Improving forest governance through independent monitoring – Moabi-DRC pilot project

Maï Ndombe Province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Photo of Mai Ndombe Lake
Mai Ndombe Lake. Photo: Leo Bottrill (Moabi)
Key Lessons 
  • The Moabi-DRC project piloted a community-based REDD+ safeguard monitoring system within Maï Ndombe Province (previously ‘District’) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
  • Through developing a network of local observers, it was possible to increase the frequency, breadth and cost-effectiveness of data gathering compared to that carried out by external, officially mandated monitors, and to increase local participation.
  • The use of both paper-based methods (by community members, to collect data) and digital smartphone technology (by one external coordinator, to verify and transmit data) meant that the benefits of technology were harnessed, while excessive cost and complication associated with technology were minimised. 
  • The initiative proved that stronger REDD+ safeguard and grievance monitoring is possible in Maï Ndombe, but also that effective national legal frameworks are needed in the country in order for safeguards monitoring to be fully enabled.

This initiative piloted a community-based REDD+ safeguard monitoring system in an area within Maï Ndombe Province, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the company Wildlife Works is implementing the Mai Ndombe REDD+ project, also known as the ‘ERA’ project. This contributes to a jurisdictional REDD+ programme covering the whole province.

The Moabi-DRC pilot monitoring project was a collaborative effort of Moabi, a nonprofit organisation that develops technology to map and monitor natural resource use; local communities; Observatoire de la Gouvernance Forestière (OGF), a Congolese NGO that monitors rainforests in DRC (and at the time of publication was the national mandated forest monitor); and the Central African Satellite Forest Observatory (OSFAC).

It uses a hybrid arrangement of pen and paper in combination with limited, efficient use of open-source smartphone technology. Community observers use paper forms to collect important data relating to deforestation and the status of social and environmental safeguards in the REDD+ project zone. These data are then collated and transmitted to the Moabi online platform by an intermediary focal point based in Inongo (Maï Ndombe’s administrative centre) using a ruggedised smartphone and GeoODK software. They are then shared with Congolese government authorities, REDD+ project partners, and independent observer organisations in the capital, Kinshasa. 

In the pilot project, participants gathered data monthly for six months, and the results have been used in a report that was under review by the responsible authorities and other stakeholders at the time this case study was published in December 2015.

International Forest Agenda/s 
Monitoring Theme/s 
Deforestation drivers
  • Artisinal cutting of wood
  • Mining activities
  • Bush fires
  • Slash-and-burn agriculture
  • Production of Makala (charcoal)
  • Number of local development committees (Comités Locaux de Développement – CLD)
  • Number of Local Development Plans (Plan Local de Développement - PLD)
  • Number of reports made available to the whole community after the completion of an activity 
  • Provision of a just and equitable redress mechanism

(Regarding provision of a just and equitable redress mechanism:)

  • Number of complaints lodged
  • Number of complaints resolved

(Regarding effective participation of stakeholders:)

  • Number of activities established
  • Number of consultations conducted prior to the establishment of the activities
Wellbeing & social issues

(Regarding contribution of REDD+ activities to sustainable economic and social development:)

  • Number of schools constructed
  • Number of days of activity of the mobile clinic
  • Number of  health centres
  • Number of demonstration gardens
  • Number of tree nurseries
  • Number of livestock lots
  • Number of permanent employees recruited

(Regarding basic human rights:)

  • Number of villages mapped (to provide data relevant to customary rights, and land and resource rights).

Policy context

DRC is one of eight countries that share the Congo Basin, home to the world’s second largest continuous tropical rainforest after the Amazon. DRC has by far the largest share, at about 60%. Its deforestation rate is lower than many other tropical countries, but could rise significantly without preventative action.

Among the Congo Basin countries, DRC’s REDD+ policy arrangements are relatively advanced, with its National REDD Strategy having been published in 2012. It also has relatively strong connections with REDD+ donor countries, having chaired the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) from 2009 to 2012, and led its involvement in international REDD+ meetings. Much of the national legal framework for REDD+, however, remains to be developed, and at the time of this pilot monitoring initiative DRC did not have a REDD+ grievance redress mechanism system.

