Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/A case study on Bimbia Bonadikombo Community Forest (BBCF), South West Region of Cameroon: Emergence, Impacts, and Improvements
A case study on Bimbia Bonadikombo Community Forest (BBCF), South West Region of Cameroon: Emergence, Impacts, and Improvements.
By Samuel Adeyanju
A film on issues around Bimbia Bonadikombo Community forest.
The wave of colonization across Africa between late 19th century and mid 20th century led to the expropriation of land from indigenous people, that have lived there for centuries. It wasn't a different case in Cameroon. The Germans expropriated large areas of fertile land from Bakweri indigenous people of Cameroon in the 1890s. After Independence in 1960, imposition of state ownership of land continued in Cameroon.
In the late 1980s, the deep economic recession forced Cameroon to turn to the World Bank and IMF for financial aid and these institutions influenced a reform in Cameroon’s forest sector. Thus, the new forestry law was established by a presidential Decree in 1994 with community forestry at the centre. BBCF occupies a land area of 3,735 ha in the South West province of Cameroon. The Bakweri indigenous people make up 10% of the population while remaining 90% are immigrants. The Mt Cameroon Project, a conservation NGO funded by DFID facilitated the creation of this community forest, with the involvement of local communities around BBCF.
The BB Management Council (made of municipal officers (representing government), indigenous elites and other user groups like farmers) are responsible for the management of the forest resources for a period of 25 years.
Since 1994, the implementation of community forestry in Cameroon has produced benefits as well as encountered some limitations.
Through, the efforts of the Management Council, the adoption of ecotourism has contributed to biodiversity conservation in BBCF. The livelihood of community members has also been improved through fees paid to tour guides by tourists and researchers to access the forest. On the hand, the 1994 forest law failed to define roles, responsibilities and rights which has led to conflicts amongst the municipality officials and the Management Council members including internal organizational crises within community groups.
This paper discusses the roles played by each stakeholder in the creation and management of Bimbia Bonadikombo Community Forest (BBCF) and closes with useful recommendations.
Over the last decades, there has been a great decline in the biodiversity of tropical countries. Most of these decline can be attributed to human unsustainable use of biological resources, often promoted by poor economic policies, corruption and lack of enforcement of forest laws and regulations. However, this threat to species and ecosystems has attracted global attention in recent times . It is estimated that the as many as 1 billion of the world’s poorest people rely in some way on forests for their livelihoods . For most of these poor people, the forest provides multifunctional roles including socio-cultural, economic and spiritual values given their age long history of occupying these forests. Nonetheless, their rights to using lands and forests have become increasingly threatened over several decades. Besides, international development discourse has recently shifted its focus from top-down economic adjustments to participative anti-poverty policies in a bid to provide solutions to local people’s marginalisation in natural resource usage .
Community forestry (CF) came into the centre stage in the 1970s, when the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 1978 initiated activities and programs related to local communities and their forest related activities . Countries like Nepal and Indian are prominent in the origination of Community forestry (CF). CF is seen as a means of engaging rural population in protecting the forest as well as plant degraded areas for the production of timber, fuelwood and various non-timber forest products while they are allowed to use forest resources to meet their subsistence needs . The recent shift towards sustainable management of forest ecosystems in the international community inspired the introduction of community forestry into Cameroon's forestry legislation, which has led to the review of its ‘traditional’ forest management to encourage the participation of forest dependent communities in management and conservation of forest resources .The 1994 forest legislation took a step further to formalize the involvement of local population in forest management through community forests in Cameroon. Various researchers have carried out extensive studies on diverse aspects of community forestry concept. For instance,   analyzed the establishment of Community Forestry (CF) processes in Cameroon, questioning the extent to which the CF models can act as a decentralization and devolution tool as well as its constraints  examined how interactions of local institutions and stakeholders influence community based forest management (CBFM) process in a named community forest,  studied the biodiversity potentials, problems or challenges involved in forest exploitation and management in a named community forest in Cameroon. Years after the introduction of Community forestry in Cameroon, the concept has not brought the full benefits of forest management to the local people due to the incidence of conflicts within local communities and failure of the concept in some other communities  This paper will examine these previous studies to understand the emergence, development and present status of CF concept in Bimbia Bonadikombo Community Forest (BBCF), South West Region of Cameroon almost 20 years since it was created.
