The Ngoyla-Mintom REDD project covers an area of more than 700,000 hectares in the south of Cameroon. The project takes a “landscape” approach, aiming to create a new protected area linking the Nki National Park and Dja Biosphere Reserve.
About 10,200 people live in the area, 30% of whom are Baka indigenous communities, the remainder are Bantu. A new report by the Forest Peoples Programme and Association Okani looks at the rights of the Baka communities living in the area.
In 2011, Forest Peoples Programme published a report about the REDD planning process in Cameroon, focussing on the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. FPP’s report highlights a lack of transparency; a lack of genuine participation by local communities; a failure to respect Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and a failure to develop procedures to incorporate FPIC in the projects in progress; confusion over carbon ownership rights (which, more often than not, appear to be allocated to the State); and the failure to respect customary land rights.
The report notes that REDD activities in Cameroon,
lack effective actions to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples and local communities, miss solid data on the drivers of deforestation and gloss over critical land tenure, carbon rights and benefit sharing issues.
FPP and Association Okani’s report on the project, “The rights of Baka communities in the REDD+ Ngoyla-Mintom project in Cameroon”, is written by Jake Willis, Messe Venant, and Olinga Noel. It can be downloaded from Forest Peoples Programme’s website.
The REDD+ Ngoyla-Mintom project has two components: WWF Cameroon – European Union; and the Global Enviroment Facility – Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife. The map below shows the WWF project area:
FPP and Association Okani’s report notes that the people and forests in the area face several threats:
In addition to the REDD+ and biodiversity conservation projects (the Dja Wildlife Reserve and the Nki National Park), this region is under pressure from numerous external sources, principally: exploration activities; prospecting and mining (gold, cement and iron); a railway construction project to transport ore from the Camiron mine at Mbalam 500 km to the Atlantic coast at Kribi; development of the cross-border rail network between Cameroon, Gabon and the Republic of Congo; industrial logging in the FMUs (Forest Management Units which cover approximately 45% of the project area) and sales of standing volume, as well as immigration linked to these activities.
Logging in the REDD project area
Large areas of the forest in the REDD project area had been allocated for logging. But in the late 1990s, the area was “assigned to conservation” according to WWF’s website.
FPP and Association Okani note that the GEF project, with help from WWF, managed to stop logging in one Forest Management Unit covering an area of 156,000 hectares, and allocated to the Ngoyla Wildlife Reserve.
In 2014, two Forest Management Units were allocated inside the REDD+ Ngoyla-Mintom project area. FPP and Association Okani report that ecoguard patrols are restricting Baka communities’ access to the forest, confiscating their traps and game, and stopping people for questioning. Communities have been beaten by the guards. Meanwhile the forest is being degraded by commercial loggers and poachers, and by mining activities. Baka community members say that,
“The Baka are not responsible for the forest’s destruction. The Baka only go to remove what they need. It’s the others, with their economic visions, who are coming and doing the destroying.”
“WWF have told us to stop harvesting nuts and wild mangoes, that they’re only for the animals.”
Community forests: Who benefits?
WWF has succeeded in enlarging an agro-forestry strip, to five kilometres on either side of the road, thus “opening up the potential for development of community forestry and the possibility of securing land rights for the indigenous communities”, FFP and Association Okani write. But it is not clear that the Baka communities will benefit from these community forests. A key question, that FFP and Association Okani have repeatedly asked WWF is “who benefits from mixed community forests?”
WWF is now beginning to consult communities about community forests, and “the first sensitisation report confirms that the concept of community forests for indigenous peoples on indigenous land is belatedly beginning to be promoted”, FFP and Association Okani write. Comments from Baka communities to FFP and Association Okani’s researchers are revealing:
“The WWF have told us that they do not want to see Baka outside the 5 km boundary of the agro-forestry strip. They say: if we see you there, you will be imprisoned or even killed.”
“The WWF have told us to stop clearing land for cultivation but our crops don’t grow in the shade and it’s dangerous to leave cover for snakes.“
Free, Prior and Informed Consent?
In 2014, Cameroon approved “Operational Guidelines for Obtaining Free, Prior and Informed Consent in REDD+ Initiatives in Cameroon“. The Guidelines were prepared by WWF, Germany’s GIZ, and Centre pour l’Environnement et le Développement, under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment, Protection of Nature and Sustainable Development.
In their report, FPP and Association Okani explain that,
The aim of this evaluation is to open up a space in which to reflect on respecting communities’ rights in the REDD+ processes and help generate a participative analysis of the impacts of the REDD+ Ngoyla-Mintom pilot project on these communities…
Through and beyond the process for obtaining FPIC, the evaluation examines how the agreements are functioning; the extent of participation in the monitoring and decision-making bodies, and in the sociological and gender components; mechanisms for benefit-sharing; and other acknowledged or potential impacts on the rights of the communities as identified by the promoters and/or communities.
FFP and Association Okani found that, “The requirement that FPIC should be obtained has not been met”. Meetings were not conducted in indigenous languages, as required in the Operational Guidelines. In only one case, the Baka community said that information had been brought to them in advance by WWF. In every other case, the Baka were reliant on their Bantu neighbours to inform them of meetings.
The meetings did not take the traditional calendar into account. The project promoters failed to ensure that Baka women participated in meetings. The communites are confused between the WWF and the GEF projects. Joint presentations from project promoters only make things worse.
FPP and Association Okani found that,
Consequently, the Baka communities do not feel well informed about the REDD projects’ activities on their customary lands and are unaware of their right to FPIC and to refuse their consent.