The country’s early engagement with REDD+ included the initiation in 2010 of WWF’s large-scale REDD+ initiative in Maï Ndombe Province, where the Moabi-DRC project is also based. This province covers a 12.5 million hectare area north of the capital, Kinshasa. The WWF-DRC work provided many of the foundations for the current jurisdictional REDD+ programme in Maï Ndombe. The REDD+ jurisdictional programme functions as an umbrella for REDD+ activity in the province (see the WWF-DRC case study for more infomration on the jurisdictional REDD programme). Subsequently, in 2012, Maï Ndombe saw the validation of an REDD+ project developed by Wildlife Works Carbon and Ecosystem Restoration Associates (ERA-WWC), covering an area of 300,000 hectares, incorporating over fifty villages. The project is now solely owned by Wildlife Works, but is still known as ‘ERA’.

The size and remoteness of Maï Ndombe Province make it a challenging environment in which to monitor REDD+ social and environmental safeguards and grievances. Concerns were expressed by some stakeholders that this was not being done adequately in the ERA project area, to which teams were being flown in at high expense from Kinshasa for only a few days of data gathering every two or three years. The Moabi-DRC initiative aimed to improve this by training local people to carry out monitoring.

Community participation

Community members participated in the Moabi-DRC pilot primarily by gathering data using pre-designed forms and delivering their data to a focal point (a member of an intermediary organisation), who was based in Inongo. The project can be categorised according to the monitoring typology proposed by Danielsen et al. (2009) as ‘externally driven monitoring with local data collectors’.

To initiate the project and select community monitors, meetings were first held with the chief of each participating village and their council, to discuss the project and obtain the consent of the village. Monitors were selected either through a vote by the meetings’ participants, or through designation by the village chief in the presence of village members. Efforts were made to ensure that those selected were known by their peers to be honest and capable, and to have no direct ties with either the ERA project or the Congolese government.

The recruited community observers received training, through a series of workshops, on how to record observations of deforestation and safeguard infractions using easy-to-use reporting sheets, which had been designed by Moabi. 

Each of the observers worked within of their own village, gathering data on drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, ERA project activities, and national social and environmental standards. They carried out this work in the course of their everyday activities, and received compensation of 4500 FC (about US$5) per month for their time collecting information.

They were each visited every two months by the external, Inongo-based focal point, who went on mission every month for up to two weeks at a time. They would present their forms to and discuss their observations with the focal point, and take the focal point to the location of any reported safeguard infractions for verification.

At the time of publication of this case study, the final project report on their observations was under review by the responsible authorities and Wildlife Works, and plans were being made to present the information back to the communities.

The monitoring methodology, meanwhile, was defined by a multi-stakeholder working group comprising experts from the national REDD+ Coordination body in DRC (CNREDD), the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development in DRC (MEDD), DRC’s civil society-run REDD Climate Working Group (GTCR), local company Novacel, ERA-WWC, WWF and OGF.

Monitoring methodology

Due to the size of the ERA project area, the large number of villages within it (more than 50), and the constraints of the monitoring project, a sample of villages was selected for monitoring, according to four criteria. They had to i) be accessible by a road vehicle, ii) have more than 50 inhabitants each, iii) have past or present REDD+ activities, and iv) be spatially representative of the project zone’s ethnic and environmental diversity.

Paper forms were used for data collection. To allow REDD+ safeguard-related activities to be more easily held accountable, the forms were designed to record quantifiable information on the status of the activities, such as whether a community agriculture project had created employment and produced expected yields, or whether the construction of a schoolhouse was progressing as planned. The forms also provided space for reporting complaints relating to land tenure conflicts, lack of consultation, or benefit sharing disputes.

The data recorded by the observers in each village were collected, checked for consistency, and verified every two months by the Inongo-based focal point, who would alternate every month between two circuits of villages. The verification process involved discussions with community members (lasting from 30 minutes to several hours) and joint visits by the focal point and the observer to the sites of any reported safeguard infractions, where the focal point would take photographs and record GPS locations.

