The Cameroonian government has decided to create logging concessions in a biodiversity sanctuary.
On Thursday 30th July, I attended a meeting to exchange views and raise awareness on the threats facing the Ebo forest in Cameroon. A forest with a surface area of about 1,500 km² that has unique characteristics for some and is of particular interest to scientists specializing in conservation and biodiversity.
The aims of this sensitization meeting organized by Foder (Forests and Rural Development), a local NGO, were above all to present the stakes of the process of classifying the Ebo forest as a FMU, initiated by the public authorities, in order to create concessions.
Great wildlife diversity
In his presentation, Justin C. Kamga, coordinator of Foder, explained why he and his organization do not think it is a good idea to create a forest concession in the Ebo Forest.
For the simple reason that this ecosystem provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, including unique or already endangered species. He cites chimpanzees known as Nigerian-Cameroonian chimpanzees, Goliath frogs, forest elephants, drills, etc., as examples.
Further research led me to an article published by the Global Wildlife Conservation which gives more details on the value of the Ebo Forest and its biodiversity.
“The chimpanzee population of the Ebo Forest uses sticks to “fish” for termites and hammer-shaped quartz stones and wooden “clubs” to crack the cassava nuts. Both actions have been observed elsewhere, but this is the only place where the same ape population exhibits both behaviours,” says the article.
The text adds that the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee is the most endangered chimpanzee species with only 3,500 to 9,000 individuals in the wild, of which about 700 live in the Ebo Forest.
In addition, “the Ebo Forest is home to one of the only two remaining populations of the Preuss’s Bay Colobus, a critically endangered monkey that ranks among the world’s most endangered primates,” the article also states.
Elephants and people
Finally, we learn that researchers have discovered that forest elephants, whose population declined by 65% between 2002 and 2013, are the most important seed dispersers of all species in the Congo Basin, although their range extends beyond the basin into the Ebo Forest.
In addition to this rich biodiversity, “the Ebo Forest is home to more than 40 communities that give the area and its resources considerable cultural, customary and economic importance. The people living along the Ebo River draw resources for their subsistence,” adds Justin C. Kamga.
This richness highlighted by successive waves of scientists from various backgrounds justifies the repeated pleas of local communities and NGOs for this forest to be classified as a protected area or a national park.
Only the Cameroonian government has always turned a deaf ear and is moving forward, with its head down, in its concession project. Thus, after the decision to create FMUs there in 2019, the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) decided on 4th February 2020 to create two logging concessions covering a total of 150,000 hectares.
The tree and the fruit
And on 14th July, the Prime Minister himself anointed this process by signing a decree confirming the concession of part of this forest.
In my humble opinion, by persisting with this project despite the reservations of the communities and civil society and notwithstanding the ecological consequences of the concessioning of the Ebo forest, the government has clearly chosen to cut down the tree to have the fruit.
The timber production that will be carried out there will, of course, generate income, but for a limited period of time and at the expense of biodiversity and the interests of local communities. Where ecotourism, for example, would also have generated income, in the very long term, without damaging the environment and alienating communities.
According to an article by Midori Paxton, head of ecosystems and biodiversity at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a country like Namibia is proof that ecotourism can be an important source of capital for states.
The Namibian example
“In Namibia, tourism is mainly focused on nature and, with 15.4% of total employment and 14.7% of the national GDP, it is the country’s second largest economic sector. It is at the heart of the national strategy for poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation,” she writes.
According to her, nearly half of the country’s land area is under conservation-based management – and 20% of the land is home to 86 nature reserves containing elephants, lions and the world’s largest concentration of black rhinos and cheetahs.
“Surrounding communities benefit from this rich biodiversity, from which they derive benefits, jobs and opportunities,” concludes Madori Paxton in her article published on 21st April 2020. Rwanda with its mountain gorillas is the other example.
Cameroon could learn from the Namibian example and reverse its decision on the Ebo forest. Moreover, instead of the hoped-for local development, the previous forest concessions have instead generated great frustration, tensions and serious environmental degradation. Without ever reducing poverty in the host communities.
This article was first published by SciDev.Net.