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cameroon: bagyeli mapping shows path to success

The Bagyeli ‘pygmies’ living in southwest Cameroon have sustained themselves for centuries using their vast knowledge of the plant and animal life of the surrounding forest. They traditionally survived by hunting, fishing and gathering honey, fruit, wild yams, caterpillars and snails.
cameroon: bagyeli mapping shows path to successIndigenous Bagyeli drawing up their community map.Since 2003, Friends of the Earth Cameroon/CED, the Forest People’s Project and the Rainforest Foundation have been supporting the Bagyeli in documenting their use of the forest and its resources using hi-tech Global Positioning Systems (GPS) devices to pinpoint the location of sacred sites, and hunting and gathering territories. This participatory mapping process has generated community maps used to lobby and advocate for the recognition of the land rights of Bagyeli people at the local and national level.

 

The negotiation process that took place during the early 2000s was successful in that the Indigenous Bagyeli were allowed to continue their traditional practices inside the national park. Although the Bagyeli continue to demand the right to return to their lands, this recognition of their rights to gather natural resources was an important development. It was in fact the first time that communities’ rights to use the land and resources within a national park were recognised in the whole Congo Basin.

 

Participatory mapping is also intended as a tool that can be strategically deployed to stop the conversion of forests into plantations. This mapping has a high potential for influencing national governments. This tool has been adopted in other countries in the Congo Basin (DRC, Republic of Congo, Gabon and the Central African Republic), and other parts of Cameroon. It is also being used to map communities’ rights with respect to mining concessions, and industrial farms).


There is also an ongoing advocacy effort aimed at formalising participatory mapping as a legal tool for recognising and protecting communities’ rights.

“If you do not collect fruits, you cannot have soap; if you do not go fishing, you cannot eat salt; if you do not cultivate plantains to sell you cannot buy clothes. I am dirty and without clothes because I do not do anything. I have already been forbidden from entering the forest.”

 

Indigenous Bagyeli person, Cameroon

 

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