The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)'s Forest Code has been in force since 2002. However, despite the production of regulatory and other related texts, obstacles still persist in the application of these instruments.
The forest sector in the DRC is a beset by a number of internal and external factors that hold back good governance, despite the existence of laws and regulations in this area. Looking at these factors, the most important and cumbersome are: the lack of competent managers; the erroneous interpretation of regulatory and legal texts; poor working conditions; insufficient logistical and financial resources; insufficient capacity for the analysis of environmental issues; unmanaged forestry concessions; uncontrolled and misunderstood production statistics; the lack of organisational development in environmental civil society organisations (CSOs); weak synergy of environmental CSOs to defend interests; different visions of forestry governance; ignorance of the existence of potential resources by stakeholders; weak and incorrectly applied institutional decentralisation; an unclear and little-known mechanism for the transfer of revenues to decentralised territorial entities due to insufficient means of control, and the lack of objective information and poor databases on forestry operations.
The forestry sector is now at a crossroads, with the recent signature of concession contracts marking the end of the process of conversion of old forestry title deeds. The process of review and conversion of 80 of the 156 old title deeds into new concessions has attracted several criticisms - for example, about the legality of certain deeds and the lack of involvement of indigenous peoples in the process. Nevertheless, the process can certainly improve transparency in the forestry sector if all the results -including new contracts- are published. Furthermore, these new contracts should according to the law include social clauses negotiated with the local and indigenous communities, allowing the latter to benefit directly from the exploitation of their forests. It remains to be seen if the structures and agreements put in place by this process will increase the involvement of local communities in decision-making and bring real benefits in terms of development and the preservation of the environment.
In parallel, the government adopted a moratorium on the granting of new forestry concessions in 2002 (made official in 2005). The 80 title deeds in the course of conversion are, therefore, the only industrial forestry exploitation concessions in existence in the DRC at present. They represent 22,4 million hectares, or 8.4% of the country's forested surface area of 145 million hectares. The exploitation of forests is still possible through artisanal permits, which are issued through a rather more flexible process, theoretically limited to sites up to 50 hectares and reserved for the national market. In practice, however, many forestry concessionaires abuse these artisanal permits and carry out quasi-industrial exploitation of the forest by taking advantage of the forestry administration's lax approach to the real purpose of these permits, thereby attenuating the consequences of the moratorium on the restriction of forestry exploitation. Basically, the general opinion is that the illegal exploitation of forest lands has increased considerably in recent years, although this increase is quite difficult to quantify.