World Rainforest Movement

Benin: Community-Based Forest Management in the Igbodja Forest

In most of the African countries, claims concerning community-based forest and natural resource management have arisen as a reaction to the repressive nature of natural resource laws inherited from Colonial times. Forestry laws in force in the post-Colonial period compromised local community rights to forest ownership. Licences and other forms of taxes so far unknown to local communities were imposed to control the exploitation of forest products that the local inhabitants had had free access to previously, either for their domestic consumption or for marketing.

With the increase in the population, the demand for arable land also increased. In the Igbodja region, four communities occupied the forest, mainly composed of Tchabê peoples. These welcomed other peoples from the South and the North (the Fon, the Ahoussa and the Peulh), which in turn set up twenty more communities. The struggle for survival then became increasingly difficult. Forest destruction has been aggravated over the past years by the numerous population seeking a means of living, without respecting minimum conservation rules.

To palliate this situation the authorities of ACTION Plus NGO, after obtaining economic support from the IUCN Dutch Committee to carry out a study on this forest, encouraged the inhabitants of the zone to launch activities aimed at implementing community-based forest management.

In order to initiate the population in community-based forest management and management of other natural resources, needs were identified and participation was planned and work was done on awareness building; visits to the stakeholders were made and agreements and protocols established with a view to obtaining the greatest local participation possible in this process. The identification of the real owners of the land was an important step. The local populations are going to carry out surveys to prepare a plan of the zone covered by community-based forest management. In the framework of the study on endogenous flora and fauna, the inhabitants participated in the plantation of 15,000 stands of Senegalese Khaya. The village of Igbodja, bearing the same name as the forest, will make available to the population a community space of 5,000 hectares to initiate true community-based forest management. The other four villages are still at the discussion stage but we believe that each village will have its own space integrated into community management. Additionally, all have their own nurseries.

The breeding of hedgehogs (Thryonomys swinderianus) has started and beekeeping has been introduced in two villages to halt the frequent plant fires in the region.

In order to carry out this project, it is necessary to be able to read the texts of laws. For this purpose, a literacy programme in the local language was set up, involving 60 people per village, with a total of 300, directed by local teachers.

At present, latent conflicts are related with degradation of agricultural biodiversity. Large-scale, non-native roving farmers plant new areas every year, thus destroying more and more forest areas. The native inhabitants complain about the situation and threaten to throw them out. These roving farmers cannot plant trees as they are considered as tenants and tenants are not allowed to plant trees on other people’s lands. In the framework of our task, all must have their own roles and nobody should be left out. The contribution of all to community-based forest management is a necessity.

From our work, it has become evident that our legislation on forest matters is inappropriate. We have approached the Forestry and Natural Resource Office officials asking them to prepare suitable laws on this matter, taking into consideration the workshops held in Gambia in 1999. A national workshop is expected to be held with the participation of all the stakeholders, including NGOs. Thus, we will be able to generalise the technique of community management and progress from being merely a pilot project. The population will then fully participate in the sustainable development of forest resources and this gap will be bridged when the mayors take on management of their respective localities as stipulated in the law, interrupting forest degradation. It is a desire that has repeatedly been expressed by the population.

Extracted from Stéphan OGOU’s report: “Résumé de l’étude de la biodiversité de la forêt Igbodja”, sent by the author, ACTION Plus NGO, e-mail: .