Cameroon: focus on CED - Centre for the environment and development
introducing... belmond tchoumba
I was involved in the creation of the Centre for the Environment and Development and have seen it develop as an affiliate member through to full membership of Friends of the Earth International in October 2004.
The idea for the organization came about in the early 1990s when Cameroon, along with many other African states, entered a period of political liberalization. It became much easier for independent organizations to operate and many new organizations were formed.
A group of young professionals working in different sectors witnessed how our environment and the native forests were being destroyed. We were also worried by the levels of poverty in these forest regions in such a rich country as Cameroon. We wanted to establish responsible forest management in Cameroon and ensure that the local residents benefited first from its resources. Cameroon has 22 million hectares of forest, and has the second largest forest coverage in Africa, (the first is the Democratic Republic of Congo).
Before joining the Centre for the Environment and Development I worked for a French pharmaceutical company, travelling throughout Cameroon. I soon became familiar with my country, its people and the environment. I was shocked to witness the high levels of poverty in such a rich country. I saw people dying because they couldn't afford to buy the medicines I was selling.
I grew up in a rural area - my father was a school teacher so although we weren't wealthy, our family had a regular income. We had a comfortable life and so I was unaware of what was happening around me in the remote parts of my country.
These experiences helped my decision to leave the pharmaceutical company,when I came to the conclusion that the company was making big profits at the expense of the poorest people. The thought of setting up an NGO to help these citizens really appealed to me, and I had no hesitation in resigning my job.
I left in December 1992 - at that time had no alternative work. I used this period to continue with academic studies - I had a scholarship to study in the UK, at the Oxford Forestry Institute. Then I travelled in Chad and Niger, where I gained expertise in desertification.
I returned to Cameroon, and helped set up the Centre for the Environment and Development. And began working on forestry issues. My work involves field activities and international campaigns concerning forestry issues. I am also involved in a community forestry program, focusing on indigenous people’s rights for access to forestry resources.
campaign: indigenous peoples rights
When you talk about indigenous people in Africa or Cameroon it can be very confusing. Many African people claim to be indigenous to the area in which they live. But the scientific consensus is that the pygmies are the real indigenous population in Cameroon (and Africa in general).
On starting our work we soon realized that there were other marginalized communities, along with the pygmies, living in the forest and protected areas. We realised that even the national laws contribute a lot to the marginalisation of these people, because the land ownership pattern is state ownership. The state owns everything and the state decides what they want to do with the forest with very little consultation with those who live in the forest.
More than any other rural community, the pygmies were dependent on forest resources for their livelihood and for the culture, and yet they are excluded from all kinds of decision-making processes.
In Cameroon the official land usage system divides the forests into two main “estates”:
- the permanent forest estate which the main forests where logging concessions are allocated to individual companies.
- protected areas, where the rights of individuals are severely restricted or totally overruled.
These are important factors contributing to the increased level of poverty.
We began to work with the forest people to enable them to reclaim their rights. We started a community mapping programme to disprove claims that the forest was uninhabited. We wanted to show how many people were living in the forest and depended on its resources, and that it's vital to consider the local communities needs when implementing a management plan.
We trained local people to use modern equipment like GPS. Then they went out and mapped their territory and we helped them put into G. I. S. (geographic information system).
This way you can produce a map of very good quality -- some of their maps were even more accurate than official maps because we really do fieldwork.
We go into the forest to learn:
- where their farming areas are
- where the hunting areas are
- where they collect things
- where they fish
- where they have their shrines or any cultural sites
They know the names of all the rivers, many of which have never been written down. So it really is community mapping - all the information that is in their heads is transferred onto a piece of paper.
These maps are very helpful tools - we can use the information to discuss forest management to those in charge of managing the protected areas. These areas are often also the ancestral lands of local community.
The support of the international community is vital to ensure our success in our campaigns, and we find these maps invaluable in international forums.
Forestry policy is driven by donations we must convince the donors, particularly to the World Bank, who initiated the forestry reform in Cameroon, that they must to uphold the of indigenous peoples' rights and access to forestry resources.
We have been campaigning for a number of years and now our efforts are beginning bear fruit. The authorities are beginning to acknowledge that excluding local people from forest protected areas does not work. We are discussing with nature conservation organizations that, for their part, are showing openness in taking local issues into account. Officials of the World Bank are also displaying a willingness to listen.
We plan meetings to discuss the protected areas and one of our objectives is to define access rights to the forests by the pygmy communities.
The Campo Ma'an National Park is an area created by the Chad pipeline project. This park was established to compensate for the environmental damage caused by the construction of the pipeline. This means that the World Bank policy should apply, and we are using the operational directive 420 on indigenous people to push for a more inclusive approach to this national park. We feel the World Bank is being open on this issue and now officials from the World Wildlife Fund, who are in charge of managing the park, are showing openness to our ideas.
We really hope to have many more discussions converted into concrete actions by the management plans for parks. This needs to be a commitment written into the management plan of the national park and not an informal agreement.
Another issue for the pygmies is that of land outside the protected area. They have had ongoing land rights problems, and we can use mapping to negotiate with other neighbouring communities. We are negotiating with the communities to encourage them to give up some of their land to the pygmies for farming. This has taken some time but we now believe there is a willingness to talk and that we will achieve a positive result.
The most difficult obstacle facing us is changing the law in Cameroon. If we can find practical examples in the field I think it will give strength to our arguments.
We have around fifteen staff, depending on the number of projects we are currently working on. Our aim is not to grow in size, because we don't want the increased bureaucracy, but to work in partnership with other relevant groups.
Our funding comes from joint projects with other organizations, including the Rainforest Action Network and the Forest Peoples Project (via Comic Relief). In addition we have two major sources of funds in The Netherlands; Cordaid and Novib.
We also monitor logging in Cameroon and work with groups in other countries to scrutinize donor policies on forestry issues.
Being part of the network
We share common views with other groups on a number of issues and have been working closely with Friends of the Earth in the Netherlands and France. At an international level we have also been involved with the International Financial Institutions programme. This involvement has given our cause a wider audience, which we could not have achieved on our own. There a many local people who have neither the voice nor means, but becoming a member of an international body gives those people a voice and is invaluable in getting support from around the world.
One example of this support is our campaign against the logging of the Moabi tree. Logging of this tree harms local communities' lives and livelihoods. We have been working with Friends of the Earth France who are running a campaign to get consumers to boycott products made from moabi wood. Eventually we want to stop the logging of these trees altogether and get it listed in the CITES list of protected species.