Definition of Community forestry
Community forestry is ‘any situation which intimately involves local people in a forestry activity ... ranging from woodlots in areas which are short of wood and other forest products for local needs, through the growing of trees at the farm level to provide cash crops and the processing of forest pro-ducts at the household, artisan or small industry level to generate income, to the activities of forest dwelling communities’  Community forest management involves the management of forest resources by local people, for commercial and non-commercial purposes . It involves the exploitation and management of forest resources by local people, on an individual or household basis, for consumption and sale, and the community management of forests, which refers to a collaborative enterprise conducted by a group of local people who manage forest either independently or with outside support for the production of resources for consumption and sale .
Cameroon is a forested country in the Congo Basin of Africa with a total surface area of 47.5 million ha, of which 23.9 million ha is considered dense rainforest, making it the second largest forest reserve in Africa after Congo Kinshasa  . It’s cultural identities, local livelihoods, national economic interests, and global ecological stability are greatly attached to these forest lands. At the local level, the rainforest provides various goods and services for about eight million rural poor (30 per cent of the whole population) since 17 million ha of the total forested area are exploitable . In June 2011, out of the total forest area of 23.9 million ha, 7.7 million ha were designated logging concessions, 4.3 million ha were located in protected areas and 1.5 million ha were granted as community forests 
As it was the case in most African states, there existed some form of governance system employed within local communities before the arrival of the colonial administrators. Particularly, natural resources were managed according to the “People’s law” (that is family law) with the village chiefs serving as main administrators allocating those resources for the benefit of the entire local populace . The arrival of the colonial administrators led to the establishment of a formal forestry sector in Cameroon. The forestry sector reform started during the German colonization (1884-1914) period. Furthermore, the joint British and French mandate between 1919 and 1960 helped to advance the reforms in the forest sector. During this periods, the forestry reforms was characterized by a legal and absolute control of the state over the country`s forest lands. However, after independence (1960-1985), Cameroon disregarded the customary or traditional tenure systems of indigenous people and preferred the statutory system handed down by the colonial administrators, through expropriation of community controlled land and forests and imposition of state ownership .
Although, the government of Cameroon introduced severally successive laws to govern forestry sector. The Forest Order No 73/18 of May 25, 1973 governs forest and land, Land Tenure and State Lands order No 74-1 and 74-2 of July 6, 1974; Forestry law No. 81/13 of December 27, 1981. In 1987, there was a review of the Cameroon forestry legislation as part of the Tropical Forestry action Plan (TFAP) .
Prior to the 1994 forest law, Cameroon’s deep economic recession of the late 1980s, brought about by a fall in commodity prices, forced the country to turn to the World Bank and IMF for aid. These institutions prescribed a structural adjustment pack-age that included the lay-off of government workers and required that the government reform its forest sector (Nuesiri, 2008). This gave birth to the new forestry law, established by presidential Decree 94/436/PM in January 1994 as the main law that governs the forestry sector in Cameroon which was subsequently followed by the 1995 decree no 95/531/PM, to determine the conditions for the implementation of forestry regulations. In fact, the 1994 forest law has been cited as the first attempt to decentralize forest management practices and address issues of sustainability and inequity in the Congo Basin   . In addition , in 2002, the creation of the digitalized Forest Management Information System (SIGIF) also plays an important role in the implementation of the law. Cameroon as a member state of the United Nations ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biodiversity in Rio de Janeiro at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 through Decree No 94/167 of August 29th 1994. Cameroon was one of the 144 countries that voted in favour of the adoption of UNDRIP at the United Nations General Assembly on 13 September 2007. UNDRIP is a non-binding instrument that serves as the universal framework of minimal standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world  Cameroon is also party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) 
The Bimbia Bonadikombo Community Forest (BBCF)
