Cameroon: Dja Biosphere Reserve - Transforming Lives of Local Communities

A European Union-funded project run by the Zoological Society of London, promotes wildlife conservation through income-generating activities.

Sambombo used to be a hunter and with the dwindling population of animals in the forest, he was increasingly finding it difficult to make ends meet. Today, thanks to an EU-funded project run by Zoological Society of London, ZSL, he is involved in gardening and poultry farming and with the proceeds from his newfound trade he is able to send his children to school without much difficulty. More so he can resort to the Village Savings and Loans bank whenever he is in urgent need of money. This has made life easier for him. This story is reminiscent of about 500 people living around the Dja Biosphere reserve who benefit from an EU funded project, run by the Zoological Society of London, ZSL. According to the Dja field Officer, Amandine Laure Toumbou, the project consists in promoting wildlife conservation through income generating activities. It provides an alternative source of income to the population who heavily depend on the forest so as to discourage poaching. "We start by creating Village Saving and Loans Associations, "she said then proceed with social programmes such as training them in vegetable gardening, poultry farming and plantain cultivation. We also train them on exploiting and processing non-timber forest products such as ndjangsang, bush mango, moabi oil, achu spices, bush pepper and other forest products hitherto unknown to the people of the area," she said. "At first we used to play Songo"o with Ndjangsang seeds without knowing it was Ndjangsang", said Mvele David; a beneficiary in Adgap village proudly showing off his harvest. Beneficiaries of the project are equally taught new farming techniques such as grafting, macoting and multiplication of plantain seedlings with one sucker being able to produce above one hundred seedlings. More so, the plantain specie is more resistant to pest and yields after nine months. As concerns poultry farming, the chickens are ameliorated local chicks that grow up to be very gigantic and robust. Concerning gardening, the people are taught to cultivate crops like carrots, green spices, pepper, green pepper, leaks, celery, percil and basilic, ginger and so on. So far, 18 Village Loans and Savings Associations have been created, six in pure Barka and 12 in Bantu villages. This is welcomed relief to villagers who could not have access to banks as they can now borrow money from the village bank at little or no interest and pay back later after selling their produce instead of falling prey to poachers who come and offer them alcohol and cigarettes in exchange for their services as guides to poach for elephants tusks and other highly priced animal species. Owing to the success of the project; other surrounding villages are requesting ZSL to do same in their own villages. The Dja Biosphere reserve is home to elephants, chimpanzees, gorillas, pangolin, mbongo, golden cats, water deer, crocodile, panthers and an endemic bird.

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