Community forestry and the battle against deforestation in Cameroon

The article published in April 2019 by researchers of the World Agroforestry Foundation (What Cameroon can teach others about managing community forests?) is clearly an eye opener to conservation bodies and governments. In our opinion deforestation in Cameroon is on a steady increase and community forest programs appear to have little or no effect on slowing it down. From this article we may conclude from a number of issues that the foundation for forest conservation is not yet grounded in both the government and communities alike. Could conservation effort yield better fruits in Cameroon is the question we believe many are correctly asking. To answer that let’s looks at some issues surrounding conservation and how it is applied in Cameroon.

The Forest and its people

Conservation organizations recognize proper forest management is the key to sustenance of forest communities in association with their full participation. To the local forest man whether consciously or not the issue of forest management is primordially part of their way of life. However from the advent of colonial presence the forest communities have experienced a series of transitions in their forest as the demands for farm and forest products grew steadily in the west. From products of small plots of land to larger and now much larger areas of land ceded for agro conglomerates like the CDC and Pamol ltd etc. The insatiable logging of hardwood both legal and illegal cuts across the Cameroon forest at an alarming rate. Questions may be asked, are the interest of the forest community of the affected areas taken into consideration? Has the government made provision for the rehabilitation of current and future degraded lands? Since it is a new concept, has the forest man been given the tools to enable him to manage his community forest sustainably? These and many more questions need answers.

Data

Of the 21.2 million hectares of forest approximately 3.3 million hectares was lost to deforestation between 1990 and 2005. That is, within 15 years Cameroon lost 13.4% of its forest cover, a trend dangerous to worldwide balance in nature. Should this trend persist, forest loss in Cameroon in 2025 will be over 7 million hectares in just 35 years.

The Bonn Challenge Initiative launched by IUCN in 2011, plans to restore 12 million hectares of deforested and degraded forest by 2030. This is expected to go a long way to mitigate climate change effect as well as improve on the lives of the inhabitants. Will this and other efforts succeed to significantly slow down deforestation in Cameroon? Again this and many more questions need to be answered by projects designed with that in view.

Contemporary Issues

According to government officials in Cameroon, much effort is being put in slowing down deforestation in recent years but they have realized limited success. They however promise heavier fines to defaulter (if the defaulters are ever caught and brought to face the law). But at the same time the government in recent times ceded 280 square miles (725 square km) of land in the virgin forest of Talangaye to a single concern Herakles Farms without the consent of the communities affected. These communities with the help of local NGOs fought back to reclaim their native lands. Is the government really fighting against deforestation alongside community interest?  To us of the Humaniforest organization we suggest the following question might open the door to improving community forest management: how much of the continuous forest loss is due to porous laws and poor governance in relations to lack of education and sensitization?

Forest protection law in Cameroon

The forest code as it is called in Cameroon is just 25 years old. This law objectively appears to be more focused on deforestation related to logging and marginally on agriculture. Both legal and illegal logging constitutes the greatest agent of deforestation in Cameroon.

A close look at the 1994 forest code reveals its failure to recognize indigenous peoples’ rights to the territories and resources they have traditionally owned, used and acquired throughout their presence in that said locality. Such a law will be difficult to adhere wholesomely to by the communities affected as their interest is being eroded by that same law.

Furthermore following the Cameroon law system, laws are supposed to come with a text of application. However for some unexplained reason the text usually comes several years after the law is passed. In the case of the community forest law which is addressed in the 1994 forest code its interpretation differs from one community to the other because the text of application is not yet available. This gives room for unscrupulous loggers to interpret the law differently to their advantage undermining legality in the process. 

It should be noted that Cameroon has no national policy on land tenure. The country relies on a series of legal texts to organize its land tenure policies. This further creates an atmosphere of ambiguity as to the rights and privileges of occupants of a territory especially in the rich dense forests of Cameroon.

While consumer-side laws related to trade like the U.S. Lacey Act, the EU Timber Regulation, and the Australian Illegal Logging Prohibition Act intend to curb illegal forest products in their markets, these laws are only effective as the laws in the source countries.

An admirable though still not a perfect situation is what prevails in the Amazon forest communities. Many studies in the Amazon reveal that deforestation rates in areas of indigenous and community managed forest are lower than that in state managed protected areas. The Amazon indigenous communities can sustainably use their forest land and with the power of the law given to them to prevent illegal land incursions. The community forest law enables the enhancement of rural livelihood and provides income opportunities while still maintaining the people’s way of life.

Capacity-build up the communities

The high rate of deforestation in Cameroon in our observation is partly due to lack of education and sensitization especially at rural settlement levels. Unsustainable logging, demand for firewood or fuel wood, poor land use and agricultural practices are all factors that are unavoidable in rural communities. However deforestation would not be that serious if rural settlers were educated on the importance of the forest and the impending consequences of improper use.

The founders of HUMANIFOREST have over the years identified salient strategies in working with rural communities in order to achieve related proper education and good governance. Practically, assisting communities to help themselves economically develop should be considered a holistic process of change that requires all aspect of being addressed. This requires long term investment with objectives to ensure indigenous interests are secured. In combination, incentives and provision of basic needs are great supporting tools to achieve conservation and other project goals.

With such an approach community participation lends itself more willingly and with zeal. Preparation for responsibility is adequate training and commitment follows with support incentives. Project requirements to meet its objectives are usually challenging. While we bring new knowledge to the community, incentives to guarantee reception are provision of basic needs and alternative income generating activities. To further make these tools workable, creations of market outlets through small cooperative are important. 

Conclusion

This is a battle humanity cannot afford to lose. Though the concept of community forestry is still at its infancy in Cameroon the government and other international bodies working in synergy can bring about the necessary change that will eventually slow down deforestation significantly. It should however be noted that it does not suffice to have laws without an effective mechanism of implementation.

Education and community rights of the forest people should in every case be considered, as their assistance in forest management is very necessary. Other governments and conservation organizations should impress on the Cameroon government to do more to reduce forest loss.

We advocate for more investments in forest conservation in Cameroon as the way forward in slowing down forest loss and improving on community livelihood.

References:

  • What Cameroon can teach others about managing community forests? By Serge Mandiefe Piabuo, Divine Foundjem Tita and Peter A Minang, World Agroforestry Foundation, April 2019
  • Indigenous Reserves and Community Forests; published by Global Forest Atlas
  • Forestry Laws in Cameroon: government publication
  • Deforestation in Cameroon by Perise Forbi September 4, 2018
  • Laws and Policies; Forest legality initiative website
  • When Wall Street Went to Africa; by Christiane Badgley July 11, 2014

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