Save our watersheds!

In this blog post Eyole Lambe of Humaniforest explains why forests are increasingly under threat or already disappeared. He pleas for Cameroonian government to take responsibility to save the remaining watersheds.

Water is life

In Cameroon as in many other countries significant forest usually surrounds water sources. A close look at the forest structure surrounding the water sources you find a mixed vegetation of grass, shrubs and huge trees that forms a canopy several meters high.

Water is life not only for humans but for all living things. Since all living things depend on water for their existence, water catchment areas are usually crowded with abundance of life for both plants and animals. The natural vegetation around watersheds is currently under great threat from human activities that negatively impact on the ecosystems of the area with a further consequence of water resource depletion and degradation.

Human activities encroach forests

Forest people depend on the forest for their livelihood. Forest settlements are usually small with populations in most cases less than three hundred households with an average size between 6-8 persons. Farming is the main activity. Cash and subsistence crops are planted in small plots from ½ to 4 hectares. Each household has demands for farm lands, wood for fuel, timber for building etc. Deforestation in rural areas sometime occurs unconsciously with increase in village population size that puts more pressure on forest land resources.

However this type of deforestation on average can be effectively managed sustainably with the proper approach. But there are the large multinational logging companies that forage the entire forest for hardwood. Large expanses of forest are cut down in this search. Moreover, this opens these areas to villages to establish new farms and sometimes new settlements.

Government must take its role

There is legislation in Cameroon intended to ensure sustainable forest exploitation. The laws are public but most communities are unaware of them. This makes it very difficult for the rural communities to be effective participants in forest management, especially when it comes to monitoring logging companies in their area. We think the government should do more to safeguard the natural forest that is fast disappearing.

  • The government should educate the rural communities on forest conservation laws. In this way communities will alert government authorities whenever they recognize any violation of timber harvesting. It is common knowledge that logging companies do harvest immature trees in violation of their contracts.
  • The government should place most of the remaining forest under protection as reserves. Forest reserves and national parks are normally out of the reach of both rural community encroachments and logging company exploitations by legislation.
  • The government should create more community land. Presently in Cameroon only 1.18 of total land is under community control (Duncan Macqueen 2017). Local communities will be more involved in productive activities with some help from other interested parties such as the government and NGOs.
  • International organizations need to work with local organization and assist the government in their conservation effort. The government of Cameroon is sometime weak in front of the multinational organizations that have big pockets. On the other hand large International Organizations (such as Green Peace, working to stop dirty palm oil) do have ways to addressing issues that are global in nature such as deforestation.

NGOs and rural community preservation

Rural community livelihood is basically agrarian. Rural communities grow food for their use and also feed the urban populations. Cash crop farming is however one of the main forces behind increased deforestation. Cocoa farms in the south west region of Cameroon have skyrocketed in number and size in the last decade and has left many rural communities without community reserved forest. This invariably affects water source output and even more importantly the water quality, (a good example to cite here is the Manganjo Community in Mbonge Subdivision in SW region of Cameroon).

Rural community members place more importance to current income over future benefits. This factor is natural and much stronger to people for their survival than to the general wellbeing of the community.

NGOs in collaboration with government should therefore adopt an alternative approach to save our community forest where water sources are found.

We propose community education and government policy enforcements.

  • In spite of the low literacy level of rural agrarian population they can be sensitized and educated on the importance of forest conservation and sustainable management of its resources. NGOs have the expertise of working with communities in numerous issues. This good NGO / community relationship should be extended in the areas reforestation and water catchment area protection. With proper education and incentives reforestation and forest protection will be respected as projects for community survival. In this regard the following will be in check:
    • Farm plot allocation will be under control of the village council especially for new settlers
    • Wood for fuel shall be gotten from naturally dead wood only.
    • Encroachment into reserved and protected areas will be policed by the entire community
  • Government enforcement agents shall be called upon to ensure effective policy adherence by deforestation agents like loggers and the rural communities as well. Government policy documents on forest resource management shall be made available to community councils and they on their part will work in close collaboration with government agent. It is known that many large timber companies violate government policies with little or no consequence. The government therefore must change its stands on environmental policy implementation to achieve significant drop in deforestation, while at the same time encouraging reforestation thus:
    • Stringent penalties shall be meted to policy/contract violators
    • Community forest seizure if determined to be poorly managed
    • Government shall encourage reserved areas to be developed into production forest

Conclusion

The Cameroon government needs to be called to order in respect of its laxity on environmental policy implementation. International organizations working in these areas of intervention are thus called upon as well to hold the government responsible for allowing global effect on the planet for their negligence and irresponsibility.

 

References

  • Ministry of the Environment and Nature Protection Cameroon submission to The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) 2008
  • Greenpeace International: Wijma: destroying Cameroon’s rainforests

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