YAOUNDE, March 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Cameroon’s
government plans to restore 12 million hectares (30 million
acres) of deforested land to redress the challenges of dwindling
forests and help mitigate the effects of climate change.
Local councils, nongovernmental organisations and businesses
are backing the plan, which will be accompanied by efforts to
conserve indigenous forest.
Launching the scheme last month, Hele Pierre, Cameroon’s
minister of environment and nature protection, said it was the
biggest such project yet undertaken in the species-rich Congo
Basin, home to the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest.
“By restoring our unproductive landscapes, we will help
local communities develop sustainably, increase their resilience
to climate change and contribute to climate change mitigation,”
But environmental experts say that while forest restoration
is welcome, there is an even more critical need to protect
existing forests, which provide the greatest benefits in terms
of limiting climate change and protecting biodiversity.
Cameroon’s forests are the second largest in Africa, at more
than 23 million hectares. The government says they have a major
role to play in the country’s economic development as well as
the fight against climate change and in meeting global forest
But in recent years, Cameron has seen a surge in
deforestation and forest degradation. A report by Global Forest
Watch shows forest loss in Cameroon of 777,000 hectares between
2001 and 2015, with half of this occurring since 2012.
Experts say the losses not only hurt ecosystems and drive
climate change but hit the country’s economy as well.
“The economic and environmental impact of forest loss is
really immeasurable, necessitating urgent measures to redress
the problem,” said Paul Donfack, a consultant with the African
The government says it is tackling the deforestation problem
on two fronts, by reinforcing forest management to protect
existing forests and moving to restore those lost.
“We think both actions on protecting existing forest and
restoring new ones will help significantly reduce the forest
loss gap,” Pierre said.
CASH TO LOCAL LEVEL
The restoration programme, which is scheduled to run until
2030, is part of the Bonn Challenge initiative on forest
restoration launched by the International Union for Conservation
of Nature in 2011, the minister said.
The project is kicking off with the participation of 183
bodies nationwide, including 74 local councils, 36
non-governmental organisations, and business bodies.
The government says local councils will receive FCFA 500
million ($820,000) annually to plant new forest in their areas,
while some chiefdoms (village administrative areas) in
vulnerable regions will receive FCFA 70 million ($115,000)
annually in government support.
Participants in the forest restoration initiative say having
non-governmental groups working on the project will be
“critical” to helping it succeed.
Such groups need to “accompany and push government to
aggressive actions that will secure the country’s rich forest
resources”, said Zachee Nzoh Ngandembou, CEO of the Center for
Environment and Rural Transformation, a Cameroonian NGO that is
backing the forest restoration programme.
Both government and environment experts agree it is unusual
for them to be collaborating on sustainable forest management.
“By working together we hope to make much greater impact in
one of the biggest forest operations ever realised in the Congo
Basin region,” Pierre said.
Ngandembou said that forest conservation on Mt Cameroon is
critical in the provision of drinking water to both Cameroon and
“Many economic and social services, like supply of water for
drinking and dam construction for hydro-electricity, depend on
forest. If you don’t have the forests you can’t have these
services,” he said.
“It makes real economic sense for both the government and
the private sector to invest in reasonable forest projects and
encourage greater government regulation and control of forest
resources to reap the maximum benefits,” he added.
SAVING FORESTS FIRST
Julius Chuezi Tieguhong, a forest researcher in Cameroon,
said indigenous forests have the potential to store more carbon,
harbour greater biodiversity and regulate climate better than a
He advised that while embracing both approaches, Cameroon’s
government and its partners should not lose sight of the
economic and environmental advantages of conserving existing
forest over reforestation.
“It is important ... to understand the right balance for any
sustainable forest programme,” Tieguhong said.
Cameroon officials say they have made efforts to crack down
on forest loss in recent years, though with limited success.
“We have multiplied and reinforced forest governance with
heavy sanctions against defaulters in recent months and will
continue to do so,” said Philip Ngole Ngwese, the minister of
forestry and wildlife.
(Reporting by Elias Ntungwe Ngalame; editing by James Baer and
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