Climate solutions in Cameroon – community forestry and rural women

08 August, 2022

Climate solutions in Cameroon – community forestry and rural women

Climate solutions in Cameroon – community forestry and rural women

The climate and ecological crises we face are complex, global problems with multiple causes, but also multiple solutions. In this guest blog post, Green Labs invited Ewi Lamma to share her experiences and insights on the power and potential of rural women and community forestry in Cameroon.

Forests as climate regulators

Forests play an essential role in regulating global climate as well as protecting watersheds, conserving biodiversity, and providing shelter, food, fuel, and timber to forests dwellers and local communities (Semie, 2014). According to the Ministry of Environment Nature Protection and Sustainable Development (MINEPDED) in 2017, the rate of deforestation and forest degradation in recent decades has raised concerns for many reasons including loss of biodiversity, climate change, negative impacts on rural livelihoods and damage to ecosystem services such as provision of water. Reports in 2018 show that deforestation and forest degradation contribute approximately 12% of the total anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions responsible for climate change.

Community forestry in Cameroon

Cameroon is a key player in international climate change negotiations and strategy development due to its great forest potential (Wassouni et al., 2013). These rainforests alone cover approximately 46.3 % of the national territory and account for 11 % of Congo Basin forests. Cameroon therefore has the third largest forest range in the Congo Basin, after Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Gabon.

Cameroon is grappling with the adverse effects of climate change and with the increasing pressure on forests (Ngang, 2015). To tackle these major challenges, the Cameroon government, according to Cameroon’s Vision 2035, is committed through its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to reduce emissions by 32% from its projected baseline of 2010 emissions. The forest sector is expected to contribute significantly to the realisation of this objective. The contribution of the forest sector will be achieved through the observation of the conclusions of the Cancun agreement, which drew a basis for countries to reduce carbon emissions through a system of accountability to each other (UNFCCC, 2011).

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) is one of the two climate finance mechanisms established by the Kyoto protocol and used as a climate change mitigation instrument of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for which Cameroon is a signatory (UNFCC, 2010). In recent years, plans to establish mechanisms for REDD have become prominent in community forest management. Compared to many Central African nations like Gabon and Congo, Cameroon was the first country in 1994 to introduce community forestry into its Forest Law (Nuesiri, 2008). This granted rural communities access and management rights for up to 5,000 hectares of forest resources in or around their villages. Community forestry has since been emulated by neighboring countries, but Cameroon remains the only country in Central Africa with legislative decrees to implement community forests (Semie, 2014).

The REDD+ Programme

Deforested land cleared to create a road in Cameroon
Deforested land to create an accessible road to communities in Cameroon

In 2005, tropical countries including Cameroon initiated a discussion on deforestation within the UNFCCC negotiations (MINEPDED, 2018). These discussions led to the introduction of the REDD concept, which was later expanded to REDD+ to include conservation of forest carbon stocks, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

The REDD+ Programme was launched in 2008 and builds on the convening role and technical expertise of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (UN, 2013). REDD+ is an international climate change mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in 47 developing countries. These comprise 18 countries from Africa, 18 from Latin America and 11 from Asia-Pacific.

REDD+ creates a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, and offers incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development (IPCC 2007). The processes on REDD+ decisions are guided by the Warsaw framework and included in the Paris Accord as one of the measures to help keep the global temperature rise at 2oC and to limit temperature increase by 1.5oC (MINEPDED, 2018). More specifically, the strategy is aimed at reducing projected emissions from deforestation and forest degradation of 50% by 2025 and to achieve net zero deforestation by 2035. This will improve on governance in forest conservation and sustainable management of forests for fair, equitable, sustainable economic and social development.

REDD+ not only focuses on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, but also recognises the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. Integrating REDD+ activities into Forests Management Plans is essential for a sustainable forest conservation programme (ER-PIN, 2013).

REDD+ projects across the globe

In 2015, Nhantumbo and Camargo diagnosed that 21% of REDD+ projects carried out in the world are in Africa, 26 % in Asia and 53 % in Latin America. While Brazil, Mexico, Peru and Indonesia have the largest number of projects in the world, Cameroon and Kenya stand out among African countries, with Kenya covering over 22% REDD+ registered projects. Literature from the International Database on REDD+ projects and programmes showed that ten REDD+ projects have been identified in Cameroon, five are ongoing, two have ended and the rest are in the pipeline.

Empowering women in forest management

Women and girls have a pivotal contribution to make as agents of environmental protection and restoration, sharing direct interactions with the natural world and bearing knowledge of local water, food and resource management. As such, involving women and girls in community forestry and related projects is an important mechanism for sustainable development and climate justice. Women have specific knowledge, roles and responsibilities in forest management and are central in contributing to family livelihood through the utilisation of forest resources. However, their limited knowledge on REDD+ benefits is a very important factor which triggers degradation and deforestation in community forests such as the Bimbia Bonadikombo Community. The majority of women in these communities have some formal (from school or other training) or informal (including personal observations) knowledge on climate change. As a result, most are aware of what climate change is and are using local weather monitoring and forecasting to combat its impacts during planting seasons. While this proves that traditional knowledge is an essential tool for climate change education, Kalipada (2002) emphasised that the first and foremost aspect in regards to climate change education, training and public awareness is to develop a process nationally, regionally or locally. This will help to prepare materials for climate change knowledge impartation and awareness raising in communities.

