Basile Mpati, second from left, explains how to identify peat soils to technicians from the Department of Forest Inventory and Zoning during a training in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of the Congo. | Credit: Eva McNamara

Counting Carbon in the Congo Basin

By Eva McNamara, Olivia Freeman

The Congo Basin of Central Africa hosts the second largest tropical forest in the world. The forests of the Congo Basin provide a range of environmental services to local forest-dependent communities, the surrounding region, and globally through climate regulation and carbon sequestration. Fostering the sustainable use of this vast, critical resource is imperative and requires a better understanding of existing forest resources, including changes in forest and land cover. Accurate, transparent, and timely forest resource information is essential for making sound decisions related to land use planning, including planning for climate change mitigation and adaptation. It also enables countries to participate in results-based payment programs such as REDD+, which can provide additional funding to support sustainable forest management.

The U.S. Forest Service Office of International Programs is an implementing partner of the interagency SilvaCarbon program. SilvaCarbon is a technical cooperation initiative of the U.S. government focused on building the capacity of tropical forested countries to measure, monitor, and report on carbon in their forests and other lands. Through SilvaCarbon activities supported by USAID and the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Forest Service is working with numerous government agencies, universities, non-governmental organizations and other technical partners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, and Cameroon to improve forest management through enhanced data and expertise, as well as encourage coordination and collaboration of experts within the region.

SilvaCarbon works directly with the national teams responsible for conducting ground-based inventories of national forest resources. Methods used include tracking changes in forest and land cover using remote sensing data, estimating soil carbon in peatland forests, and calculating terrestrial greenhouse gas emissions. SilvaCarbon training and technical assistance activities help these teams adopt new cost-effective technologies and approaches, strengthen their technical capabilities and expertise, and exchange lessons and best practices from around the world. Through these efforts, over 200 government officials, university professors, and technical partners have been trained in terrestrial carbon accounting, forest inventory methodologies, and remote sensing-based forest monitoring throughout the region.


Technicians from the Department of Forest Inventory and Zoning work on problem sets during a training on estimating biomass carbon using LIDAR data in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In addition to leveraging the expertise of U.S. government technical agencies, a strategic goal of the program is to support and promote South-South technical exchange. These exchanges play a vital role in building country capacities by providing needed opportunities to share lessons and experiences across borders, helping to develop a global community of practitioners. For example, a recent exchange in the Republic of the Congo brought together 40 experts from six countries to share their experiences in establishing measurement, reporting, and verification systems to support national forest monitoring. Participants gained practical, first-hand insight into the approaches and methodologies being adopted in other countries, and left the workshop with a clear understanding of priority areas to focus on, as well as additional sources of support throughout the region.

Another example of a successful South-South exchange lies with Basile Mpati, a technician at the Republic of the Congo’s National Center for Forest Inventory and Zoning. After participating in a series of SilvaCarbon training courses on wetland forest inventories, he became a national expert in peat and wetland forests, and subsequently travelled to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo to facilitate a similar training aimed at helping government technicians begin their inventory of peat and wetland forests.

As Mr. Mpati put it, “We may be two separate countries, but we share the same forests. If we as a region fail to protect these forests, the ecological results will not only be damaging for the people here, who depend on the forests for food and fuel, but the amount of carbon that will be released into the atmosphere will be devastating for the rest of the world as well.”

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Integration
Adaptation, Carbon, Forest/Forestry, Sustainable Land Management, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning, Sustainable Landscapes

Eva McNamara

Eva McNamara is the Central Africa Communications Specialist for the U.S. Forest Service International Programs.

Olivia Freeman

Olivia Freeman is the U.S. Forest Service International Programs’ Program Coordinator for the SilvaCarbon and SWAMP programs in Africa. She coordinates technical assistance on forest monitoring, estimating greenhouse gases emissions from land use change and building research capacity on peatland and coastal forests. Before joining the U.S. Forest Service International Programs, Olivia worked for the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Nairobi, Kenya. She has an MSc and BSc in Resource Management and Environmental Studies, and Natural Resource Conservation (Honors) from the University of British Columbia.

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