Vulnerability, adaptation and mitigation in the forests of the Congo Basin: a critical investigation

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Recent discussions on forests and climate change have highlighted the potential for conservation of tropical forests to contribute synergistically to both mitigation and adaptation. Key mechanisms through which adaptive advantages might be gained include the potential for forest resources to act as ‘safety nets’ in the context of climatic strains on agricultural livelihoods and the protection that intact forest ecosystems might provide against landslides, flash floods and other hazards related to extreme weather. This paper presents findings from field research with forest communities in three areas of the Congo Basin in Central Africa, in which the current adaptive role of forests in these respects is critically analyzed.
The investigation was carried out through a combination of structured and semistructured qualitative techniques within six villages in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Rwanda, as part of a wider collaborative research project, COBAM, funded by the African Development Bank. The methodology was designed to help describe how forest communities are experiencing and adapting to environmental change, and the role that forest resources and environmental management policies play in terms of people’s livelihoods. The findings of the research highlight the need to understand both the limits of synergy, and the constraints and trade-offs for rural livelihoods that may be associated with a forest conservation agenda driven by the additional impetus of carbon sequestration. The search for synergy may be conceptually laudable, but if forest management actions do not take account of on-the-ground contexts of constraints and social trade-offs then the result of those actions risksundermining wider livelihood resilience.

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