The Dom Community Food Forest project is part of the long-term collaboration between Community Assistance in Development (COMAID) and ITF, which started back in 2015. During this time, COMAID have planted over 30,000 trees and trained local communities in forest management, tree nursery establishment and tree planting.
An eco-region of significant importance
The Dom Community Forest in Cameroon is located in the Bamenda Highlands. This ecologically important area is not only home to several hundred people, but also exhibits exceptional levels of amphibian and avian endemism – species found only in this locality. Several mammal species such as the lowland gorilla, drill and chimpanzee are considered to be strictly endemic to this region.
In fact, the Cameroon Highlands ecoregion is one of 200 outstanding areas of biodiversity globally. But despite this, the area is one of the least well-protected eco-regions in Africa.
A large part of the Highlands was once covered by trees, but rapid deforestation has seen forest cover plummet by more than 50% in the last 50 years due to land conversion for cultivation purposes.
Human activities, mainly deforestation and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources (through activities such as animal grazing, large-scale farming and fires) are a threat to this biodiversity hotspot. Land degradation contributes to increasingly negative environmental impacts, including water scarcity, soil erosion and the disappearance of non-timber forest products (NTFPs), which are an important source of food in Cameroon. This is putting the livelihoods of the community living in the nearby areas at risk.
Restoring the buffer zone and reinforcing livelihoods
The buffer zone surrounding the Dom forest is important. It limits over-exploitation of the resources within the forest, protects the forest’s biodiversity and helps provide sustainable livelihoods for the local community.
Almost 20,000 trees were planted in the earlier stages of the project (2015 – 2016), benefiting approximately 240 community members. Between August 2016 and 2017, a further project was carried out as a continuation of this work to support the conservation of the Dom Community Forest, provide sustainable livelihoods and a source of income for the surrounding communities.
Achievement of these goals was strongly dependent on the protection and extension of the forest buffer zone, which had become degraded. The project aimed to plant native Afromontane tree species around the Dom Community Forest which could be sustainably harvested as a source of food, fuel or medicine.
In 2017, further community members received training to increase their knowledge of planting techniques, different tree species and their uses. Permanent tree nurseries have been set up through the project, to provide seedlings to the community for forest restoration and planting on farmland.
The project allowed 40 Dom community members to increase theoretical and practical knowledge on the tree planting techniques. Another group was trained on early forest-based conflict crisis warning signals and their resolution.
Importantly, the project has also strengthened community forest governance, essential for any long-term change to be achieved. These were crucial steps to support restoration efforts of the Dom and Buffer Community Forest and to protect its rich biodiversity.
Despite some problems with water supplies, used to keep the seedlings in good health, over 13,000 seedlings were planted in the second year of the project, with an initial survival rate of 96%. This restored 15 hectares of degraded land along the community forest buffer and enhanced the protection of 425 hectares of forest within. Additionally, the project provided forest rangers with the necessary skills and equipment to monitor and prevent fires.
The scheme is also a valuable learning experience for the whole community. “This project has reawakened a new spirit within me to start planting useful trees wherever.” says one of the project’s beneficiaries, Maesa Patrick. “It does not matter who will benefit from the tree, I may not even be there”.
The role of women in region’s sustainability
COMAID’s work has also provided a platform to discuss gender and other issues within the community.
It is estimated that around 90% of food needed for the subsistence of the population is supplied by women living in the rural regions of Cameroon. Men are mainly involved in cash crops and cattle herding in the vulnerable areas directly adjacent to the Dom Community Forest.
So an essential part of ITF and COMAID’s partnership has been to increase awareness, particularly of men, around sustainable farming and the dangers of some common practices like farmland fires to enhance grass growth. At the same time, the Dom dialogue platform, incorporating female participation, was sensitised about early warning signs of possible conflicts.
A bright future!
Going forward, plans for further collaboration between ITF and COMAID are being finalised. Following our Programmes Manager Paul’s visit in July 2017, it became apparent that an initiative empowering women groups, which are better placed to promote sustainable farming and agroforestry, would be particularly beneficial for the community. The new project started in Autumn 2017 will provide training and resources to enable women to enhance their farming techniques, and has been kindly sponsored by Our Lady and St Edmund Church in Abingdon, who have a historical connection to the Bamenda highlands.
Through planting trees on farmland of carefully-chosen species, agroforestry will improve beneficiaries’ access to vital nutrients, provide sources of food throughout the year, and offer other on-farm benefits such as improved soil fertility and water retention.