PROGRESS is well underway with a new ITF-supported project which is helping to conserving one of West Africa’s biodiversity hotspots.
The Dom Forest Community Forest Project, supported by Worktop Express, was launched in February with the aim of setting up a food buffer zone around the species-rich afromontane forest of the Bamenda Highlands of north west Cameroon. The Bamenda Highlands are one of a series of mountainous forests in Africa separated by vast areas of surrounding lowlands dubbed “sky islands.”
The forest, which according to a recent studies supports 354 plant species, twelve of which are new to science, has been depleted by large-scale clearance for farmland and unsustainable exploitation of forest resources.
ITF partner Community Assistance in Development (COMAID), a multidisciplinary team of environmentalists, natural resource management experts, botanists and microfinance experts, is leading efforts to halt deforestation by helping local communities plant non-timber forest products (NTFPs) around the forest.
The project started, as planned, in February with an introductory meeting for various stakeholders in Dom village followed by training in tree nursery establishment, care and management. Initially six community nursery attendants, who also double as forest monitors, were trained. In total 21 community members, including many women, have been trained.
As a first step, forest monitors were trained to collect seeds of native afromontane tree species of potential high economic value so seeds could then be planted in polypots. Outplanting of seedlings began in August, with 16 of the 21 trained community members providing seedlings that were then transported to the community forest buffer zone.
A total of 21,500 seedlings of seven different tree species have been raised in polypots and so far 17, 621 seedlings have been transported and planted. This is has begun the process of restoring nearly 19 hectares of buffer zone community forest covering an area of nearly 19 hectares of community forest.
There have been a number of challenges in the initial phase of the project. Initially difficulties were encountered sourcing sufficient seeds from some target species – but the shortfall was made up by adding one extra species. Clearance of dense weed cover in the buffer zone also proved to be a challenge but labour intensity was reduced by adopting the “ring clearing and planting” technique.
Transportation of seedlings to the buffer zone has also been very laborious. Extra help has been provided by student volunteers but unforeseen transportation costs have led to a slight increase in the planned budget.
However overall the project has been a success. It has been supported enthusiastically by local community members, with higher than expected demand from people wanting to establish nurseries, and general awareness of the importance of forest conservation has been raised.
Kenneth Kumecha Tah, COMAID’s Head of Conservation Unit, who is leading the project, said: “The success recorded this far especially with the tree planting activity is attributed to the community taking ownership of the project. They have found the necessary impetus to conserve and improve the forest by planting trees that will be used in the near future for livelihood and income generation.”