Systemic strategy applied to biodiversity management. The case of the Luki Biosphere Reserve (DRC)

Samy Mankoto 1 and Michel Maldague 2

1. Summary

The state of tropical forests is a cause for concern, not least in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which ranks seventh, with 3.1% of the world's forests (FAO 1977). Tropical forests world-wide are being lost at a rate of 94,000 km2 annually (2000 estimate) - the result of the combined effects of population pressure, often inappropriate production systems, inappropriate land management methods (sectoral approach) and the lack of a coherent development policy. The situation is similar in DRC, where population pressure is very high (3.2% for 1975-2000 ; 3.3% for 2000-2015) (UNDP 2002).

Such environmental degradation is detrimental for three reasons. First, it is a waste of resources and leads to major disruptions in the normal sequence of forest ecosystems' environmental functions. Second, it prevents the forests from meeting, as they should, the populations' requirements. Finally, it makes maintaining biodiversity and sustainable development very difficult.

On launching its Programme on Man and the Biosphere in 1970 (UNESCO-MAB 1971), UNESCO stressed the need to look at the interrelations between humans and the other components of the biosphere from the interdisciplinary angle. With the introduction of the biosphere reserve concept (BR) and the creation of a worldwide network of BRs, comprising about 400 sites (UNESCO-MAB 2002), the tools are now available to design, test and apply new approaches with a view to promoting biodiversity protection, environment conservation and sustainable development at local level.

The promotion of sustainable development requires a radical change of method. Indeed, the complexity of the problems of biosphere management, integrated land use planning and development can no longer be dealt with through the usual sectoral approach, which is largely responsible for the present-day situation. The alternative is the integrated and interdisciplinary global approach or, to be more precise, the systemic approach (or strategy).

2. The systemic approach applied to the Luki Biosphere Reserve (LBR)

Under the systemic approach, the LBR is considered as a system. In order to fully understand this approach, the basic elements of systemic analysis will first be reviewed briefly. This will be followed by a brief insight into the LBR. We shall then apply the systemic strategy to the LBR's problems and try to find solutions.

2.1 Conceptual background : systemic approach

The systemic approach is new. It is the opposite of the traditional, analytical approach. Its application is essential when dealing with complex problems. It is based on the general systems theory which distinguishes between basic concepts and laws (Maldague et al., 1977).

Basic concepts

Basic laws

It is essential to have coherence between the laws of systemics, the laws of basic biocenotics and the second principle of thermodynamics.

Systemic approach versus ecosystemic approach

By definition, the systemic approach includes all the elements of a given system. An examination of the rural system illustrates the respective ranges of the two approaches. A rural system may be sub-divided into six sub-systems :

The ecosystemic approach deals with the ecosystem alone. The systemic approach, on the other hand, covers all the components of the rural system, i.e. the six sub-systems. The ecosystemic approach to biodiversity, adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Biodiversity Convention (BDC, 2000) is confined to the ecosystem alone. However, any kind of reductionism diminishes the chances of finding a solution to the complex problems posed by the environment and, consequently, hinders sustainable development.

The definition of the term ecosystem, given by the BDC's subsidiary body responsible for providing scientific, technical and technological advice, reads as follows : "a dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit". This is the conventional definition of the ecosystem found in Gaussen, Duvigneaud, and Boyden, etc. It is to be noted that man is not included in this definition.

UNESCO's MAB programme (man and the biosphere) goes beyond the restrictive framework of ecosystems, as its aim is to study the interactions between man and the biosphere, and is in keeping with the environment. It includes the ecosystem, the human population and the cultural elements deriving therefrom. The systemic approach, by its openness, is able to deal with the very complex problems encountered in environment management. Biodiversity protection and human and sustainable development depend on this approach.

2.2 Brief description of the Luki Biosphere Reserve

The LBR, created in May 1979 and managed by the DRC's national MAB Committee, is located in the Lower Congo Province, 120 kilometres from the Atlantic coast. It forms the southern extremity of the Guinean-Congolese massif and covers an area of 32,710 hectares. It has two well-defined seasons : a wet season for seven months of the year (mid-October to mid-May) and a dry season for five months of the year (mid-May to mid-October). The climate is hot throughout the year (22 to 28°C), with a slight drop in temperature in the dry season (19 to 23 °C). Average annual rainfall (1970-1983) : 1,120 mm, with 164 foggy days. Its geomorphology is characterised by a number of hills between 300 and 500 m. The vegetation consists of semi-caducifoliate dense rain forest ; its plant biodiversity is considerable, with 1,050 species (Lubini 1992).

In 1961, the population of the LBR, the enclaves and surrounding areas, was estimated at 18,000 (Pendje 1992) ; in 1990, it had reached 43,000 - an increase of 235 % in 29 years. The LBR is cut in two, along a length of 40 km, by Trunk Road N° 1. This has led to a sharp increase in the size of the communities through which the road passes which, in turn, has had a significant impact on the Reserve. An important network of forest roads criss-cross the Reserve and, in the long term, could lead to its fragmentation.

Both traditional and modern economic activities are carried out. The traditional activity is mainly shifting slash and burn cultivation (plantain, bananas, cassava, taro, maize, groundnuts and yam ; cultivated fruit trees : mango, avocado, etc). The population is also involved in hunting, fishing and gathering, even in the Reserve's central area. Small livestock (goats, pigs and sheep) and poultry raising is widespread in the villages. As regards energy, the gathering of fuel wood and charcoal-making are popular activities (supplying the towns of Boma and Matadi).