The Bimbia Bonadikombo Community Forest (BBCF) is a group of five villages situated in the Limbe sub-division of the Fako division of Cameroon’s South West Province, occupying a land area of 3,735 ha. BBCF is divided into nine compartments for management purposes and three of these compartments (Dikolo, Likomba laMbenge and Likomba Lelu with a surface area of 1,200 ha) have been set aside as high conservation value forest for research, ecotourism and environmental education activities  Bonadikombo community forest (BBCF), the only approved community forest entity created by the Mt Cameroon Project (MCP) of Mt. Cameroon region.Although, Mt Cameroon Project (MCP) worked towards the creation of four community forests  . In 1998, concerned community members took practical steps to curb the rampant exploitation of natural resources by establishing the Bimbia Bonadikombo Natural Resource Management Council (BBNRMC). This group then initiated the creation of the Bimbia Bonadikombo Community Forest (BBCF). In 18 May 2002, the Government of Cameroon officially handed the management of the resources of the forest to the BBNRMC for a period of 25 years (2002–2027)  Mt Cameroon is a part of the Cameroon Highlands ecoregion stetching across several communities in the South West province of Cameroon including Bimbia Bonadikombo communities. Mt. Cameroon has an indigenous population (the Bakweri) of about 10% while the other 90% of the population is made up of people from other parts of Cameroon and other nearby countries including Nigeria and Benin . The vegetation of the BBCF is dominated by six main vegetation types that include mangrove, fresh water swamp forest, littoral vegetation, coastal bar forest, Lowland forest and fresh water ecosystems. The BB Community Forest provide local communities with sustainable income generating activities such as poaching/hunting, farming, timber exploitation, collection of fuelwood and NTFPs especially palm oil production from palm plantations in the forest. Timber exploitation in the BBCF could either be through industrial logging destined for export or small-scale timber exploitation by chainsaw owners. Timber sourced from the forest are used for furniture, building and roofing of houses in Limbe, Bimbia-Bonadikombo villages, Tiko and CDC camps around the area. Some of these activities have been identified as major drivers of forest deforestation and degradation in the area  .
The concept of community forest was conceived by the legislative arm of Cameroon as a mere transfer of management to local people and not necessarily wholesale transfer of rights in property (especially the land) to local people, since the State remains the de jure owner of the forest resources and retains the rights of forfeiture in case the community fails to fulfill their obligations. This is a major threat to the success of community forestry as seen in the management of Bimbia-Bonadikombo (BB) Community Forest.
Under the 1994 Law, forests in Cameroon are classed into two types either Permanent or classified forests (forêts permanentes) - which are to be used only for forestry or as wildlife habitats or Non-permanent (unclassified, though not necessarily ‘temporary’) forests - which comprise forest lands that can be used for may be converted into non-forest land at any time. Based on this classification, community forests was grouped under “Non-permanent forest estate” The area of the forest designated as ‘non-permanent’ represents only 31.5% of the total forest estate - as against 64% for permanent forest (of which 43% is production forest) .
A community forest is usually up to 5,000 ha, allocated within communal forest (Class B) to registered community (legally recognized entity). A five-year Simple Management Plan must be prepared prior to the final allocation of the forest to the community. Meanwhile, the community forest certificate is valid for a renewable minimum period of 25 years. Four options are available to these communities: associations, cooperatives, Common Initiative Groups (CIGs) and Economic Interest Groups (EIGs)  
At inception, there was uneven geographic distribution of community forest initiatives across provinces in the country. This could be attributed to several factors such as lack of information on community forests, the presence of conservation projects or logging companies, and the availability of timber. Presence of conservation projects or NGOs in most rural community enhanced the enthusiasm for community forests in some communities. Majority of incomplete applications were submitted by communities themselves without any form of assistance from NGOs or logging companies. The Government of Cameroon officially handed the management of the resources of the forest to Bimbia Bonadikombo Natural Resource Management Council (BBNRMC) for a period of 25 years (2002–2027) in 18 May 2002 .The greater percentage of the land in Bimbia-Bonadikombo is on long term lease from the state by the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC). The CDC has developed rubber and palms plantations within BBCF. This gives the CDC the de jure (legal) rights of ownership over the forest. However, this is opposed to the de facto (customary) rights owned by the members of the Bimbia-Bonadikombo Community. In fact, the forest adjacent villages of Bonangombe, Dikollo, Bonabile, and Bonadikombo lay traditional claims over the land under customary tenure, representing the de facto claim over the land which gives them access to some resources within forest which includes single tree felling rights for local construction, commercial fuel wood exploitation, and all types of hunting. Individuals also lay claims to the forest. This situation where the rights of owners remain ambiguous can be problematic in any agreement involving parties. For instance, the Bimbia-Bonadikombo (BB) community lacks secure tenure over the land that their forest stands on. Although, the BB community has clear rights to trees and forest products (except protected species), but not to the land itself. “The legal pluralisms in the Bimbia-Bonadikombo forest are complex and diverse as well as the concept of ownership in the Bimbia-Bonadikombo forest as the stakeholders concerned are also numerous resulting in conflicts of ownership and usage” .
