Along Cameroon’s equatorial coast, women are planting trees on degraded land, both in the humid terrestrial ecosystems, and the estuarine areas where mangroves grow. In some cases, they’re also gaining greater tenure security in the process.
Trees are felled for timber and firewood – usually by men. But forests provide much more than wood for the people who live in and around them. Intact mangroves sustain healthy fisheries, and coastal forests provide a sustainable source of non-timber forest products (NTFP) such as fruit and nuts.
Traditionally, these resources are hunted and gathered by women, to feed their families and trade for cash to pay for things like schoolbooks and medicines to advance their children’s health and education. So reforestation makes sense for women in these communities, says Cécile Ndjebet of the African Women’s Network for the Community Management of Forests (REFACOF).
However, in rural Cameroon, traditional patriarchal culture dictates that women can’t own land, says Ndjebet. Married women can access land through their husbands in order to grow food and gather NTFP, explains Iris Flore Ngo Nken of Cameroon Ecology. But if their husband dies, that land will go to a male relative rather than his wife.
Women are often still motivated to plant trees, says Ndjebet, because it provides food security for the family in the near future, and will likely serve their male children further down the line. But greater tenure security would make a big difference for their own wellbeing, as well as that of their family. As such, REFACOF has worked with a number of groups to help make this happen.
In 2011-12, REFACOF supported the reforestation of degraded areas in three coastal community forests: Bopo, Libock and Nguimbock. Nurseries were established, and 68,000 trees planted over three years, with a 70% success rate; according to Ndjebet, a lack of resources tends to prevent the women from monitoring the trees intensively until maturity, which would likely bring the success rate higher.
Then, in 2014, they worked with eight women from the Coopérative des Pêcheurs de Londji (COOPEL, the Cooperative of Fisherpeople in Londji village) to restore three hectares of degraded mangrove forest, over a period of 6 months. There, the success rate was around 80%.
Later, in 2017, as part of a wider project on women’s leadership in sustainable forest and farm management, women were supported to plant orchards in the coastal forest villages of Sanaga, Dibamba, Ngwei and Pouma. Through this project, seven hectares were planted over three months; the survival rate was 65% in this case, given it was the end of the rainy season and the beginning of a period of drought.
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This story was originally published as part of a publication titled “Communities restoring landscapes: Stories of resilience and success.” Produced for the Global Landscapes Forum by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), “Communities restoring landscapes” is a collection of 12 stories about community-led efforts to restore degraded forests and landscapes. To access the publication and other stories, click here.
CIFOR is a non-profit, scientific institution that conducts research on the most pressing challenges of forest and landscape management around the world. Using a global, multidisciplinary approach, we aim to improve human well-being, protect the environment, and increase equity.