Last weekend, with some friends, L and T, we went to a rainforest biosphere or reserve called Luki near Boma in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We drove from Kinshasa on Saturday morning. We arrived at around 8pm in Mangala/Luki after several calls to find the place.
It took us 12-13 hours with an hour stop in Matadi.
My friend L heard about the place through his friends who told him it was definitely worth the long drive.
So, what is a biosphere reserve?
“Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. They are internationally recognized, nominated by national governments and remain under sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located” Source
In the DRC, there are two such reserves: Yangambi and Luki.
The Luki Biosphere reserve is 15 minutes from Boma through a village called Mangala.
It belongs to the DRC government and is managed by the national scientific research center for agronomy studies (INERA) and the ministry Environment and Sustainable Development (MEDD) through the program of Man And Biosphere (MAB) of Unesco including local communities and Civil societies.
There are others partners such as l’Ecole Régionale postuniversitaire d’Aménagement et de gestion Intégrés des Forêts et Territoires tropicaux or ERAIFT a Unesco category 2 centre and WWF which are involved in research and support to local communities.
It is a tropical forest that was demarcated by the Belgians in 1937. Since 1979, it is a protected area with 3 zones: a central area with no human activity, a buffer area with limited activity and a transition area that has some additional human activity such as farming.
After many years without any great apes in the rainforest, chimpanzees were recently found in the reserve using camera traps. They are totally wild and avoid human interactions. There is no project to make them part of the eco-tourism in order to protect their environment. See the article from WWF : “Les chimpanzés à face blanche font leur retour dans la Réserve de biosphère de Luki”
Kikongo and Kiyombe are the local languages, not Lingala, which is from the ex-Equateur province (Mobutu the dictator was from there, Gbadolite exactly).
The people in the area who live in the forest in “enclaves” are Yombe. Read more about the Yombe people here :
“Adept at crafts and art, the men are involved in weaving, carving, and smelting, and the women make clay pots. Popular figures include the Nkisi nkonde and female phemba statues.” – Wikipedia entry https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yombe_people
Projects in the reserve
- Protection and conservation
In the 2010s, the reserve had a project to extract medicinal plants by Canadian partners such as the “Fondation Biotechnologie pour le développement durable en Afrique” or BDA.
See articles in French here :
- AUF : Lancement du projet de valorisation des plantes à valeur ajoutée en République démocratique du Congo (RDC)
- Le Devoir : Amener les Congolais à se lancer dans les affaires
- MCI Audencia : Carol Robert, fondatrice du BDA, entretien
- BDA : Fondation Biotechnologie pour le Développement durable en Afrique
- HEC Montréal : LA FONDATION BDA ET HEC MONTRÉAL SIGNENT UNE ENTENTE DE PARTENARIAT EN DÉVELOPPEMENT DURABLE
- Article L’Actualité : Congo : le salut par les plantes
At the end of the 2010s, the project sadly ended abruptly. The reserve is now searching for other revenue streams such as ecotourism or sustainable farming (mushrooms, fruits, cacao, etc…) with the local communities.
There are several buildings that were built to condition the medicinal plants that have not yet been utilised. Local staff members were trained to be eco-preneurs. But the project seems to have been stopped while waiting for funding to continue the project to make local communities financially independent while protecting the rainforest.
Where is it?
What is there to do?
- Hikes or walks into the forest : several hours or days
- Swims or dips in the small rivers or water streams
- See the caves
- Sleep in the forest in tents
- Learn about the forest and the local customs including traditional dances
- Visit the enclaves of local communities
- Visit the plantations : cacao, bananas and papaya
- Learn how to grow mushrooms with Mardoché and Pitshu Lelo, two great local eco-guides and eco-preneurs
- See a 700 year old tree “Le Grand Kalungi”. Kalungi means tree in the local Kiyembe language.
- Walk to the local spring source
- Watch a football match
- Speak to the guides or the researchers on location to discuss what other options are available
There are 36 rooms available. We stayed in a house that had a living room and 5 clean bedrooms with mosquito nets without air conditioning. There were brand new solar panels and batteries for 24/7 electricity. There were 2 bathrooms that used rain water.
Rooms were around 20 USD per night without tip. Cost subject to change.
Maman Germaine, a local cook, made delicious food everyday for a fixed fee. There were even cold beers available.
Fresh juices were prepared daily with fruits such as orange, passion fruit or mandarine.
All the food is locally produced. You can ask for special meals if you want, they will do their best to accommodate you.
We (3 people) paid around 70 USD per person for 3 days of food and drinks (some beers).
Entry into the reserve, paid to INERA, was 10 USD per person for foreigners.
Eco-guides asked between 10 and 20 USD per hike without tip.
These are subject to change if services are changed or additional requests are made. Everyone was very kind and helpful.
Precautions and tips
- Wear long sleeves to avoid getting bitten by “maringouins” or tiny sand flies that you hardly see and leave you itchy for days.
- Put DEET anti-insect lotion everywhere (face, hands), the flies will bite everywhere. They come out between 5 and 8 am and 3 to 6 pm. There weren’t many mosquitoes.
- Feel free to ask the eco-guides for shorter hikes or less intense ones or to go slower. They are used to the forest not you.
- Make sure you are fit and healthy to go into the forest for long hikes – strong legs are a must and able to sustain intense walking. There will be steep inclines and declines. Walk slowly.
- Bring a walking stick
- Bring some games to play at night : chess, cards, etc…
- Bring a torch
- Bring lots of shirt/clothes, you will sweat a lot
- Wear synthetic, dry fabric, quick drying clothing.
- Don’t drive at night
- Take breaks between Kinshasa and Luki in Matadi or Mbanza Gungu or Kimpese – try the Noor Taj Village or NTV as it’s called locally. The chicken curry and daal were great. Location link (Google Maps)
To book your stay contact Ernestine below or her colleagues.
Ernestine LONPI TIPI (Assistante de Recherche ERAIFT)
Phone: +243 818 628 735
Ernest NTUMBA (Chef de Projet WWF)
E-mail : Entumba@wwfdrc.org
Inoussa NJUMBOKET (Conseiller Technique Principal WWF)
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone : +243 976 006 106
See the brochure for Ecotourism in Luki in French.
The Luki eco-tourism project is meant to be self-sustaining. Any funding or projects from public or private funds will be most appreciated to help the community and protect the beautiful environment that is at risk of disappearing due to the added human population pressures : deforestation, farming, illegal hunting, poaching.
Contact the team above if you are interested in helping.