- In three bordering national parks, covering parts of Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville and the Central African Republic, the most marginalised peoples have found new revenue sources as ecotourism projects are becoming successful. BaAka "Pygmies" are finally being paid in cash for having managed their forest livelihoods well for generations.
The so-called Tri-national de la Sangha landscape comprises protected forests in Cameroon (Lobeke), the Central African Republic (Dzanga-Ndoki), and Congo Brazzaville (Nouabale-Ndoki). They belong to the most isolated regions of these three countries, where less funds have been spent on infrastructure, development and on fighting poverty. The peoples living in these valuable forests thus traditionally have been the most marginalised of Central Africa.
For nature conservation, this marginalisation of course has be fortunate, as valuable forests have avoided logging and destruction. But until recently, the peoples of these forests have endured life without the blessings of modernisation and under constant threat of logging companies closing into their livelihoods. But a successful nature conservation scheme has assured these peoples may continue living of their forests and still enjoy development.
Thanks to efforts of key conservation partners in the region - including national governments, the environmental groups WWF and WCS and the German development agency GTZ - the local communities have been organised and are involved in ecotourism and other income generating activities aimed at improving their living conditions.
In Bayanga, which is part of the special rainforest reserve of Dzanga-Sangha, Central African Republic, a gorilla habituation project presages a new era for local people. Huge numbers of tourists stream into the area each year, where they are offered extraordinary opportunities to accompany the BaAka "Pygmies" on guided tours to observe western lowland gorillas and see the elusive forest elephants.
Traditional hunting by the BaAka, using bolds and arrows, nets etc, is a source of attraction and an income earner too. These activities have contributed to the local economy with accompanying improvement of the living condition of local people, according to WWF: "Proceed from this project has been spent on provision of health services and education, training in agricultural techniques, and helped legalise village traditional hunting by BaAka Pygmies in the area. The economic position of BaAka Pygmies has been strengthened by assisting them maintain their habits and exploit the forest according to their traditions."
The conservation scheme, empowering the BaAka, thus is a seldom success story in the troubled Central Africa Republic. The nation, which has a large number of potential tourist destinations due to its rich nature, has been plagued by civil unrest and political instability for decades. The rainforest reserve of Dzanga-Sangha however has escaped these disruptions, and is now turning into one of the Central African Republic's main - and few - tourist destinations.
But also across the border, in Congo Brazzaville and Cameroon, similar projects have aided marginalised peoples. In Congo's Nouabale Ndoki National Park, local communities are directly involved in guided tours of tourists to the Mbeli bai, a swampy clearing measuring some 15 hectares visited by 130 habituated gorillas. Locals also guide adventurous tourists track groups of habituated gorillas through the forest.
According to WWF, "these activities have had significant impact on the local economy." Every visitor pays FCFA 5000 (US$ 10) daily. This proceed is managed by a village development fund. In 2007, the funds received FCFA 3,325,000 (US$ 6,500), which is being spent on basic amenities such as schools, dispensaries, electricity supply etc, in Bomassa and Makao, both villages located at the peripheries of the park. This has created a propitious environment for other fledgling touristic activities amongst them traditional dances, making of artistic objects hitherto less developed in the area.
Around Cameroon's Lobeke National Park, trophy hunting in community hunting area is now generating some US$ 50,000 each year. This money is managed by local wildlife management committees. It is invested in education, through the construction schools to provide shelter for children, who used to study under horrible conditions, provision of potable water through improvement of water sources and wells construction. "The upshot is greater involvement of local communities in wildlife protection," WWF has noted.
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