An integrated framework for assessing conservation and development changes at the scale of a large forest landscape in the Congo Basin is described. The framework allows stakeholders to assess progress in achieving the often conflicting objectives of alleviating poverty and conserving global environmental values. The study shows that there was little change in either livelihood or conservation indicators over the period 2006 to 2008, and that the activities of conservation organizations had only modest impacts on either. The global economic down-turn in 2008 had immediate negative consequences for both local livelihoods and for biodiversity as people lost their employment in the cash economy and reverted to illegal harvesting of forest products. Weakness of institutions, and corruption were the major obstacles to achieving either conservation or development objectives. External economic changes had more impact on this forest landscape than either the negative or positive interventions of local actors.
The Congo Basin contains the second largest area of rainforest in the world after the Amazon. The forests are of global significance for their mediating effects on climate change and their biodiversity. They also provide essential flows of benefits to local people, many of whom live in extreme poverty. These benefits include employment in forest harvesting, provision of foods from wild animals and plants, medicinal plants, wood energy, drinking water, and materials for housing and artisanal activities. Conservation organizations have argued that conservation of the global environmental values of the forests is also good for alleviating the poverty of local people. They have further argued that by working at a landscape scale they can provide a package of interventions that will optimize both conservation and development outcomes . This study sought to test this assumption in one of the Congo Basin's iconic landscapes – the Tri-National de la Sangha (TNS).
The Sangha tri-national landscape is an area of 43,936 sq km of humid tropical forest that lies astride the frontiers of Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), and Republic of Congo (Fig. 1). The area is exceedingly rich in biodiversity and includes three national parks (Lobéké in Cameroon, Dzanga-Ndoki in CAR, and Nouabale-Ndoki in Congo), which together cover a total of 7889 sq km, Forest concessions, community hunting zones, commercial hunting concessions, mineral concessions, and agro-forestry zones make up the rest of the landscape.
The Sangha tri-national landscape is one of the priority landscapes being supported by international donors under the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP). This partnership between the governments of the countries of the region and their major donors was announced at the Johannesburg Earth Summit in 2002. It heralded a major international effort to reconcile conservation and development at the landscape scale in 13 landscapes located in 6 countries in the Congo Basin .
The TNS is of critical importance for African dense forest biodiversity. The area contains significant populations of forest elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) and gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). A total of 16 species of primates, 14 species of ungulates, 14 species of carnivores and 105 species of other terrestrial mammals are known from the area [2, 3]. The TNS is important for the conservation of the endangered bongo antelope (Tragelaphus euryceros);, it is also home to 316 species of butterflies, and 379 species of birds, including one endemic, the forest red-throat (Stiphrornis sanghensis), and one endangered species of nightjar (Caprimulgus binotatus). There is a high diversity of reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and fish . The national governments, commercial logging companies, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and a German development assistance agency (GTZ) all support conservation and development programs. All these programs state that they are pursuing a “landscape approach,” and that they are giving equal attention to global environmental values and local livelihoods .
The landscape has a total population of 191,000 people, about 90% of whom are Bantu and the remainder from Baka, Ba'Aka, and other pygmy ethnic groups . Local Bantu groups and the pygmies have traditionally lived from hunting, gathering, fishing, and simple agriculture. Some Bantu immigrants from other parts of the three countries arrived after 1960 (Cameroon), 1970 (Congo), and 1972 (CAR), attracted by employment in industrial logging. Logging is now the main economic activity in the region and provides employment and revenues to local businesses and governments. However, a large proportion of the populations still depend on subsistence agriculture and hunting and gathering, and many of these people live in extreme poverty. The term “landscape approach”  is applied in this area and elsewhere in the Congo Basin to describe approaches to natural resource management that operate at the scale of large, diverse mosaics of land cover types. However, the reality on the ground is that these areas come under the jurisdiction of a diversity of sectoral agencies, and there is no effective integrating framework to foster agreement on how the different parts of the mosaic fit together. “Landscapes” inevitably encompass a diversity of interest groups and are influenced by multiple drivers of change. There can never be a single “best” outcome for a landscape, and interventions at this scale are always a process of constant negotiation and adaptation . International conservation and