Synchronicity Earth has supported Reseau CREF’s diverse initiatives, including community forestry, an indigenous peoples’ festival, and solar panelling for its offices, since 2012.
North Kivu, in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is home to Africa’s oldest and most diverse National Park: Virunga. Virunga National Park is also recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The region is home to Mountain gorilla, Okapi, Grauer’s gorilla and Chimpanzee, as well as savannah and forest elephants. Not long ago, the area was subject to international attention after the government gave a licence to British oil company, Soco International, allowing it to explore within the parks boundary. The region’s rich soils, minerals, forests and lakes have attracted many people and companies to the province and it is one of the most populated regions of the country. This has been compounded over the years by conflicts following the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 which have led to large numbers of people being displaced from and into the area. Such conflict and instability has often meant that the most basic NGO coordination can be difficult.
Réseau CREF (Network for the Conservation and Restoration of Forest Ecosystems) is a coalition of around 30 local organisations all based in North Kivu Province. Coordinated by Alphonse Muhindo Valivambene, its overarching aim is to improve forest governance and ensure that the dignity and stability of indigenous peoples is enhanced. Throughout its existence, it has developed effective community networks to conserve forests and freshwater bodies and manage them in ways that alleviate poverty in the area. Its members have remained in the area when many international NGOs have been forced to leave.
In 2014 Réseau CREF members worked alongside the national park staff to expose UK-based SOCO International’s highly controversial oil exploration activities within Virunga National Park. This ultimately led to the company pulling out of the region.