The Government of Cameroon recognizing the need to create an organizational structure to spearhead the implementation of the first community forestry initiatives in the Central Africa region, negotiated the establishment of the Community Forestry Development Project (CFDP) with the British Government. The Community Forestry Development Project (CFDP) was established as a primary unit within the Ministry of Forests and Environment (MINEF), responsible for implementing the community forestry aspects of the 1994 Forest Law using necessary strategies. Moving further in achieving its objectives, other organizations were created namely: Community Forestry Network (CFN) created in 1997 to promote the exchange of experiences between all those involved in community management of forest resources and Community Forestry Unit (CFU) was set up in 1998 to oversee the implementation of community forests at national level . “With respect to Community–based management regimes in Cameroon, the degree of community autonomy and the level of benefits to communities vary” (Ashu, 2016). For BBCF, management is through the Bimbia Bonadikombo Natural Resource Management Council (BBNRMC). This does not give local communities right to enjoy full autonomy of management, use of forest products and income from the forest resources is invested in community forest whereas the forest is meant to serve the interest of the village communities within Bimbia municipality, who are mainly registered and non-registered farmers and fishermen within their village councils or quarters, or registered groups within the Management Council . Furthermore, the BBNRMC retains the right to temporarily suspend or restrict customary user rights pronounced after the adoption of the proposal by the General Assembly for the purpose of conservation. This is done with consideration to the livelihood and sustenance of ccommunity members .
The Bakweri elites organised themselves into groups which lobby and mobilize support for community forestry development. They include: the Victoria Land and Forest Conservation Committee (VLFCC), and Victoria Area Rainforest Common Initiative Group (VARCIG). In addition, they establish and reinforce claims to traditional lands. The Bimbia Bonadikombo Natural Resource Management Council (BBNRMC) has an elected board and a management council that represent the community and coordinate CF activities. The main objective of the BBNRMC is the protection of biodiversity and sustainable management of forest resources on behalf of the village communities. In addition, they implement the Simple Management Plan on all 9 compartments of BBCF. On the other hand, the Limbe III council is principally saddled with ensuring democratic local governance within the village communities in Bimbia. They also give necessary support to CF development. The Limbe Traditional Council (Chiefs) are the custodian of tradition and approve access to all resources. As members of BBNRMC board, they establish and reinforce claims to traditional lands. Although they have limited political power .
