RFUK embarks upon a new era in its Mapping and Forest Governance in the Congo Basin
The Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) alongside its local NGO partner FODER (Forêts et Développement Rurale) has embarked upon a new phase in the Mapping and Forest Governance in the Congo Basin by extending project activities into Cameroon.
This project aims to reduce poverty in tropical rainforest areas through promoting sustainable management of natural resources and improving forest governance. More specifically, it aims to ensure respect for forest communities’ customary land rights, the improvement of forest governance through the strengthening of the capacity of forest communities and civil society organisations to promote community rights to forest lands and resources.
The rainforests of Cameroon are home to the local Baka, Bakola and Bagyeli peoples, as well as local Bantu populations, who are currently facing many grave threats to their lands and livelihoods. These include the development of mining projects, the increasing demand for palm oil and rubber which has led to the conversion of forest land into plantations and industrial logging which covers approximately seven million hectares. Due to the rapidly growing industries here there has been a demand for the development of large scale infrastructure to support these projects. The main driver behind all of these projects is Cameroon’s quest to reach the status of a newly industrialised country by 2035 which means tapping into its abundant natural resources to support its expanding economy.
These projects have devastating impact on local and indigenous communities as often they are forcibly displaced from their land. The communities are usually offered no consultation on the developments so they have no idea of what is happening on their land, and are unaware of the implications to their communities and the disruption that could ensue. Further to this, communities do not have land titles or proof of their land tenure (in the form of maps) over the lands in which they occupy which they could use to support their claims to territories in which they consider to be their own.
Changing legal frameworks
The current legislation governing land resources and management contains few provisions to protect the local communities that are heavily dependent on forest resources for their livelihoods. A number of legal and policy developments related to land allocation and use are currently ongoing in Cameroon, including a land tenure reform, a zoning process and a revision of the forest code. These present an opportunity for customary land rights to be recognised in the legal and policy framework related to land allocation and use. Effective community participation in these processes, and the availability of accurate information on existing occupation and traditional tenure of forest lands, are key to ensure this opportunity is not missed.
What is RFUK planning to do?
It is imperative that local NGOs and communities themselves receive capacity building in order to document forest tenure and to defend communities’ rights to forest lands and resources. Therefore, the project will:
- Train local NGOs on participatory approaches and mapping technologies, and support communities in producing participatory maps showing their customary land tenure and overlaps with other forest uses. Mapping shall be focused in “hotspot” areas which are facing acute challenges to their resources and land forest rights. This community data shall be made available to stakeholders via the MappingForRights platform
- Provide capacity-building support to local NGOs and forest communities to defend communities’ rights to forest lands and resources, including through the provision of legal assistance. This will be done by documenting the challenges faced by communities to realise their customary land rights and other related rights, and identify the legal opportunities to address these challenges; training of local NGOs and of forest communities on the rights to land and resources and on advocacy techniques in response to the cases documented, and supporting the development of community advocacy plans; and providing legal support to at least 20 communities so that they can defend their rights to land and resources.
Additionally, the project will also develop a real-time monitoring system of illegal forest activities by forest communities, where monitoring reports and data will be made available to relevant national and international actors so that it can contribute to national forest monitoring initiatives. Under the real-time monitoring system, forest monitoring will be conducted by community members who will first be trained on the issues related to illegal logging and on the methodology of data collection.
“Through participatory mapping, the project will support communities to accurately define the lands that they will occupy and use. Participatory maps can crucially support communities’ claims to customary land rights and be a tool for decision makers to make informed decisions about the forests” said Nora-Serrat-Capdevila the Cameroon Coordinator for RFUK.