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Community Forestry In Cameroon

Located in west-central Africa, the forests of Cameroon represent the northern limit of the Congo Basin's vast and still largely intact expanse of tropical rainforest, an area second only to the Amazon in size. The region possesses stunning levels of biodiversity, including an array of endangered wildlife, such as gorillas, chimpanzees, drill, bonobos, and elephants.

These forests also support the livelihoods of millions of people, including local communities with a tremendous knowledge of biodiversity. The harvesting of forest products generates critical household income for these communities and provides sustainable livelihood opportunities.

Even as deforestation rates have accelerated over the past few years—driven by large-scale farm and mining operations, as well as illegal logging—a promising alternative has begun to emerge: the establishment of community-managed forests in high-biodiversity natural forests. Since revising its forestry law in 1994, Cameroon has led the way, recognizing more than 250 community-managed forests, which collectively cover an area of approximately 2.47 million acres (1 million ha).

Empowering Forest Communities

Although the community forestry model has been in use in Cameroon for more than 20 years, its adoption has been slowed by the limited capacity of local communities to comply with complicated regulations, operate competitive forestry enterprises, and access markets for sustainable forest products.

That’s why the Rainforest Alliance has been focusing on bolstering forest management in two clusters of community forests that border protected areas in the country’s southern region—the Campo-Ma’an National Park and the Dja Biosphere Reserve. Both protected areas harbor endangered species, such as the lowland gorilla, African forest elephant, and western chimpanzee.

Conserving Forests and Supporting Livelihoods

Over the past five years, we’ve worked with 12 communities to lay the groundwork for the harvest of timber and non-timber forest products, such as nuts and wild mangoes, while helping them navigate a competitive market environment. We have facilitated the establishment of four local community-owned forest enterprises as a way to pool investments (in equipment and social infrastructure), diversify production, increase negotiating power and improve access to markets.

Despite extremely challenging conditions, these communities have made significant progress. They’ve approved management plans that cover a total of 74,000 acres (30,000 ha) and forged business alliances with buyers; nine have signed sales contracts. Among communities that have taken control of forest harvesting, income from timber sales has doubled. Moreover, the collective marketing of wild mango has increased sales earnings by an average of more than 75 percent.

Yet while we have achieved a great deal together, Cameroon’s community forest enterprises are at a critical moment in their development, and will require additional support if they are to become viable businesses over the long term. Once they do, they will serve as a model for forest conservation and livelihood development throughout the wider Congo Basin.

For more information, please contact our Cameroon office.

Last updated December, 2015

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