World Rainforest Movement

Cameroon: Development of Community Forests

Community forests are a new kind of mechanism of progressive local community responsibility for forest and forest resource management. So far, thirty-five community forests have been allocated by the Ministry of the Environment.

The results of management models developed so far have been discrete and limited, and experience is fairly recent. Most of them are still at a learning stage.

On a social and cultural level, the model developed in community-managed forests in the region is one of partnerships. Following some questioning, this model has recently reached a certain degree of stability, with the exception of the Bimboué forest, where it is subject to conflicts that are progressively being solved.

The main advantages of such a model are the following: the functionality of the partnership model, the beginnings of an improvement in the habitat, children’s education, learning through action, dissemination of the activity, the capacity to defend their rights, the strengthening of minority communities (the Baka, women, etc.).

However, problems do exist: the communities’ model of organisation, in spite of its relevance and functionality in the local sociological context, remains foreign to local social structures which hold attributions and power regarding natural resource management (incompatibility of the present model of partnership with the endogenous form of representation and the social structure, much incomprehension due to the appearance of new structures in the villages as the communities do not recognise themselves in the model developed, non-integration of women in decision-making).

From an economic standpoint, the management models developed had both positive and negative impacts. For example, they facilitated the creation of jobs in the village –with a subsequent reduction in rural exodus– the payment of debts, the strengthening of a forum, the training of local experts and technicians, the beginning of a process towards improving the habitat, the construction of chapels, health help and care, the building of outpatients clinics, etc.).

However, various problems arose at that level: current financial management of income generated by community forests is not sustainable. It is not based on any scientific management system. Most of the activities undertaken with financial income generated by exploitation of community forests do not respond to income management planning prepared prior to the arrival of funds in the communities.

Most of the actions undertaken so far were not initially foreseen in the simple management plans and are not always aimed at a community objective.

Finally, on a technical and ecological level, two technical approaches to exploitation have been used so far in the community forests: industrial exploitation and artisan exploitation.

Industrial exploitation has been carried out by the Bimboue community (East Cameroon) in collaboration with forestry companies selected by the directors of the association. Through this modality, they were able to exploit the timber potential of the community forest and generate funds for use in community works. However, this means of appreciation of community forest resources suffered many setbacks, mainly due to conflicts of interests and of power regarding the management of income from logging. It has been prohibited by the forestry regulations presently in force.

Artisan exploitation is presently the sole and unique form of exploitation practised in community forests. For example, it is operational in five community forests in Lomié in East Cameroon. Most of these forests are implementing a second contract with the beneficiaries, however in some cases such as that of Ngola, they do not have a formal contract with the partner. The first contracts were not performed for various reasons: non-compliance with deadlines for payments, poor use of the timber logged, ridiculously low prices for the cubic metre of timber, insufficient training of local technicians.

Progress made was: respect for the minimum diameter of exploitation, existence of monitoring commissions, protection of multiple use essences (wild fruit-trees and others), family exploitation of non-timber forest products and of the fauna, the preparation of an inventory covering 100% of the area open up to exploitation, community participation in prospecting, short-term contracts with partners (3 months), training in basic forestry techniques, an isolated case of manual opening up of roads, transportation of timber on men’s heads.

The problems are: lack of materialisation of external boundaries; lack of respect for boundaries (related with the method of partner exploitation); weakening of the monitoring commission in some communities; lack of control over exploitation of non-timber forest products; awareness-building does not always achieve the expected effect (risk of not carrying out rotation); prospecting plan not available in the community context; absence of a programme; sacrifice and risk associated to transportation of timber on men’s heads (risk of accidents); lack of data on other resources (non-timber forestry resources); lack of a hunting plan for fauna management (fauna exploitation continues on an individual and domestic basis).

However, in spite of the limitations found in the process, real enthusiasm is observed on the part of local communities. This enthusiasm reflects the increasing desire of village communities to participate in forestry resource management and in this way, through forest management, contribute to improving their living conditions.

Extracts from Patrice Bigombe Logo’s briefing: “Foresterie Communautaire et Réduction de la Pauvreté Rurale au Cameroun: Bilan et tendances de la première décennie”, sent by the author, Research and Action Center for Sustainable Development in Central Africa (Centre de Recherche et d’Action pour le Développement Durable en Afrique Centrale /CERAD), e-mail: .