Meeting of Government, Research and Civil Society Leaders from Across Africa Sends a Clear Message: Progress Underway, Much More Needed
YAOUNDE, CAMEROON (13 March 2007) – Government officials, researchers, and civil society leaders from West and Central Africa convened today in Yaoundé to share experiences and assess the impact of recent reforms involving recognition of community-based property rights and devolution of management authority to indigenous and other local communities in forest regions. Cameroon has achieved significant process, while other Central African countries are learning from Cameroon to herald similar progress in the near future.
The forest policy reforms in the 1990’s introduced community forests in Cameroon. “The law allows these communities to manage their forests themselves and gain income from them”, said Mr. Alphonse Marfor Tangala from the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife Cameroon. “Our Ministry is helping the communities building their capacity so that they can improve the management of natural resources.”
“There is a growing trend in Central Africa for the allocation of rights over forests to the poor”, said Dr. Cyrie Sendashonga, Regional Coordinator for Central Africa of CIFOR, which hosted the event. “Recognizing property rights and transferring management responsibilities to rural communities are important steps in promoting sustainable forest management. But it’s not enough. Other policy and regulatory reforms must follow so that the communities can really benefit from their rights.”
The meeting was organized by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a coalition of local and international development and conservational organizations, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
Meeting participants shared their experiences navigating the difficult transition where rural people are increasingly asserting their rights and gaining government recognition to manage and control forest areas. “It’s a complex process which goes beyond the Ministry of Forests alone”, said Ed Barrow, from the IUCN Eastern Africa Office and co-host of the event. “It involves changes in legal, regulatory as well as trade frameworks to enable rural communities to compete fairly in national and international markets, while at the same time managing their forests in a sustainable way”, Barrow explained.
Progress in Central Africa is mixed. “Cameroon is the most advanced country in the region in the transfer of management responsibilities to rural communities”, said Youssouf Ramadan from the Commission for Central African Forests (COMIFAC). “Other countries like Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo have developed Forestry Codes but they are not yet fully implemented. These Forestry Codes give rural communities the right to manage forests in community forests.”
The meetings revealed that while governments are trying to manage this transition in forest governance, many leaders from civil society think that change is too little and too slow. “Examples in Cameroon show that forests can significantly help to reduce poverty”, said Mr. Abbe Jean, coordinator of the Community Forests Network in Cameroon. “Community forests use the revenues from selling wood or Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP’s) to build health care centers and to send children to school. But the communities are not allowed to sell wood outside of Cameroon, which results in much lower revenues than possible”, Jean added.
“We signed a contract with the state to use the forest for 25 years”, said Andang Ntynty Aubin, president of the community forest Ngda Achip in East Cameroon. “While the revenues from the wood mill and the oil palm plantation really help us to develop our community, we’re not completely free. The government is still in control and can end the contract if it thinks we’re not managing the forest well.”“Unfortunately, the contribution of forests to poverty alleviation is also not mentioned in strategic poverty reduction documents”, said CIFOR researcher René Oyono. ”If poverty alleviation is to be achieved, then the government needs to move faster in recognizing the rights of the poor in forest areas”, concluded René.
The meeting sent a clear message: ignoring local community rights to forests and other natural resources perpetuates poverty, conflict, hastens degradation of environmental resources, and undermines economic growth. The meeting also helped forge better understanding and cooperation among different constituencies seeking to achieve sustainable development and poverty alleviation. "Everyone agrees that forests can play a big part in boosting living standards of the poor, by allowing the rural poor to own, use and sell their forest products and services," said Dr. Andy White, President of the Rights and Resources Group. “We will continue to support government and local community efforts to expand the kind of reforms, such as those affecting property rights, that strengthen community culture, well-being and fundamental human dignity, while, at the same time, allow for forest resources to contribute more to poverty alleviation and conservation."
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A French version of this press release and photos of the event are available on request.
The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) is a new coalition of organizations dedicated to raising global awareness of the critical need for forest tenure, policy and market reforms, in order to achieve global goals of poverty alleviation, biodiversity conservation and forest-based economic growth.
Partners currently include Forest Trends, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia and the Pacific (RECOFTC), the Foundation for People and Community Development, Papua New Guinea, the Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Community Agroforestry in Central America (ACICAFOC), the United States Forest Service, InterCooperation, Switzerland, and the World Agroforestry Center. Development of the Initiative is coordinated by the Rights and Resources Group, a non-profit organization in the USA. For further information, visit the Web site at: www.rightsandresources.org.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN). The World Conservation Union is the world’s largest and most important conservation network. The Union brings together 82 States, 111 government agencies, more than 800 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries in a unique worldwide partnership.
The Union’s mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.
The World Conservation Union is a multicultural, multilingual organization with 1000 staff located in 62 countries. Its headquarters are in Gland, Switzerland.