Modern activities include cash crops, such as coffee and cacao, associated with the logging of Terminalia superba. Loggers selectively fell valuable species using heavy machinery. This practice is very damaging for biodiversity and should be replaced by low-impact logging techniques which do not disturb the soil (McNeely 2002).

The central area (8,000 ha) is representative of the Mayonbe forest ecosystem.

2.3 Implementing the integrated approach in the LBR

Research, begun in 2000, is looking into how the BR at Luki carries out the tasks defined in the Seville Strategy (1995) : conservation, the aim of which is to protect biodiversity (genetic resources, species, ecosystems and landscapes) ; development, with a view to promoting sustainable economic and human development ; and logistical support for research activities, education, continuing training and monitoring.

Thanks to the LBR and the École régionale post-universitaire d'aménagement et de gestion intégrés des forêts et territoires tropicaux (ÉRAIFT) (Post-university regional school for the integrated development and management of tropical forests and lands), the researchers have had access to infrastructure, rolling stock, technical and scientific tools and support (Bridgewater 2002).

The implementation of the systemic approach involves a certain number of methodological phases which have been described (Maldague et al., 1977) and tested a number of times in the field (Congo, Guinea, Madagascar, Senegal, DRC). The chosen method is a quick and cheap way of gathering first-hand data on all the sub-systems comprising the "rural system". It applies the ideas put forward by Ludwig et al. (cited by Sheil 2002) whereby good resource managers know that drawing up an inventory is not a priority and that it is much more useful to quickly identify threats so as to be able to take the required management measures.

The aims of the field research were to:

During the experimental phase the student-researcher teams lived in the villages concerned. The students' contact with the village population was a major asset, creating a climate of mutual confidence, facilitating the work and providing a better insight into the problems.

Data collection involved : (1) observations in the field ; (2) population surveys ; (3) interviews with the local authorities. Based on these data, interpreted through analysis grids, a rural development assessment was made. This led to the establishment of a problems system, emphasising the interactions between the problems encountered in the sub-systems concerned, and to the preparation of the corresponding solutions system.

3. Results

The LBR has considerable potential, given the high level of biodiversity of its environment, the specific functions of the forest (protection, regulation and production), and the values attributed to biodiversity (Flint 1991, cited in Burley 2002). The LBR's many tangible and intangible resources should help meet the population's vital requirements on a sustainable basis.

However, for many reasons, such as decades of political disruption, the war which has been raging since 1998, the lack of management and the serious shortcomings in the training of many decision-makers and fieldagents, the field observations, surveys and interviews carried out in the villages have led to the conclusions briefly summarised below:

4. Discussion

4.1 Advantages of the systemic strategy

Sheil (2002) drew attention to the fact that in the field of science, emphasis is too often laid on observing the development of problems rather than on solving them. Under the systemic strategy, many data is collected in all sectors of the rural system and analysed, interactions are identified and solutions found.

All that remains is to implement them. For this purpose, a flexible, progressive blueprint for the integrated management and development of the LBR is currently being prepared, based on a hierarchical organisation of the priorities highlighted in the problem system analysis.

Under the systemic strategy, in a situation like the one encountered at Luki, points of amplification (cf. fig.) need to be identified within the system. In other words, in a complex system like the LBR, the sensitive points must be pinpointed and a combination of measures implemented simultaneously. This method not only allows several questions to be resolved almost simultaneously, but it can have unforeseen effects (emergence, potentialisation, synergy).

This is how we measure the systemic strategy's capacity to save time and money and put an end to the wasting of human and natural resources.

The eco-systemic approach, on the other hand, places the emphasis on biodiversity protection and does not tackle the deep-rooted causes of the degradation observed, i.e., the widespread poverty of the population fighting for its survival in a context of general disorganisation (high entropy conditions). Such a reductionist approach cannot provide any solution that would promote sustainable development.

4.2 The broad lines of the draft blueprint for the LBR

This draft plan, based on the systemic approach, seeks to improve the general condition of the LBR in terms of its physical and human environment. Due to editorial constraints, we shall provide only an overview of it here.

The approach is a pragmatic one : the implementation of chosen solutions (solutions system). Measures centre on : administrative organisation of the LBR which, necessarily, extends beyond the borders of the Reserve ; people's participation ; integrated land use planning ; and the sources of available or potential negative entropy.

The points of amplification, which may have the effect of stimulating the population's latent dynamism, are specially indicated.

5. Conclusion

Biosphere reserves provide both a concept and a tool for responding to people `s specific requirements. The LBR's wide forest biodiversity provides the population with many opportunities. However, to be able to make use of them in the long term, current acute problems have to be resolved. Three principles are proposed on which measures may be based (Maldague 2003) :

For this reason, we must tackle the deep-seated causes of the situation ; these lie mainly in the poverty and lack of education of the people who live in the Reserve and its surrounding area. In addition to measures designed to improve living conditions, education must be geared to sustainable development, public awareness must be raised and the public encouraged to assume their responsibilities. People who learn something are capable of changing their attitude.

The chosen systemic strategy may be applied mutatis mutandis in all integrated land use and protected area management projects, in integrated development and rational natural resource management plans, etc. It has boundless scope.


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1 Programme expert, project officer in charge of ERAIFT, Ecological Sciences Division, UNESCO, 1, rue Miollis, 75732 Paris Cedex 15, France. [email protected]

2 Emeritus Professor of the Faculty of Forestry and Geomatics, Laval University, Honorary Director of ÉRAIFT - 1641, rue des Rocs, Ste-Foy (Québec) G1W 3J7 Canada.