Community members, especially women, currently have no idea what REDD+ is and what it has to offer. This ignorance stems from the fact that acting project stakeholders have skipped several stages, especially local community sensitisation and awareness raising on REDD+ project processes. According to the PNDP feasibility study manual of February 2017 on REDD+ activities in Bimbia and Tiko councils, meetings had been held with 328 mayors on REDD+ discussions, excluding the local communities, and especially women. Studies by Pham et al. (2016) in Cambodia show that the implementation of REDD+ may be hindered by a lack of recognition of the importance of gender equity in decision-making processes. A similar report in the same country by UNDP in 2017 pointed out that such barriers have prevented the effective functioning of policies and institutions put in place in Cambodia to promote the integration of gender considerations in forestry and other natural resources management projects.

Ensuring women’s involvement with the REDD+ process in Cameroon

Research conducted with over 100 women in five communities in the Bimbia Bonadikombo Community forest (one of the REDD+ pilot regions in Cameroon) in 2020 included a reconnaissance visit to the site which gave initial ideas of the field realities, and this prompted a review of existing works on the area. This review identified the ways in which REDD+ and other policy processes are structured, provisions for women’s involvement within structures (e.g. REDD+ working groups), and the nature of women’s involvement and influence in specific decisions (e.g. in determining benefit sharing arrangements).  

This work identified nine REDD+ pilot projects and cleared the doubts of many who had considered the REDD+ process in Cameroon unrealistic. These projects included eru domestication, fruit tree propagation, mushroom cultivation and Agro forestry (nursery construction with economic trees and mangrove wildlings for Limbe and Tiko councils).  While mushroom cultivation and agroforestry are the most prominent of all ongoing projects in the area, discussions during focus groups with women in Bimbia showed that women’s involvement in the ongoing projects have not been efficient, due to lack of awareness and inadequate education on the benefits of these projects.

Achieving REDD+ through community participation

Bayrak and Marafa (2016) attested in their work that forest conservation and carbon stock enhancement  will only be fully realised if REDD+ aligns the interests of all the stakeholders, and communities in particular. This alignment can take shape if the participation of affected communities is facilitated in the REDD+ process. Global decision-making needs to include methods that engage representatives of various non-state interests, in order for REDD+ to succeed. Their study concluded that it might significantly improve the capacity of developing countries to deliver large cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at a low cost within a short time frame.

There is therefore an urgent need for inclusive bottom-to-top decision-making. And the national REDD+ projects in this area, and other ecological zones in different countries experiencing similar situations, should deliberately include the civil society, community-based organisations and non-governmental organisations in the execution of these preliminary phases for REDD+ project implementation. Finally the introduction of adaptive and sustainable programmes that help to build rural women’s capacities towards forest management, climate change and the REDD+ mechanism are considerations which could involve exchange visits with professionals and implementers of successful REDD+ pilot projects in other REDD+ areas.

Driving change

On my part, I am working on launching a project on developing and implementing gender equity policies, and programmes across REDD+ pilot zones in Cameroon. My main goal is to see responsible decisions on sustainable natural resource management in Cameroon and Africa.

After recognising the need to bridge the intergenerational gap in natural resource management and build the capacities of young women for climate justice, I revamped my radio programme ‘Eco-voice’ to add a youth component and coordinated the organisation of the 'Miss Environment FOREP 2020’ pageant.

Livelihoods and micro-enterprise development projects I have been involved in have trained 5,440 women in 160 forest communities in Cameroon. I prompted the formulation of 20 forest management policies in local councils leading to the construction of 60 nurseries with 16,000 indigenous tree species for revamping degraded sites and farmlands and recording a 65% increase in women’s income sources and 30% involvement of women in local councils.

Continuing this work, I hope to establish an all-girls institution where I will develop, adapt and adopt curriculums on climate education for young girls to build their capacities for placements in future environmental platforms and programmes.


About the author

Portrait of Ewi Lamma
Ewi Lamma

Ewi Lamma is an environmental and climate justice advocate at Forests, Resources and People and Director of Programming at the Pan African Centre for Climate Policy, where she focuses on developing entrepreneurship support and programmes that facilitate the representation and channeling of rural voices (women and youth) at national and international levels. She is a Mandela Washington Fellow for Young African Leaders, and holds Masters degrees in Natural Resource and Environmental Management and Christian Education.

To learn more about Ewi and her work, follow her on Twitter @ewi_lamma


Header image: Yaoundé, Centre, Cameroon on Pexels by Damas Yaounde with inset image showing a focus group meeting with women in the Bimbia community. All other photos courtesy of Ewi Lamma.