Cameroon Tribune (Yaoundé)

19 October 2006

Cameroon: Scepticism Surrounds Community Forest Management

Five years after signing agreements with government, results remain mitigated in most communities.

Some 20 community forest projects are expected to make a comprehensive revision of their management plans following the expiration of the first ones as agreed upon in the convention signed between them and government.

Authoritative sources in the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife has expressed worry over the performance of the various communities during the first phase of management, stating inter alia that there has been a lot of deviation from the original objective. Several cases of exploiting resources out of the designated zones have been reported. Other improprieties include: clandestine exploitation of tree species, inability to transport products to the market, non injection of forest resources into development projects for the benefit of the population, lack of accountability from some Community Forest Managers, exploitation of the local population for personal ends, and no unanimity on how the resources should be exploited. The population in some cases have been complaining of theft. This is the case with the Mbai Community Forest in the Kilum/Ijim Forest Project zone, where management has been complaining of theft of Prunus Africana bark.

That notwithstanding, there seem to be a misunderstanding of the whole concept of community forestry as introduced by the administration. Once the management plan has been drawn and approved, the population is abandoned to fend for itself. There is total confusion as to which way forward. The mitigated results were readily confirmed in November last year when authorities of the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife made an on-the-spot assessment of the implementation of the project. They were globally not satisfied, informed sources say. But they have been expressing hopes for change in the near future. Community forest concept is a whole process which will certainly improve with time. A national workshop will soon be organised to assess the milestone covered.

But this will be an on-the-paper assessment. Field evaluation has been quite difficult. The administration do not yet have the necessary tools that can enable it cover the national territory. Otherwise, it ought to be a permanent exercise. This notwithstanding, it is important to note the important role that government has to play in ensuring that the objective of community forest is attained. This has to do with the fight against poverty, improving the life of the population and promoting the sustainable management of forest resources.

The agreements signed between government and communities bequeathing the management of the forest to their (communities) hands, have a life span of 30 years but management plans have to be presented to the administration for approbation after every five years. Initially, 87 community forest projects were created. But with time, the administration discovered so many adventurers, many of whom have been eliminated. Presently, there are basically 20 active community forest projects in the country.

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