The data on the forms, and the information gathered during the bimonthly meetings, were recorded by the focal point using the GeoODK application on a ruggedised smartphone provided by Moabi. Upon returning to Inongo at the end of each mission, the focal point transmitted the data via the internet to Kinshasa for further validation and discussion with the nationally mandated monitors at OGF. These data were then processed and made publicly available on Moabi’s online mapping platform, where additional Moabi map layers (such as REDD+ project boundaries, forest cover data, and regional infrastructure) could be added to provide additional context to the monitoring project.

Digital technology

A single ruggedised smartphone (a Samsung Galaxy Xcover GT-S5690), with one backup, was used by the focal point. This was equipped with the GeoODK application, which could be used to record and upload the data to the Moabi website.

Because GeoODK requires some knowledge of programming in Excel, Moabi staff designed the monitoring form on paper and then coded it using Excel to appear automatically upon opening the GeoODK application. 


This initiative aimed to increase the amount of useful data gathered and reported on REDD+ safeguards and grievances, and to do so in a more cost-effective way than existing alternatives involving infrequent, costly visits by external monitors, and large numbers of high-tech devices (only two smartphones – one of which was a backup - were used in the project).

Through the engagement of community members and a locally-based focal point, the project has indeed succeeded in reducing the need for external, mandated monitors to travel, while also avoiding the high costs of equipping each community observer with digital monitoring equipment instead of paper forms. To date, no comparison between the community monitoring approach and other methods has been undertaken; REDD+ safeguard and grievance information is not systematically collected in DRC. 

Source of funding

The Moabi-DRC pilot monitoring project was funded by Norad, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. 

Achievements and challenges

During this pilot phase, the Moabi monitoring system has provided an extensive georeferenced database of social and environmental safeguards activities in the ERA project zone, as well as instances of deforestation, while also documenting community grievances and concerns about REDD+ project activities.  

The project’s first monitoring report has been produced and, at the time of publication of this case study, was under review by the authorities and Wildlife Works. See the Moabi website to access this from early 2016 and to follow other developments and efforts by Moabi and partners in DRC.

Due to the limited use of digital technology in this monitoring system, data is not transmitted to Moabi’s online platform in real time (it can have a lag period of several days to weeks). However, the system nevertheless succeeds in allowing safeguards and instances of deforestation to be observed within a meaningful timeframe by stakeholders and the wider public. It also enables safeguard and grievance information to be overlaid with data from third parties such as the REDD+ company, the government agencies, or other NGOs. 

This trade-off between cost and speed of data transmission is considered worthwhile, given the greater potential for project sustainability afforded by avoiding the need for large numbers of expensive smartphones to be distributed among remote communities unaccustomed to such devices, and the associated training and maintenance that this would require. This relatively low-cost, low-tech system makes it both affordable and also replicable for future projects dealing with a wide range of land use activities.

The engagement of community members and traditional leaders has allowed local communities to have a greater sense of ownership and involvement in the safeguard monitoring process than they would otherwise have had. Meanwhile, the employment of a locally-based focal point further reduced the need for mandated monitors to make costly missions from Kinshasa.  

One challenge for the pilot project was the difficulty in collecting data from Wildlife Works, which related to the fact that, although OGF and Moabi had official permission to carry out the project, they were operating without an official government mandate to monitor REDD+ safeguards and grievances.

Finally, despite the successes and advantages of the monitoring methods piloted by Moabi and OGF, there remain major hindrances to safeguard monitoring by organisations with or without an official mandate to do so. This is due to the lack of a suitable national REDD+ grievance redress mechanism system, as well as other important gaps in the national REDD+ legal framework, related to issues such as the implementation of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), the treatment of high conservation value (HCV) forests, sustainable funding mechanisms for independent monitors, concepts of permanence, leakage and additionality, and participation and benefit distribution. Addressing these gaps will be crucial for enabling effective monitoring of - and response to - safeguards and grievances.