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Protecting Forest Guardians: The Struggle of Congo's Pygmy People for Their Land and Rights

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louis Buyisiwe

Feb 27, 2024

How Congo's Pygmies Are Being Forced From Their Ancestral Forest Homes by National Park Expansions

An image depicting Pygmy individual from the Democratic Republic of Congo, standing resiliently at the edge of a dense forest, symbolizing their deep-rooted connection to the land and the challenges they face due to being displaced by national park boundaries."
A young pygmy in deep Congo Forest ready to harvest fruits

The Democratic Republic of Congo's Pygmy community, historically revered as the "Masters of the Forest," is facing significant challenges as they are being pushed out of their ancestral lands due to the establishment and expansion of national parks and conservation areas. This displacement not only threatens their traditional way of life, which is deeply intertwined with the forest, but also disregards their profound knowledge and sustainable practices that have contributed to the preservation of these ecosystems for generations.

Despite their invaluable role in forest conservation, the Pygmies' rights and contributions are often overlooked, leading to their marginalization and exclusion from decision-making processes related to land management and conservation efforts.

The international community is beginning to recognize the critical role that indigenous groups like the Pygmies play in protecting forests, which are vital for biodiversity and as a buffer against climate change. There is a growing call for legal reforms to secure land tenure for indigenous communities, acknowledging their stewardship of the environment.

In DRC, they are between 600,000 and 700,000 in number, according to a 2019 Equator Initiative report, in a country of around 100 million people, per 2022 World Bank data.

While these communities share ancestry, their names vary depending on location. In northern Kivu, for example, they are the Batwa or Bambuti. In Central African Republic, the Baaka live in Lobaye forest. Regardless of location, these communities face discrimination, human rights violations, lack of food, lack of land rights and marginalization by other groups and national policymakers.

Ensuring the Pygmies' active participation in conservation efforts and legal recognition of their land rights can enhance forest preservation efforts while also safeguarding their cultural heritage and way of life​.

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