The initiative—aimed at training Indigenous Peoples to better understand and uphold their rights, enabling their participation in responsible forest management—is led by FSC in partnership with Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and is funded by the FAO- EU FLEGT programme.

While Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLC) are an important stakeholder group in the Congo Basin forest, they are often marginalized due to poverty, illiteracy and discrimination. Their ability to engage freely in negotiations or consultations is limited, leaving them susceptible to being manipulated, exploited or influenced.

Of the 10 FSC principles, a fundamental basis for being certified for sustainable forest management requires upholding Indigenous Peoples rights.

The programme which started six months ago in Brazzaville, Congo, saw 20 candidates from five countries of the Congo Basin participating. Of these, five candidates were selected for further training in Douala. The programme aspires to groom a younger generation of Indigenous advocates and promote gender balance.

The session in Douala, held between 21 to 29 May, focused on the difference between common law and official law, Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) and different ways to facilitate the process of community engagement (comprising of information sharing, community consultation, participation in policy development and decision‐making processes in forest management).

The training was led by FSC’s Senior Expert on Forest Governance, Dr. Olivia Rickenbach. She was assisted by Forest Peoples Programme lawyer, Lassana Kone and Venant Messant, a local NGO representative, himself a Baka from Cameroon. Liberate Nicayenzi, one of the first Indigenous women to be elected to the Burundi senate also joined the training as a guest speaker.

In July 2019 the group will reconvene in the Republic of Congo for an on-site training session at CIB Olam, an FSC-certified concession in Pokola. This module will focus on engagement skills and experiential learning where participants will also put into practice what they learned from earlier trainings in Brazzaville and Douala.

This FSC/FPP project will be an ongoing one, aimed at making the Indigenous expert group a permanent structure in the Congo Basin.