Plans to establish the first African model forest are underway and preliminary reports from an inaugural workshop in Cameroon look encouraging. Because the sustainable management of natural resources is an issue that extends beyond national boundaries, it is hoped that a Cameroonian model forest would serve as a pilot for potential expansion to other sites within the region.
From May 4 to12, 2003, IMFN consultants Richard Baerg and Susanne Hilton were in Yaoundé, Cameroon, where they participated in a two-day joint-sponsored IMFNS–CIFOR workshop introducing the model forest concept. About 45 representatives from local and international NGO and community groups packed the room, engaging in a lively and animated discussion on what their model forest could look like.
In a speech to participants, Jean Bosco Samgba of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MINEF) said that the model forest concept had a special significance for Cameroon and Central Africa.
“Since the Rio conference and the creation of MINEF in 1992, the Government of Cameroon has worked tirelessly to come up with an environmental management model suited to the remarkable diversity of our ecosystems, our sustainable development needs, the dynamism of our society and the constant progression of our regional and international cooperation strategy,” added Samgba.
Aside from the workshop, Baerg and Hilton spent their time in discussions with Chimere Diaw, the lead on the Adaptive Collaborative Management team in Cameroon for CIFOR (Centre for International Forestry Research), as well as Gino Poulin and Jean-Claude Soh of CIDA, local government representatives and forestry officials.
FAO, which was represented at the meeting by Forestry Officer Dan Rugabira, has joined with IMFNS and CIFOR to work with Cameroonian officials in the coming months on next steps, including criteria for site selection, and a draft concept paper.
After the Amazon region, the Congo Basin is home to the second largest area of humid tropical forest on the planet. Deforestation rates in Africa, which lost 5.3 million hectares of forest per year in the 1990s, are also among the highest in the world. The main cause of forest loss is the permanent alienation of land to other uses. Subsequent forest degradation can often be attributed to shifting agriculture, legal and illegal logging and the collection of firewood. Population growth, poverty and the lack of an integrated management framework are three of the most pervasive underlying causes of forest degradation in the region.
It was CIFOR who approached the IMFNS with the idea of collaborating on Model Forest development in Cameroon, where a strong legislative structure on forest management exists. What intrigues IMFNS staff about the proposal is that, while model forests usually start out in a localized area under a single administration, the Cameroon project will include a range of partners from outside of the immediate model forest. These partners hope to participate in the project and apply the lessons learned to their own specific forest areas.
“One of the aspects that’s really interesting about this project that we don’t have anywhere else in the Network today is, right from the start, we have a strong desire from a whole bunch of people and institutions within Central Africa to create a model forest that has a regional relevance,” said Baerg. “That’s going to make it a real challenge, but the benefits could be very significant and therefore worth trying.”
Hilton added that what excites her about this initiative is that, while other development projects in the country tend to focus on a specific issue, the proposed model forest in Cameroon would be one of the first sustainable forestry project of this scale in the country to include all of the forest’s uses and values.