. With Teodyl Nkuintchua. http://pubs.iied.org/14618IIED.html?c=part
Output went through a rigorous peer-review process)
[e] 2013 Making local knowledge matter. Supporting non-literate
people to monitor poaching in Congo. DEV '13, 11-12 January 2013,
Bangalore, India. With Michalis Vitos, Matthias Stevens and Muki Haklay. http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1368259/.
Output went through a rigorous peer-review process.
[f] 2013 A grievance mechanism in the forestry sector in Congo:
The case of Congolaise Industrielle des Bois. In, Wilson, E. and
Blackmore, E (ed.). Dispute or Dialogue? Community Perspectives on
Company-led Grievance Mechanisms. London: International Institute
for Environment and Development. pp. 66-83. With Sophie Borreil. Available
Key peer-reviewed grants underpinning the research include:
Swiss Ministry for Economic Affairs, Intercooperation. Grant
holder: Society for Threatened People. Title: Defining Free, prior and
Informed Consent in the Context of Forestry Operations in the Congo Basin.
£164,000. 2006-2008. Funded the original FPIC research with this
peer-reviewed grant and led to [a, b, c].
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Challenging
Engineering Award. PI: Muki Haklay (UCL Civil, Environmental &
Geomatic Engineering). Title: Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS).
£1,000,000, 2011-2016. (AB) . [d, e].
Chirac Foundation. Grant holder: Tropical Forest Trust. Title:
Radio Biso na Biso, setting up a community radio station for forest
people, including hunter-gatherers. 2005-2010, €700,000. Led to [a].
Chirac Foundation, Waterloo Foundation, Synchronicity Earth, Virgin
Media and Albert II Monaco Foundation. Grant holder: Tropical Forest
Trust. Title: Centre for Social Excellence in Yaounde, Cameroon for
providing training on the social aspects of forestry in the Congo basin.
Details of the impact
The Congo Basin, straddling six countries in Central Africa, is home to
remarkable biodiversity, and the second largest rain forest in the world.
It is also home to nearly 150 distinct ethnic groups, including many whose
lifestyle and identity is closely tied to this forest. In recent decades,
however, local forest people have lost control over their traditional
areas as governments are encouraged to capitalise on the region's wealth
of natural resources by renting out the rights to international companies
and organisations. These logging, mining and plantation companies, and
conservation organisations, obtain rights over local resources through
central government, without any requirement to consult local people.
Lewis's research has developed the protocols and tools to ensure that
previously ignored indigenous and local forest people now have a say in
the management of their local forest areas, their rights to their land and
resources are formally recognised, they are able to protect their key
resources from damage during industrial activities, and they can report
illegal activity or damage to their resources to local and national
authorities, based on operationalising the international legal concept of
As a result of research at UCL, two professional organisations for
forestry companies in the Congo Basin have adopted FPIC principles for
their members. Additionally, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC),
which offers the premier certification for sustainable forests worldwide,
requires certified companies to adopt FPIC criteria in the region. Since
April 2012, all companies harvesting FSC-certified wood sold worldwide,
deriving from the 4 million square kilometres of the Congo Basin, are
required to follow the FPIC process.
Lewis and Freeman's work on FPIC resulted in a book [a] translated into
French, three summary pamphlets in English, Portuguese and French, formal
presentations at the United Nations, Swiss Ministry for Economic Affairs,
ministerial meetings in France, FSC meetings in the Congo Basin, project
reviews and presentations at Chatham House, and training sessions for
forestry workers from at least 12 African and non-African countries
through the Centre for Social Excellence .
Reading the book persuaded professional organisations representing the
tropical forestry industry in the Congo Basin (Association interafricaine
des industries forestières IFIA, representing over 300 companies, and
L'Association Technique Internationale des Bois Tropicaux ATIBT, 260
members) to adopt FPIC as the basis for establishing partnerships between
the companies they represent and the people living in their concessions
. They signalled this by organising training sessions run by Lewis for
40 staff working in the social aspects of forestry from 12 of their member
companies through the Centre for Social Excellence, as described below
, as well as sponsoring talks by Lewis for their members in September
2008 and February 2009 .
Despite pressure to reject FPIC from some quarters, regional guidelines
for the application of FSC Principles and Criteria in the Congo Basin
adopted FPIC as a central concept mediating relationships on 26 April 2012
(FSC-STD-CB-01-2012-EN Congo Basin Regional Standard), as a result of
Lewis' research . This document lays out the FSC standard for all
forests in the six countries of the region . FSC Criterion 2.2, for
example, states: 'Local communities with legal or customary tenure or use
rights shall maintain control, to the extent necessary to protect their
rights or resources, over forest operations unless they delegate control
with free and informed consent to other agencies' (p. 23) and similar
language is included in 3.1 (control of forest management by indigenous
people, p. 26), and 3.4 (compensation for traditional knowledge, p. 32).
By 15 July 2013, 10 FSC certificates covering over 4.4 million ha of
forest had been issued .
Recognising that there was a lack of local capacity to implement forestry
based on FPIC with local communities, The Forest Trust sought funds
amounting to €1.2 million to set up a specialist regional training
centre for young graduates on how to implement the highest standards in
social forestry. Based on his research which had shown the lacunae
in forestry skills, Lewis planned and helped establish the Centre for
Social Excellence (CSE) in 2008 — designing the curriculum based on the
principles of research, purchasing the library and organising student
selection processes — and has taught there bi-annually since 2008. The CSE
provides a one-year theoretical and practical training for graduates from
the Congo Basin to learn the social aspects of forestry, including FPIC,
involving forest people in mapping and decision-making processes, conflict
resolution, advanced communication skills, rural micro project management,
The CSE recruits students from Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic
Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Cameroon. It also runs
short courses for employees of forestry companies. By mid-2013 the CSE had
40 current students or alumni , of whom all but two were employed in
forestry orientated research, industrial and commercial forest sectors or
in civil society organisations in the Congo Basin. Two-week short term
training for full-time professionals was provided to almost 52 individuals
from over 12 forestry companies and 4 NGOs .
FPIC requires that forest communities are well informed about the issues
facing their forest. With a low population density (<1 person/km2),
little infrastructure and small communities effective communication
represents a real challenge. To develop an effective strategy to raise
community awareness of these issues, Lewis supported TFT with a
€700,000 Chirac Foundation grant in 2005 to set up Radio Biso na Biso, a
community radio station for forest people. The radio station has been
operational since June 2009 broadcasting exclusively in the 12 local
languages spoken in the forest for 4-6 hours a day, with 20,000 known
listeners, and an estimated 30,000 more outside the concession . At
least eighteen local people were trained in journalism and
programme-making in 2008-2013 . As of 2012, it is now fully financed by
the forestry company on whose concession it is based, and is a sustainable
and independently supported enterprise.
This has had many benefits: Previously ignored local forest people now
have a say in the management of their local forest areas, their rights to
their land and resources are formally recognised, they are able to protect
their key resources from damage during industrial activities, and they can
report illegal activity or damage to their resources to local and national
authorities. One advantage of the system appreciated by local people is
that their maps do the talking for them, they can avoid going in person to
negotiate in intimidating surroundings and in languages they often do not
understand. In 2010, Lewis was awarded the Cuthbert Peek award by the
Royal Geographical Society in recognition of the benefits to local
communities of this unique approach . Additionally the geo-tags enable
local concerns to be easily and efficiently integrated into forest
management planning which is organised in Geographic Information Systems
(GIS). This simplicity led to the rapid adoption of this methodology (with
many modifications) by every logging company seeking an FSC certificate in
the Congo Basin. So far FSC has certified companies working in over 4
million hectares of high conservation value forest of the Congo Basin .
This exposure led some hunter-gatherers to request new software builds to
document illegal poaching [e]. This has been developed and they are
currently in the early stages of deploying the system in 2,800,000
hectares of forest in northern Congo [e].
The project attracted substantial media coverage which brought to global
attention the research and how it helps to fulfil the need for forest
peoples to be proactively involved in protecting their environment, for
- BBC News at Ten: GPS helps Pygmies defend forest. 30 January
2008 ( averaging 4.9 million viewers);
- New Scientist: `Interactive maps help Pygmies fight back', by
Kat Austen. February 2012 (Global readership 764,371 per week).
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Statement provided by Project Manager, The Forest Trust, on training
sessions for 12 attendees from African and non-African countries.
Available on request.
 Statement provided by Consultant on FSC Regional Standards
corroborating link between Lewis's work on FPIC, and the adoption by IFIA
and ATIBT, and in FSC standards. Available on request.
 Examples of invitations and reports on ATIBT events are available on
 FSC standards for Congo Basin: http://bit.ly/1aDO5tm.
FSC certificates issued by 15 July 2013 in Cameroon, Gabon and
Congo-Brazzaville: p. 3 http://bit.ly/1a3rM49
 Statement provided by CSE Project Manager corroborating contribution
of Lewis' research to CSE and the numbers of students. Available on
 Radio Biso na Biso: Listener numbers: http://bit.ly/1aDSoou.
 Citation for Cuthbert Peek award `for the innovative use of GIS in
empowering indigenous communities' in 2010: http://bit.ly/1doj3tm.
 Full list of media coverage is available on request. The specific
examples included in the case study are from the BBC (http://bbc.in/170Q91t),
with viewership figures from http://bit.ly/HM3TU5,
and the New Scientist (http://bit.ly/1eKsCX7),
readership figures from http://bit.ly/1bnPs05
 Statement provided by Director, Radio Biso na Biso on number of
trainees. Available on request.