Frida Zoa, Janneke Romijn, and Tony Aseh
The Bagyeli pygmy culture is based on hunting and gathering of wild fruits and yams from the lush tropical forests of Cameroon. But intensive logging and agriculture have forced many Bagyeli to give up their traditional, nomadic way of life and move to towns where their skills are of little use. Over time, while outsiders benefited from forest resources, the Bagyeli lost their rights and traditional relationship with the land.
But economic development and conservation of forest resources do not have to be opposing goals. As a framework for dialogue and transparency, local stakeholders hope that the Campo-Ma’an Model Forest will contribute to the resolution of conflict and lead to more responsible forest management practices. To that end, Campo-Ma’an Model Forest held its first stakeholder workshop in Ebolowa, south Cameroon, in January of this year.
“Conserving the forest is something we have to do together”, said Vincent Ovono, a Bagyeli. Ovono presented a strategic document during the workshop on behalf of his tribe showing how the Bagyeli would like to contribute to, and benefit from, the sustainable management of the forests. Ideas included opportunities for eco-tourism and spaces for agro-forestry. For the nomadic Bagyeli, the Model Forest offers a way to move toward a sustainable future in the forests they call home.
In the interest of all
The Ebolowa workshop, supported by the IMFN Secretariat and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), provided a forum for all stakeholders to discuss the Model Forest’s organizational structure and to validate the site’s proposal. The objectives of the workshop were:
The results of the 2-day gathering were positive and productive. The election of a president, vice-president, secretary, vice-secretary, treasurer, auditor, and advisers means that project develpment can now move ahead.
In the words of Chimère Diaw, regional coordinator of CIFOR’s Forests and Governance Program, “Model forests bring people to decide together and act together in the interest of all. Everyone has a place—I should say—takes their place within the Model Forest, the ‘big’ and the ‘small’, women as well as men”.
Other stakeholders present at the Ebolowa workshop included CIFOR, the Cameroon Ministry of Forests and Wildlife, international organizations like IUCN and SNV, local NGO’s, the women’s platform, representatives of agro-industries, private and civil society, territorial administration, representatives of communities and traditional rulers in the Campo Ma’an area, and the media. The workshop was presided over by the governor of the South Province.
Cameroon joined the IMFN in 2005 with two Model Forest sites—Campo-Ma’an and Dja et Mpomo. Model forest development in Cameroon is supported by the IMFN Secretariat through CIFOR.