#IWD 2023: Rural women at the heart of participatory forest resource management
March 8, 2023
In Cameroon, the forestry sector plays an important role in the national economy, and provides a range of essential social and environmental functions for many local and indigenous communities. As a result, the sector also faces several tensions related to the proper management of its resources, including the socio-economic precariousness of women.
In 2021, Peasant Forest Committees (CPFs) were established across the country to represent local populations with permanent forest titles and promote sustainable and inclusive forest management. One of the objectives of establishing these CPFs is to reduce illegal logging by involving local communities in forest surveillance.
Women's contribution to forest management
Due to their heavy dependence on forests for their livelihoods, women are at the forefront of forest protection and management at the local level, making their involvement in CPFs a crucial condition for the success of forest policy. But despite this, they are often on the fringes of meetings and key decision-making, and there is a continued lack of empowerment which is reflected in the high number of economically deprived rural women, the low representation of women at all levels, and their low rate of access to social services - which is unfortunately increasing.
It is around these issues that the Ecosystems and Development Association (Ecodev) is interested in, and through the implementation of the project "Communities, rural women, forest governance and community development in the periphery of protected areas of the fauna and other titles of the forest domain of Mbam and Kim" they have explored the aspect of gender in the process of natural resource management and sustainable development.
The project was based on the understanding that women's economic development through an income-generating activity would benefit all of the 12 project communities, and women's empowerment through their inclusion in forest governance would promote representativeness and strengthen the involvement of CPFs in local forest management.
For the success of the project, the communities were encouraged to participate and to take ownership of the means put in place to make them responsible for the fight against deforestation. By holding numerous meetings to raise awareness of the important role communities play in forest management, and designing them to be participatory and inclusive, the women, who were initially in the background, became involved in the discussions and eventually made up 48% of the participants, contributing unique insights and knowledge essential to the progress of the project. In this way, awareness raising and training play an important role in the development of skills, which encourages a change in practices that is maintained over time, with a view to continuous improvement.
In the project villages, 150 women participated in community meetings and discussions. They were able to work in focus groups to share their difficulties and their knowledge of the field. These meetings enabled the women to assert themselves in community discussions and to reaffirm their role in the Peasant Forest Committees.
Using technology to combat illegal logging
One of the objectives of the project was to equip and train communities to use Forestlink technology. This is an application with several components. The Collectaur component, which is installed in the smartphones provided to people, allows them to report suspected illegal forestry activities via a satellite or internet connection, even from locations without telephone network coverage.
When travelling in the forest, communities can use their mobile phones to report illegal forestry activity by collecting and sending one or more alerts to the Monitaur platform, including a photo of the illegal activity and GPS coordinates. This surveillance data, processed in near-real time, is made available to the local forestry administration to enable them to carry out targeted and more effective field raids. Of the 12 telephones handed over to the communities, 6 were given to the women of the communities by their village chiefs, thus demonstrating the place of women in forest surveillance.
The project supported by Ecodev trained 161 people, including 45 women, in the use of ForestLink. The women, who are primarily concerned with forest resources, followed the training with interest. Indeed, their continuous presence in the forest collecting non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as Ndjansang and Okok, allows regular monitoring of the other activities taking place there.
Socio-economic empowerment of women through the creation of income-generating activities
The project also focused on the development of an income-generating activity (IGA), grounded in asset-based community development. This approach facilitated the valuing of things beneficiaries already had, such as land, enabling the identification of activities which would complement the natural ecosystem and be able to sustainably run in the long-term. The choice of beekeeping was therefore made in light of the communities' reflections, as many bee swarms are already present in the vicinity of the project villages, and beekeeping is sustainable and relatively easy to implement.
The proportion of women carrying out an income-generating activity in rural communities is very low, despite being the most involved in rural activities overall. The participatory choice of entrusting beekeeping to women was based on a two-fold logic: to secure household income, but also to empower women in charge of their activity. To facilitate the creation of a value chain, after receiving training and all the necessary equipment, the women were then able to contract the purchase of their beekeeping products with a purchasing company that guaranteed the sale price. The objective of the creation of these IGAs was to enable the women to generate financial income while at the same time being part of the community's development logic, since part of the income from honey production will be returned to the community. This initiative makes it possible to make the women more autonomous and to involve them in a sustainable way in the socio-economic life of the community.
Along with enabling the mobilisation of 7 farmer-forest committees (FFCs) in the villages bordering the Mbam and Kim forest landscape, on the real issues of sustainable management, natural resource governance and the importance of participation in protection, the project has also enabled communities to discover and value women's knowledge and know-how through their involvement in the forest governance process at the local level. The use of technology is essential in the fight against illegal logging, and by coupling it with the traditional activities of communities and women, forest monitoring allows the preservation of their environment and contributes to their emancipation. The involvement of women in this project has also shown that they provide very useful resources for their communities and that their knowledge can be mobilised in the implementation of sustainable governance.