- Governments in Central Africa, trying to protect large tracts of their valuable rainforests, are starting to realise the need for an involvement of local communities as a key to curb illegal logging in the region. In Cameroon, authorities have tried with progressive legislation, security measures and conservation plans, but forests continue to shrink. Projects that involve local communities now show the way forward.
It has been almost twenty years since Cameroon reformed its policies and laws towards forests. Despite the country's emphasis on promoting good governance, participatory management and the contribution of forests to improving livelihoods of local peoples, results have been disappointing and illegal logging is still on the rise.
Environmentalists now are trying to influence the governments of Cameroon and neighbouring Central African states on the need of local involvement in the management of protected forests. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) - an umbrella organisation of environmentalist groups - has for a long time assisted the Cameroonian government in its forest conservation efforts, but now voices concern over the lack of results.
The IUCN today in a statement said it believed that "the persistent exclusion of local populations in the implementation and monitoring of forest conservation and development enterprises is one reason for the escalation of illegal logging" in the region. The environmentalists are now trying to explain authorities "how communities can be invaluable partners to monitor illegal logging and poaching at the local level."
Governments in Central Africa have realised that they cannot fight illegal activities alone. Insufficient funds, inadequate human resources and natural resource conflicts have been identified as some of the main barriers by countries since the first African Ministerial Conference on African Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (AFLEG), which was held in Yaoundé, Cameroon in 2003.
The conference was intended to create the political space necessary for the promotion of good forest governance and law enforcement through the participation of all relevant actors, including local communities. The IUCN since then has been working with the Cameroonian government to strengthen local communities' capacities in order to better implement the country's national strategy which evolved from the Regional AFLEG Ministerial Declaration.
To implement this strategy, the Cameroonian government now is favouring the so-called Independent Observatory to control forestry activities. According to the IUCN, "the information collected through independent observation can serve several purposes. Some examples include: acting as a baseline control, increased knowledge to boost pressure on forestry actors practicing illegal logging and a method for building the capacity of local populations in defending their rights and interests in forest management."
Since 2003, the IUCN and its local partners worked with a range of stakeholders to develop national and sub-regional implementation strategies. The environmentalists say that they have tried "to carry the debate away from conferences and workshops to the implementation of concrete and priority field activities," which not had been easy.
"Throughout the AFLEG process, it became clear that local communities felt ignored in the fight against illegal logging, poaching and trade. Indeed these people are the ones who are in closest contact with forest resources as well as with forest exploiters," IUCN holds. "Moreover, local communities are always present in the field and are thus in a good position to control their peers," the group adds.
After a workshop in Lomié, East Cameroon, participants had visited a forest concession situated within the vicinity of a small village committee in Bapile and Kassarafam. "The impressive result was that villagers were able to discover some illegal activities and proposed some tentative solutions to avert the ill. It was apparent that given basic observatory tools ... local communities could make a great difference," IUCN holds.
The environmentalists conclude that independent monitoring by local communities in Central Africa needed to be stimulated further. To achieve that, resources were needed locally to build capacities, to buy basic materials, to facilitate mobility and to promote local dialogue. "Lastly, local community actions will only be successful if coordinated with other actors who have a stake in the forests, namely governments, the private sector, national and international NGOs," IUCN concluded.
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