Bushmeat crisis in the Congo Basin: more than a conservation crisis

Protein from forest wildlife is crucial to rural food security and livelihoods in the Congo Basin. The harvest of animals such as duikers, antelopes, pigs, primates, rodents, birds and reptiles provides benefits to local people worth millions of US$ annually and represents around 5 million tonnes of animals extracted yearly. Vulnerability to hunting varies, with some species sustaining populations in heavily hunted secondary habitats, while others require intact forests with minimal harvesting to maintain healthy populations. Till recently this important and lucrative sector has been mainly considered from the biodiversity loss angle; and there is certainly a biodiversity crisis looming if nothing is done. This translated into call for blanket interdictions, interventions upstream in the value chain (targeting the hunters) and repressive policies but changed very little of the actual issues on the ground: people continue unabatedly to hunt and trade bushmeat. This blindness to the other characteristics of the sector: its importance for livelihoods, food security and income as well as its very deep social legitimacy is probably the main reasons we made so little progress and we are still facing both a global biodiversity crisis and a deepening protein gap for local populations. We argue that the bushmeat sector should be seen as an important topic to development policy because of its role in sustaining livelihoods and its possible contribution to better public governance in the forest-environment sector. Criminalization of the whole sector is not going to be the solution and so is the provision of alternative livelihoods. We need to design a proper, locally tailored, management system for this important resource protecting what needs to be protected, harvesting what can be harvested and creating a legal framework to this purpose using market-based instruments such as forest certification and using a sound bushmeat sector to support and leverage improvements in forest governance.