The Dom Forest in the Bamenda Highlands of Cameroon is a species-rich Afromontane ‘island’ forest, entirely surrounded by either lowlands or mountain woodland. Of the 354 species documented by researchers 23 have been found to be threatened, 12 previously undiscovered and 5 endemic to the area.
The forest, its services and its resources are essential to the local community’s livelihoods but have been severely depleted by agricultural expansion and over-harvesting in recent years. Unsustainable land use has resulted in an unmanageable reduction of non-timber forest products (NTFPs), such as medicines and foods, which the local Dom Village community rely on. The Forest Food Buffer Project aims to redress this, with funding from ITF’s Sustainable Community Forestry Programme, which supports community forestry initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa. This project was sponsored by Worktop Express.
In order to protect this unique, bio-diverse ecosystem, 472 hectares have been officially gazetted to be sustainably managed by local communities in partnership with Community Assistance in Development (COMAID). By creating a Food Forest Buffer of 15,000 native trees the initiative aims to sustain and enhance the forest’s varied ecosystem services, increase species diversity and develop the capacity and livelihoods of the local population. The Forest Food Buffer aims to not only protect the forest and enhance biodiversity, but enrich community relations, such as addressing gender imbalances via the inclusion of more women, and creating a sustainable source of resources for the people of Dom area.
Progress so far
The Buffer project hopes to be completed within a year. Within the last six months COMAID, the Forest Management Institute and community members have succeeded in creating three tree nurseries, and plan to develop a further three when the local climate allows at the end of the dry season. Resources supplied by the Dom Forest Management Institution (the local community forest management body) such as the 15,000 planting pots, have allowed the nursery volunteers to improve planting skills and successfully maintain young trees.
Furthermore, newly-equipped local forest monitors have organised regular inspections to check for illegal activity and organised bush fire tracing in new areas of the forest. Fire tracing is an important preventative measure at this point, as in the dry season bush fires are common.
The only challenge so far, says Kenneth K. Tah, Project Manager of COMAID, was that due to the conditions of the dry season, sourcing a suitable location with adequate resources for the nurseries was a challenge. However, as the rainy season commences climatic conditions should allow for the three remaining nurseries to be built.
In months to come
The next stage in the Food Forest Buffer project is to train 50 community tree planters, establish the 15,000 saplings within the designated zones and continue to develop dialogue and relations within the Dom community. In the long-term, the risk of uncontrolled cattle grazing and bush fires will be managed by all stakeholders, with communication techniques being implemented to avoid conflict and illegal activity. This will involve transparent communication between all stakeholders, and ensuring conflict resolution techniques are in place should they be needed.
In the long-term the newly planted area will produce income and resources for the population, and improve the services the forest provides. This includes strengthening the water catchment, which will enhance the livelihoods of all who live there. The results from the Forest Food Buffer project can be shared and set a precedent for similar projects, highlighting the importance of joint decision making, community involvement and sustainable forest management.