Mount Bamboutos Initiative 

Mt Bamboutos is a huge highland massif with an extinct caldera at its heart, which straddles the point where three regions of Cameroon meet: the South West, West and North West.  Mt Bamboutos is one of the major water catchments of Cameroon, and its streams feed several of the major rivers of Cameroon.  Formerly a biodiversity hotspot, it was home to many endemic species including Cross River gorillas and chimpanzees.  Now, large parts of the mountain have been completely deforested and turned to agriculture and settlements, and much of the biodiversity has been lost.

Today, 30,000 rural people depend directly on the Bamboutos ecosystem for their livelihoods. The degradation of the catchments has led to serious water shortages. Urbanisation and intensification of farming are leading to soil erosion, food and water contamination, and will result in decreasing yields and reduced incomes. In the long run this is not a sustainable situation.  The MBI is an integrated programme to support the Mount Bamboutos communities in a process of change: towards forest restoration, more sustainable agriculture and agroforestry, and better livelihoods.

We are delighted to be working with our partner the Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF) to develop the Mount Bamboutos Initiative.

We have committed to work together long term to conserve and restore the Mount Bamboutos ecosystem and to help communities adopt sustainable agroforestry systems.

To tackle the challenges of Mt Bamboutos, we’re thrilled to have the support of TreeSisters  to work in South West Region, and the Darwin Initiative funding from the UK Government, in West and North West Regions.

ITF has made two project visits since the start of MBI: in June 2018 and March 2019.

“Reading about the area is definitely no substitute for seeing it with your own eyes”, says Andy Egan. “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”.

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.

“The upper slopes are mostly treeless apart from the last strips of natural forest in narrow river valleys.  When we reached the high slopes, we met members of the pastoralist community, tending their cattle.  They are just one of the groups using the mountain to provide them with a livelihood” says Paul Laird.   Speaking to local communities, the immediate concern is about water quality and access. “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.  The mountain is already losing its function as a water catchment, and the farms and pastures will gradually lose their productive soils.

Local people are 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.”

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 sustainable farming methods.

On the ground, ERuDeF is building a dynamic network in each of the five divisions where the MBI is working, including ITFs existing partner COMAID in the NW.  Louis Nkembi, ERuDeF’s CEO, has built an impressive constellation of people and organisations to help make the aims of MBI a reality over the coming 15 years.

In the 1960s Mt Bamboutos was described as a biodiversity hotspot.  It was home to many endemic species and a wide range of primates (including Cross River gorillas and chimpanzees). Now, parts of Mt Bamboutos have been almost completely deforested and converted to agriculture and settlements.  As a result of the habitat loss, biodiversity has been severely reduced, with many of the species going to local extinction. What remains of the global biodiversity today is found in steep gallery forests of the mountain, especially in the SW section.

Today, 30,000 rural people depend directly on the Bamboutos ecosystem for their livelihoods. The degradation of the catchments has led to serious water shortages. Urbanisation and intensification of farming are leading to soil erosion, food and water contamination, and will result in decreasing yields and reduced incomes. Farmers are using high levels of fertilisers and pesticides, and may have a poor understanding of the real economic and environmental costs.

The picture below of a spring on Mt Bamboutos typifies some of problems: potatoes cultivated on the stream banks; native forest destroyed or replaced by Eucalyptus; soil erosion.  And the stream has dried up.

ERuDeF started work on MBI in April 2018 in the SW and in July 2018 in the West and NW, and the formal launch of MBI took place on 2nd August 2018, in a ceremony which brought together key national, regional and local stakeholders.


Since then we have:

  • Carried out baseline surveys with households across the project area
  • Maps have been made of the project area showing the land use change from 2000 to 2018
  • Communities have been involved in identifying priority sites for forest restoration and agroforestry through the Restoration Opportunity Assessment Methodology
  • Farmers and pastoralists have registered themselves to take part in sustainable agriculture and agroforestry activities
  • They have identified the tree species they want to grow on their own farms, and have begun to consider opportunities for small scale forest friendly enterprises
  • Tree seeds have been collected and twelve central tree nurseries have been established
  • Local institutions are being developed for participatory land use management including the Mt Bamboutos Fons Association (for traditional rulers) and the Village Forest Management Committees.

We are delighted to announce that tree planting has now started with the first official Mt Bamboutos Tree Day in June 2019.  Local communities and stakeholders are planting trees on their farms, and restoring degraded areas in Sacred, Riverine and Community Forests and around key water sources.  This is just the beginning of a process that will continue each year from April to August.

Other work in Cameroon: