The DR Congo Country Forest Note: How about a Little Respect?

We welcome this CFN's analysis and solutions. We'd just like to see them better integrated into national and World Bank programming

The World Bank’s Country Forest Notes (CFNs, aka Forest Policy Notes) suffer a bit from the syndrome that comedian Rodney Dangerfield made famous: they “don’t get no respect.”   That worked great as a laugh line, but the impacts of development on the world’s forests, especially in tropical countries, are deadly serious.  (Any doubts?  Just check The Economist’s August 1 cover story, Deathwatch for the Amazon.)  And the fate of the CFNs, such as the one for the Democratic Republic of the Congo[i] that we have now reviewed, also deserves serious attention.   According to the Bank’s Forest Action Plan (pp. 52-53):

These [notes] will present the status of forests and provide options… highlighting the opportunities for improved land use management, notably through restoration. The notes will explore options to minimize the tradeoffs of planned World Bank interventions on forests, by providing an innovative and integrated upstream analysis of policies and investments and their potential impacts on forests. In the medium and long term, these inputs will foster a development model that aims to reconcile economic opportunities (and needs) with healthy forest ecosystems. The upstream, evidence-based considerations of various investment options can be used to guide the development of forest-smart projects and programs in a more consistent manner.  [Emphasis added]

Key words here are “upstream” and “guide.”  The CFN analysis is supposed to flow into other WB-generated documents, such as the Systematic Country Diagnostic (for DRC, released in March 2018) and the Country Partnership Framework, so that those reflect and guide investments, not only of the WB Group and the government, but other donors and investors in the sector as well.  But DRC’s SCD doesn’t reference the CFN; the CPF, meanwhile, is still incomplete and yet to be disclosed, although a public input period ended in December 2017.

Our review of the DRC CFN finds that the Bank has done a great job on analysis and options, including recommended short-term and long-term solutions for critical forest issues such as revenue generation, illegal logging, zoning, and community forestry.   What’s missing is any serious effort to address how and by whom these will be implemented.  And that’s kind of the point: why come up with solutions if nobody is going to implement them?

We do know, by now, more than three years since the CFN’s publication, that the Bank’s scope of action in the sector has remained limited to what the forest-related trust funds it manages can do.  One is focused on REDD+ in one province, Mai Ndombe[ii], while the other targets deforestation “hotspots” around the cities of Kinshasa, Kananga, Mbuji-Mayi, and Kisangani.  Specific investments include afforestation/reforestation through agroforestry and other methods, dissemination of improved cook stoves and charcoal-making techniques, development of alternative energy sources (such as agricultural waste), and community-based capacity building on sustainable forest management.[iii]

These are welcome, provided issues such as REDD+ benefit-sharing are worked out to include local communities, but they don’t constitute the kind of systematic follow-through that is needed to achieve adequate forest governance in DRC-- home to the Earth’s second largest tropical rainforest.  We hope that future CFNs are better integrated into national and World Bank programming--and given the respect they deserve.


[1] Lee, Julian. 2016. Managing a valuable resource: policy notes on increasing the sustainability of the DRC’s forest production (English). Washington, DC: World Bank. This CFN was written in 2015, published (internally) in March 2016, officially disclosed in January 2018, and came to our attention (after multiple searches and inquiries) in April 2019.  The delay in disclosure raises questions about the Bank’s commitment to its own Access to Information Policy, at least with respect to these Notes.   

[2] See the World Bank’s Fact Sheet: Mai Ndombe Redd+ Initiative in DRC and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility’s DRC country page for more information on this program, as well as “Civil society letter requests Free, Prior and Informed Consent, review of REDD+ approval decree, a complaints mechanism, and transparent distribution of funds,” in REDD-Monitor, for community concerns about the program.

[3]From Climate Investment Funds, “INVESTING IN DRC.”