Rural Women and Community Forest Monitoring: A Learning Experience
May 9, 2022
Forests provide a wide range of products and materials essential to human life, and are integral to some 500 million people living in or near them. In rural areas, women especially depend heavily on natural resources for the survival of their households. It is up to them to find firewood, medicinal plants and other products of economic and/or nutritional value. Because of this, women play a key role in the management of forest resources, including both wood and non-wood forest products (leaves, fruits, caterpillars, etc.).
Unfortunately with unregulated or poorly regulated logging, rural communities who border forest titles and depend on them for essential resources are very often victims of marginalisation in forest governance mechanisms. Their role is often very limited or even ignored when it comes to the formal management of these resources.
That is why Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) and its local Cameroonian partner Ecosystems and Development (ECODEV), have worked to improve the participation of forest communities in general and women in particular, with a view to securing their rights and livelihoods in a sustainable manner. This participation has been effective through the implementation of the FCDO-funded Real Time Monitoring project, which deployed the ForestLink system in six communities in the Yoko district of the Mbam and Kim department, in Central Cameroon (see map below). These are their experiences of supporting women to participate in forest monitoring, and more deeply in forest governance as a whole.
Approach to involving women in forest monitoring
The implementation of the RTM project followed a fundamentally participatory approach, encouraging a democratic choice of project leaders and community monitors. In addition, discussions on gender mainstreaming enabled communities to recognise the crucial role of women in the management of forest resources. This was then reflected in the selection of women as project leaders and community monitors. To this end, women involved in community forest monitoring under the RTM project represent 25% of those selected. More specifically, two women were chosen among the six leaders and four women among the 18 observers.
Within the implementation framework of the RTM project, women represent 25% of the leaders and observers chosen by the communities
Overall, after 18 months of effective implementation of the project in the field, the participation of rural women has been significantly advanced. From being mere spectators in the past, they have become key players in forest monitoring in their respective localities. Indeed, of the 533 alerts issued by the project's communities, the highest number of alerts were sent from communities with women leaders - 328 alerts from Guervoum, and 76 from Metsing. These figures represent 76% of the alerts sent. As for 2022, the community of Guervoum alone already accounts for 90% of the alerts sent.
Between 2020 and 2021, two of the villages with women leaders sent 76% of the alerts from the RTM project communities in Yoko district.
In 2022, this percentage increased for the community of Guervoum alone, which accounted for 90% of the alerts sent.
The above alerts triggered four external independent observation missions: three to the Guervoum area and one to Metsing. These missions led to the sanctioning of the offenders, notably the licensee of forest management unit 08006, after the reports were transmitted to MINFOF.
The involvement of women monitors in the communities is the result of a large-scale awareness-raising activity, characterised by more than a dozen radio broadcasts (on Mbam and Kim FM), discussions with the communities and surrounding areas, and the personal motivation of women on the issue of sustainable management of forest resources.
The leader of Metsing village told us that she herself participated in all the forest missions with her baby on her back, to assist the observers in collecting the alerts that were sent from her village and the surrounding villages.
While a very promising start has been made, this work still requires additional efforts to bring about lasting changes in cementing the inclusion of women in community-based natural resource management initiatives as a whole.
The woman leader of Guervoum village said:
"As wives and mothers, or simply full members of our communities, we are also called upon to provide for our homes and our community, so it is important that we get actively involved in the management of the forests that surround our village, because what we get from them allows us to live."
The major lesson learned in the implementation of the RTM project on women's involvement in forest monitoring, shows positive effects on many forest management issues, including resource sustainability, forest regeneration and conflict management.
Indeed, the successful integration of women in forest monitoring through the deployment of the ForestLink system has achieved brilliant results. The institutionalisation of this involvement at the local level through the CPFs promises to lead to considerable progress, though the actions will need to be spread out over time, and the contribution of community incentives managed by women could also substantially reinforce this integration in the forestry sector. This would ultimately support the achievement of broader social and economic objectives, including sustainable development objectives at the local level. It can also further enhance sustainable forest resource management, the general welfare and social protection of families, and contribute to the creation of food-secure environments.
While much progress has been made, cultural achievements and societal prejudices still relegate women to second place, and the involvement of women in decision-making bodies in the Yoko locality remains a challenge. This relegation is observed by the fact that women are disadvantaged by unrecognised property rights and unsecured access to forest and land resources. This is due to discrimination and male bias in the provision of services and sharing of benefits from forestry. It is also due to exclusion from policy formulation and decision making at household and community levels. Women only receive a fraction of the benefits, and typically only get to participate in decision-making when forest and tree resources are already degraded.
The major challenge of involving women in the management of forest resources is linked to cultural heritage and societal prejudices observed in the locality, however mentalities are changing.
In most of the offices of the legal entities in charge of community forest management in the locality (such as GIC and association), it was observed that the position constantly assigned to women is that of treasurer. Their statutory role is reduced to that of custodian of the funds, with no consultative voice in their management.
The potential for involving women in the value chain is enormous, and measures should be taken to ensure their empowerment. This will increase their participation in community-based forest resource development and management initiatives, by encouraging them to join or form and strengthen village associations and groups to better ensure compliance with the obligations of forest operators carrying out activities in their localities. This participation in collective actions will enable women to gain power in the value chain, the numerous benefits including: stronger bargaining power, a sustainable supply of products, and access to external resources such as extension and rural development assistance.
Conclusion and outlook
The involvement of rural women in the Yoko district in forest monitoring was carried out during the implementation of the RTM project by ECODEV and its partners FODER and RFUK. This involvement was preceded and framed by sensitisation and discussion meetings on the inclusion of women in forest resource management initiatives. In terms of results: between 2020 and 2021, of the 533 alerts sent by the project's six communities, 76% of them came from communities with women as community leaders. In 2022, 90% of the 150 alerts recorded were from the community of Guervoum, where there is a woman member of the CPF. These results are largely dependent on the commitment of these women to actively participate in the sustainable management of forest resources, upon which they depend for the survival of their households. In general, women's involvement in forest resource management initiatives still faces challenges related to cultural heritage and societal prejudices in the locality. However, the attitudes there are receptive to change with regard to the role of women in the household, community and society as well as in forest resource management. To address these challenges, RFUK and its local partner ECODEV intend to:
- Intensify awareness-raising activities in the media (via Radio Mbam and Kim 93.3 FM) and in the communities, in order to promote the integration of women into community decision-making bodies such as the riparian committees for the management of the Annual Forestry Fee (AFR);
- Facilitate the establishment of a representative association of the women of Yoko, or alternatively strengthen the capacities of existing women's groups in the locality;
- Support the establishment of income-generating activities (IGA) such as beekeeping;
- Promote the economic atomisation of women through support for the harvesting, development of value chains and marketing of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as Ndjansang (Ricinodendron heudelotii), wild mango (Irvingia gabonensis), Four-sides (Tetraptera tetrapleura), Kimba (Xylopia aethiopica), hazelnuts (Coula edulis), cola (Cola acuminata), etc;
- Encourage the adoption of artisanal techniques for improving agricultural productivity, such as biochar, as well as the introduction of multipurpose forestry plants in agricultural plots;
- Encourage the establishment of village women's savings and credit associations (VSCAs).
The implementation of these initiatives will be done gradually, with the help of other projects implemented in the locality.