Twenty five years ago about 95% of villages of the equatorial forest of the South West Region of Cameroon were basically surrounded by thick forest within 10 meters of peripheral homes. It was commonplace to find wild animals close to homes especially at night. It was equally the same between village spaces along the highways. Today the situation is very different.
Cocoa the driving force behind deforestation in the South West Region of Cameroon
But for the agro-giants the Cameroon Development Cooperation (CDC) and Pamol Plc. the virgin forest of the region is greatly exploited today by small farmers. Of the 25,410 Km2 of the SWR total land area the CDC and Pamol occupy 523 km2 planting rubber, palms and banana. While these two agro giants continue to expand their plantations in the south west and other regions the small farmers are equally doing same.
Being farmers by default the rural community sees their survival in engaging in the farming activity that generates income enough to sustain their household needs. Today over 83% of rural households register at least one hectare of cocoa farm. The aggregate land area occupied by cocoa owned by small farmers is much greater than the two agro giants put together. This cash crop has come and overshadowed all other farm produce in the region because of the perceivably high income derived though seasonal.
As the rural communities continue to grow the demand for more land to cultivate subsistence as well as cash crops increase as well. The village virgin land usually called “Black Bush” (in local parlance referring to virgin forest) is constantly invaded by farmers. Almost the entire 18,100 hectares of Lower Bakundu Forest Reserve created in 1940 to save several endangered plant species but considered by villager especially migrant farmers as “Black Bushes” have been transformed into cocoa farms
Who promotes the active deforestation through cocoa plantation?
The demand for cocoa bean in the west has steadily increased over the years. The increase uses of cocoa in the production of many items in addition to chocolate in the west fuel its demand. This tropical crop requires sufficient water and heat to produce high yields. The South West Region is well suited for its cultivation. The development of improved variety of the cocoa plant assures great yields though it has its own negative side effects to soil and forest degradation.
The government under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has large nurseries in different town producing cocoa seedlings. In Kumba the chief town of Meme Division over two hundred and sixty thousand seedlings are made available to farmers each year. By this provision on a yearly basis over 260 hectares of virgin forest is lost to cocoa plant cultivation from this nursery alone. The farmers increasingly need land to expand cocoa cultivation. For this reason there is pressure that leads to encroachment into unauthorized areas. Land conflicts in rural communities are steadily on the rise.
This trend of losing 2.6 km2 of forest might not be regarded as significant from the nursery in Kumba per year. But putting other nurseries together over a period of say 10 years the effect to deforestation will be very significant and catastrophic to the ecosystem in general in the South West Region.
What should be done?
The responsibility falls squarely on the two main stakeholders of the forest, the forest duelers and the government. The current trend of deforestation pushed by cocoa planting has been going on for centuries the world over. SW region of Cameroon is getting its share of the experience.
Today cocoa is the organic gold of the rural forest people. Farmers just need basic knowledge on cocoa cultivation and physical strength and a good yield is guaranteed. With such base requirements and an assured income the attraction into cocoa farming is very high. This follows why greater than 93% of the official Forest Reserved Land of Southern Bakundu created in 1940 to conserve endangered plant species/animal alongside villages “Black Bushes” have been lost mainly to cocoa farmers due to local triggers of; farmland scarcity outside the reserve, population growth, poverty and the more fertile soil within the reserve than the limited, overused, and degraded community farming land.
In Cameroon there will be a bloody resistance to encroachment into restricted forest land if communities perceive this as deprivation of their right to their forest land. Here is where the government comes in with the appropriate approach to ensure forest people’s livelihood is assured and at the same time deforestation is put under control.
For the government the question arises as to how can long term yields and the livelihood of small farmers be improved while minimizing environmental degradation? It needs therefore to develop policies geared towards the right mix that will favor conservation. It is known in the SW Region and many other parts of Cameroon that autochthons play very little role in deforestation as oppose to migrant farmers. Here the government should implement the policy which helps the autochthons to hamper migration as was done in Southern Central Cameroon in the 70s and 80s. Furthermore forest land property rights policies can limit the influx of poor migrant farmers to the forest region with a preference to the grasslands.
Most importantly the Cameroon’s 1994 forest law needs to be fully enforced. This law has clauses which if implemented to its fullest will help save the remaining forest which is the world’s heritage. The Cameroon government in collaboration with local NGOs will need support from other governments and international organizations to adequately implement forest conservation policies.
Cameroon Development Corporation website
Pamol Plantations Plc. Cameroon website
Cocoa: From Deforestation to Reforestation, François Ruf and Honoré Zadi – CIRAD
Chocolate Forests and Monocultures:… François Ruf and Götz Schroth
Case Study: Cameroon – Nchunu Justice Sama and Electha Bih Tawah
Journal of Sustainable Development; Vol. 8, No. 9; 2015