Crocodile being sold in a market in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ollivier Girard, CIFOR

‘No wildmeat in cities,’ says a new campaign in the Congo Basin

Q&A with CIFOR wildlife management expert Nathalie van Vliet

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In the Congo Basin, wildmeat is a prime source of protein for rural populations and a treat for city dwellers that consume it as part of their cultural heritage and a symbol of status. More than 12 million tons of bushmeat are sold in the region on a yearly basis, with consumption rates between 10 to 200 kilos per capita. As urban demand grows, pressure on rural food security and biodiversity mounts, creating an urgency to take action towards a more sustainable sector.

Around the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve, a forest protected area in northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), hunters sell more than 80 percent of their catches, leading to a serious malnutrition problem among rural communities that do not have alternative sources of protein. Meanwhile, urban consumers are increasingly exposed health problems, some of which arise from the consumption of a wildmeat that has been poorly processed, transported on dusty roads for days, and then offered for sale in insalubrious markets.

With funding from USAID and the European Union, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has just launched an innovative behavior change campaign targeted at hunters and city consumers in and around the urban centers of Yangambi and Kisangani. The objective is to encourage hunters to hunt primarily for their families, rather than to sell, and to promote the consumption of locally produced poultry and pork among city dwellers.

To commemorate World Wildlife Day, Landscape News spoke with CIFOR expert Nathalie van Vliet about what makes the campaign a first in the Congo Basin, how it intends to transform local perspectives on wildmeat, and how it fits into CIFOR’s broader efforts to promote sustainable wildlife management.

The campaign is using audiovisual materials, posters and even theater plays to change people’s perception around wildmeat hunting. What do you want to achieve?

We are engaging men for whom hunting is the main livelihood activity. They make around USD40 per month, which is twice as much as the minimum official wage in the DRC, but the money is often spent on non-necessity items. Meanwhile, the pressure on the resource is negatively impacting the nutrition and health of local populations. The objective here is to make hunters feel proud about hunting primarily to feed their families.

Dudu Lokangia, a 41-year-old hunter, prepares a trap in the forest, Yangambi, DRC. Axel Fassio, CIFOR
Dudu Lokangia, a 41-year-old hunter, prepares a trap in the forest, Yangambi, DRC. Axel Fassio, CIFOR

And how will you engage urban consumers?

In Kisangani and Yangambi, wildmeat is more expensive than locally produced chicken and pork, but families who are well-off see it as a treat to their guests. It is ‘chic’. Through the campaign, we want to instill pride in consuming locally produced chicken and pork, instead of wildmeat of dubious quality or imported, frozen meat. We are targeting a working-class young generation because they are more likely to accepting new sources of protein, as compared to older ones who grew up on wildmeat.

How is the campaign innovative?

In the past, there had been some attempts to address the issue of wildmeat hunting and consumption, but they did not have an evidence-based approach to behavior change. Also, they lacked a holistic vision. Our campaign has a solid scientific foundation and, importantly, is part of a broader strategy to enhance the sustainability of the sector in Kisangani and Yangambi.

What are the pillars of this broader strategy for a sustainable wildmeat sector?

Behavior change cannot be conducted in isolation. It is necessary to diversify the sources of income for hunters, and to provide alternative, culturally acceptable protein sources for consumers. The strategy promotes the development of microenterprises, mostly centered around agricultural and pork production. In addition, we also monitor wildlife within and around the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve, using camera traps placed in the forest.

CIFOR researcher Jonas Muhindo sets a camera trap. Axel Fassio, CIFOR
CIFOR researcher Jonas Muhindo sets a camera trap. Axel Fassio, CIFOR

What about improving hunting practices?

It is essential to reduce dependency of rural populations on wildmeat before addressing governance systems, which is another pillar of the strategy. At a later stage, the project will support villages in enhancing hunting practices and rules to improve sustainability. It is important to note that all solutions must be tailored to local contexts, which vary greatly across Congo Basin countries and provinces.

The next decade will be critical to preserve the world’s remaining biodiversity while improving global food security. How confident are you the wildmeat trade, in the DRC and beyond, can transition towards a more sustainable model?

Achieving sustainable wildlife management in DRC remains a huge challenge. Actions like the ones we coordinate in Kisangani need to be upscaled, and lessons learnt should influence regional and national policies to achieve greater impacts. The use of wildlife should be fully incorporated in biodiversity, food security and poverty reduction strategies. This means working towards a stable governance, land use planning to limit deforestation and regulate the expansion of legal and illegal extractive activities, and a better management of the emergence of future pandemics.

For more information on the campaign, visit its website or follow the hashtag #NyamaCongo



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