The Bonobo Peace Forest is a connected network of community-managed and protected forests in vast, remote, biodiversity-rich tracts of rainforest in the Congo Basin. Founded over two-decades ago, the project’s parent group, The Bonobo Conservation Initiative, uses an inspired and highly successful “viral conservation” strategy that partners with local indigenous peoples and is driven by a partnership approach to engender sustainable prosperity while preserving the habitat of our closest genetic relative, the endangered Bonobo. To succeed at their goal of species and biodiversity conservation, their holistic work has grown immensely to include such components as ecotourism, payment for ecosystem services, participatory budgeting, agricultural support and field research training and facilitation.
From the Project Team:
“The endemic tensions between conservation and economic development form the core dynamic that challenges both agendas. These conflicts are found globally, but are acute in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, home of the world’s second largest rainforest and rife with conflict, natural resource exploitation, and extreme poverty. The growing number of “conservation refugees” worldwide attests to the intransigence of the clash between conservation NGOs and indigenous people. Notwithstanding aggressive public relations efforts to show otherwise, large NGOs have consistently failed to develop effective programs without disenfranchising indigenous populations. In creating unprecedented, massive scale community-managed reserves in pristine rainforests, the Bonobo Conservation Initiative’s model succeeds in ameliorating these conflicts by aligning the goals of conservationists and indigenous people. In doing so, the Bonobo Peace Forest addresses the following systemic problems: Species loss – Biodiversity and genetic diversity are critical to the planet for medicines, agriculture, forest health, and more; Climate Change – Deforestation is a major source of greenhouse gases and rainforests sequester significant amounts of carbon; Indigenous cultures, languages and traditional knowledge are under threat of extinction with the loss of their unique wisdom to all humanity; Sustainable economic development and poverty alleviation; And non-exploitive models of development that result in wide-spread prosperity.
Conservation initiatives should become the primary economic development engine in the region. This should contribute to self-replication of conservation programs. When fully implemented, the Bonobo Peace Forest will provide a solid and sustainable economic benefit to the local populations and a vast, interconnected rainforest habitat where bonobos and other species can thrive. Direct benefits to the local people will be the infusion cash into the economy through direct employment in conservation related jobs and other linked enterprises, including improved agriculture, women’s micro-credit, and more. Such commerce requires investment in infrastructure and transportation capacity to make these remote regions more accessible. In the long-term, such accessibility risks undermining the seclusion that has partly contributed to the protection of endangered species like bonobos, okapi and the salongo monkey. This is why the ownership and participation of indigenous people is so central to the long-term vision of the Bonobo Peace Forest. They have always understood that the rainforest and its wild inhabitants have value. If the wider-world recognizes this value in a non-exploitive way, their stewardship of these ecological resources will mitigate the risk inherent in increased accessibility.”