In June Andy Egan, ITF Chief Executive, and Paul Laird, Programmes Manager, visited Mount Bamboutos in Cameroon as one of the first steps to establish the new Mount Bamboutos Inititiative (MBI) with our partner the Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF). ITF and ERuDeF have committed to work together for 15 years to contribute to the conservation and restoration of the Mount Bamboutos ecosystem and to help communities adopt more sustainable and productive agroforestry systems. Mt Bamboutos is a huge highland massif, spanning three regions of Cameroon, with an extinct caldera at its heart.
We’re thrilled to have secured the support of TreeSisters to start work in South West Region, and of the Darwin Initiative, funding from the UK Government, in West and North West Regions. Andy and Paul visited Bamboutos from West Region.
Andy had been involved in the initial planning with our partner ERuDeF, and after over a year of hard work was excited to visit Cameroon and to see the project area with his own eyes. “Reading about the area is definitely no substitute for seeing it with your own eyes”, he says. “The day we got to go right to the top at 2,700m was the most striking. We had seen how very few trees remained on the lower slopes and expected that we would begin to see some significant areas of native trees towards the peaks.
But, no. At each turn in the ever steeper crumbly road the scene was much the same. Even towards the summits of the highest peaks considerable tracts of land have been converted to market gardening (of carrots, potatoes, leeks, beetroot and celery). There are even villages in the caldera. This really brought home the scale of the challenge we are taking on in trying to restore significant tree cover across the ecosystem”.
Due to the security situation in Cameroon, Andy and Paul were unable to visit the South West Region during their trip. There are more extensive areas of natural forest remaining in the South West sector, and these link with areas of great biodiversity importance, including the habitat of the Cross River Gorilla.
Paul, who worked in Cameroon in the past, gave his impressions after the trip. “The upper slopes are mostly treeless apart from patchy Eucalyptus plantations and the last strips of natural forest in narrow river valleys. When we reached the high slopes, we met members of a pastoralist community, tending their cattle. They are just one of the groups using the mountain to provide them with a livelihood. The vegetables on sale in the towns are large and impressive, and they are exported across Cameroon and beyond.”
Speaking to local communities, the immediate concern is about water quality and access. “We saw farmers spraying crops with pesticides using knap-sack sprayers”, says Paul. “Apparently there are high levels of cancer and other health problems in the area. The horticulturalists tap streams to irrigate crops in the dry season, and water sources in the densely populated areas downstream dry up or are polluted.
People we spoke with were unanimous on this topic – the situation is not sustainable. This is a key starting point for the MBI, working with communities and local leaders to bring the mountain under more sustainable management.”
There are already incidents of soil erosion and landslides as a result of deforestation and cultivation on steep slopes. This is a highly productive landscape, but what will it be like in 10 or 20 years’ time? The mountain is already losing its function as a water catchment, and the farms and pastures will gradually lose their productive soils.
People are taking action to deal with the problems: the Chief of Bangang has issued an influential decree banning dry season irrigation on the mountain. ERuDeF recognise the importance of these actions, and part of their approach to participative planning with communities is to build a mountain wide association of traditional authorities and to bring together women, men and young people to agree on more sustainable land use. This will include setting aside some areas for forest restoration and the promotion of agroforestry and organic farming methods.
For both Andy and Paul, it was invaluable to spend time with ERuDeF staff and the new MBI team. “Their passion and commitment comes shining through”, says Andy. “We also met many other great people and inspiring organisations. The enthusiasm of the Ministry of Forestry and Fauna was very welcome”.
On the ground, ERuDeF is building a dynamic network in each of the five divisions where the initial MBI work is starting. “One of these is our existing partner and grantee, COMAID”, says Andy. “The work being done by GADD (Groupement d’
The official launch date of the MBI is today, we look forwards to bringing you updates on progress.