Taking Conservation in Our Hands: Forest Protection and Management by Highland Communities in Cameroon


Project contributors: Jonathan Barnard, John DeMarco

The forest – farm boundary at the Kilum-Ijim forest was agreed by participatory decision-making with local communities Credit: Jonathan Barnard / BirdLife International

Cameroon is among the top ten countries in Africa for high biodiversity and cultural diversity. The rich montane forests of the Cameroon Mountains have high numbers of endemic plant, bird, amphibian, reptile, mammal and insect species. However, some areas have been cleared, such as the Bamenda Highlands montane forest, where very little remains due to years of forest extraction, farming and grazing. It is estimated that if clearing had continued unabated, the Kilum-Ijim Forest (the largest remaining patch of Bamenda Highlands montane forest) might have completely disappeared by 1997. The Kilum-Ijim Forest Project is considered to be one of the pioneers of community forestry in Cameroon and is widely regarded as a model of how communities can manage their forests for both biodiversity conservation and to meet their own needs. When other communities learned of what was happening at Kilum-Ijim, they came to the project to learn more about conserving their own forests.

In efforts to conserve the last remaining forests in West Africa, the Bamenda Highlands Forest Project was set up as a collaborative partnership between BirdLife International, the Government of Cameroon, and the communities of Cameroon’s Bamenda Highlands, to help those interested communities outside Kilum-Ijim. Rather than imposing conservation on the communities involved, the project’s approach was to encourage people to share the many reasons that they already had for valuing the forest, including reasons that were not widely known or were nearly forgotten by the communities themselves. Now there are more than 20 Forest Management Institutions (FMI) along with traditional management institutions that are active in the region directly managing the forests, without project assistance. The FMIs are community-based organizations (CBOs) that are necessary for the Community Forestry law in Cameroon. They comprise a number of roles relating to the planning and management of the forest and reporting to the Government, and people are elected from the local communities concerned to fulfill these roles. The project facilitated the establishement of these CBOs, and then helped them in their development, ensuring due regard to governance and transparency. The FMIs are still functioning without the presence of the BirdLife project.

The largest tribal groups in the area decided to form two umbrella organizations to support each other better: continue reading–>

Wild Resources and Cultural Values: Implications for Biocultural Diversity in South Africa

Photo: Tony Dold

Project Contributor: Michelle Cocks

The woodpile is the Xhosa women's status symbol and cultural totem. Photo: Tony Dold

Since the 1980s, the government of South Africa has taken a more people-centred approach to conservation, and most legislation has been updated to articulate the need for the participation of local people in the management of biodiversity both within communal areas and on state-owned land (Kepe, 1999; Campbell and Shackleton, 2001). Despite the recognition in South Africa that culture is intricately bound to the use and management of biodiversity (Bernard, 2003; Fabricius, 2004), however, the use of culture as a tool in conservation strategies has not as yet been explored within the South African context (Cocks, 2006).

South Africa offers an excellent opportunity to observe whether and to what extent the effects of cultural values on biodiversity are preserved under non-traditional conditions, as the country witnessed 46 years of turbulent political history, during which time the state forcibly moved more than 3.5 million people into “homelands”, established under the apartheid regime. Consequently, in this context the concept of “local communities” seldom represents people who have historical continuity with pre-colonial societies. In contrast, they are completely reliant on the national economy. In response, the project “The Significance of Non-Timber Forest Product Utilization and Cultural Practices in Rural and Urban Households: Implications for Biocultural Diversity”  aimed to assess the importance of biodiversity with respect to cultural and utilitarian values among different categories of non-traditional communities in South Africa and to evaluate factors that contribute to the persistent use of biodiversity for cultural practices. The project also aimed to reflect on how the cultural values of biodiversity could contribute towards biodiversity conservation. The project was conducted from 2000-2005 in South Africa for a doctoral research based at Wageningen University in The Netherlands.

The study demonstrated that the use and value attached to natural-resource-based goods remains significant despite increasing urbanization in the study area. In urban areas, 96 plant species are used regularly, and 85% of these are used for cultural purposes. The importance of natural resources in fulfilling household members’ cultural needs was reiterated by the finding that even wealthy households in both the rural and urban communities continue to utilize natural resources for cultural purposes. This indicates that the use of natural resources for cultural purposes transcends both economic status and the rural-urban divide.

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