Posted on
28 March 2023
In the southeast of Cameroon, Indigenous peoples and local communities (IP&LCs) aspire to have potable water, decent housing, electricity, schools, and affordable healthcare.

Access to these needs do not often come easily. Stymied by poverty, the quest for improvement of wellbeing is pervasive. In this area, local people have found a niche to overcome the challenges through community forests. This area has 125 community forests assigned to IP&LCs, with 80 created with the support of WWF and local civil society partners.

According to the Cameroon 1994 Forestry Law, community forest is ‘that part of the non-permanent forest estate (not more than 5000 ha) that is the object of an agreement between government and a community in which communities undertake sustainable forest management for a period of 25 years renewable’. The main objective is engaging local communities in the sustainable management of the forest to support local development, and also creating incentives for local communities to conserve biodiversity.

IP&LCs sign agreements with economic operators who sustainably harvest and process wood from the forests. Money paid by the economic operators are used to finance micro-projects such as provision of potable water, electricity, improved housing in the communities. In addition, the IP&LCs harvest non-timber forest products for local subsistence and commercial purposes.

The sustainable use of community forests contributes to raising the standard of living for communities. After more than a decade of experience with community forests, communities now attest to some improvement in their living conditions. ‘With money generated from our community forest, we have replaced the thatched roofs of 27 houses with corrugated sheets; this has spared us leakages during the rainy season’, says Sylvestre Afane, Secretary General of ADENAM, the association that manages the community forest in the village of Alati in Mintom.

Proceeds from the exploitation of community forests are used to procure social amenities for communities. For example, in the Nzoutou village, solar panels have been acquired to provide electricity to 150 households. ‘All households in our village now enjoy constant supply of electricity’, says Ndoutoumou Jean, head of APABY, the association running the community forest. Elsewhere, revenues from community forests have been used to support the construction of boreholes to provide potable water to the communities and housing for secondary school teachers.

Meanwhile in Assok, the village of the Indigenous Baka people, community forest proceeds are used to support the education of Baka children. ‘For two years now community forest has contributed to the payment of fees for Baka children and the provision of school materials such as books, uniforms and chalks’, says Ferdinand Nyangono, head teacher of a Baka school in Assok village.

Community forests have been beset by lengthy administrative procedures, scarcity of funding, and uncertainty of technical support. Before they can exploit their forests, communities must elaborate a simple management plan, conduct inventories each year, and pay a felling tax introduced by the government in 2019. For the community forest to continue contributing to the improvement of living conditions of the people of Ngoyla-Mintom, more efforts have to be made to address these challenges.