Interested Outside Stakeholders
The majority of the land in Bimbia-Bonadikombo is on long term lease from the state by the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC). The CDC has developed rubber and palms plantations within BBCF. This gives the CDC the de jure (legal) rights of ownership over the forest. (Ngalim & Terence, 2016). The Mount Cameroon Project (MCP), Limbe, an integrated conservation and development project was implemented from 1994 – 2002 with funding from the Department for International Development (DFID) of the British Government and the Global Environmental Facility. The MCP provided funding and technical support, and equally played a facilitator`s role in the drawing up of the Management Plan for the Bonadikombo Community Forest (BBCF). The MCP also has lobbying strength. The BB Community has a population of over 80% non-indigenous inhabitants, made up of local farmer groups, fisherman, charcoal producers, palm oil producers and other. These main non-indigenous forest users had no such structures, so MCP, Limbe assisted them to create farmers, charcoal producers, timber, and fuelwood merchants’ user groups . At first, the indigenes strongly opposed inclusion of non-indigenes in the BB management board but a consensus was reached and the BB management board was created with a composition that was 75 percent indigenes and just 25 percent non-indigenes . The livelihoods of these various user groups depend on the resources they are able to get from the forest.. The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MINEF) and Ministry of Forest and Wildlife (MINFOF) are 2 distinct government agencies with relatively similar roles. They are responsible for awarding community forest approval certificates to communities and supervise forest management to ensure its sustainability. They also provide technical assistance to communities during the application process for a community forest. They are also the arm of government that works on the formulation of policies that relates to natural resources management. They also responsible for conflict resolution amongst forest communities and stakeholders.
The 1994 forest law was perceived as an opportunity for local people to participate in the management of forest lands and resources . The community forest project at Bimbia Bonadikombo community was borne out of great concern had by members of the community to curb the massive exploitation of natural resources within forest lands in Bimbia Bonadikombo community. In 1998, this led to the establishment of the Bimbia Bonadikombo Natural Resource Management Council (BBNRMC) by elite members of the community . The BBNRMC worked together with the Mount Cameroon Project (MCP), Limbe to create the Bimbia Bonadikombo community forest (BBCF) through consulatation with village communities adjacent to the Bimbia Bonadikombo forest. In 18 May 2002, the Government of Cameroon officially handed the management of the resources of the forest to the BBNRMC for a period of 25 years (2002–2027)  .
The adoption of the community forestry in the 1994 forest law received a lot of attention and credits at both national and international levels. Like for most policies, there is always a wide gap between theory and practice. However, some tangible progress was made through the management efforts of BBNRMC. Ecotourism was employed as means to conserve the rear species endemic to BBCF, given the high conservation value (HCV) of the forest .  concluded that the traditional conservation methods based on culture and ancestral practices of the local people in Bimbia Bonadikombo communities has highly contributed to the protection and biodiversity conservation in BBCF. They recommended that decision-makers and academics should learn from the use of empirical knowledge biodiversity conservation projects. Communities are fully aware of the huge decline in the biodiversity of the forest and its impact on their livelihoods . The livelihood of members of the community has also been improved through fees paid to tour guides by tourists to access the forest site. Also, researchers pay a certain fee to conduct research inside the forest. Sustainable agriculture, timber exploitation, charcoal and palm oil production are other sources of income to local people of BB community.
The implementation of community forestry in Bimbia Bonadikombo community came with it’s associated challenges especially due to the ambiguity of some articles in the 1994 forest law failing to define roles, responsibilities and rights. Conflicts emerge due to lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities within the different actors. There were cases of conflicts amongst the municipality officials, the management council (BBNRMC) staffs, the Delegate for forestry, and the Sub-Divisional Officer for Limbe III Sub-Division . In addition, the creation of new organizations (Limbe III municipal council) for the local management of forest resources and benefits, rather than using indigenous institutions (BBNRMC) have contributed to the disruption of existing instruments of social regulation and cleared the way for damageable social distortions and conflicts . There were also internal organizational crises within community groups arising from gender inequality, low level of non-indigene and youth representation  argued that the enforcement institutions and officials tasked to penalize defaulters of the CF regulatory implementation were very weak and flawed with corrupt practices. The multiplicity of actors and processes in Bimbia Bonadikombo community forest (BBCF) made it too complex for members of the local community who have poor awareness of the CF concept. Thus places a barrier on the level of their participation in CF  . Also, the unresolved land tenure contestations between the de jure rights exercised by the state and the customary (de facto) rights of the Bakweris indigenous people of Mt. Cameroon has generated conflicts This degenerated into a law suit against the Cameroonian government to reclaim the lands accommodating the government-owned agricultural plantations . The policy failed to define what constitutes a community thus leaving this key socio-political concept to local interpretations, which tends to view community as a group bounded exclusively by ethnicity. This allowed the indigenous elite to resist the creation of an inclusive and equitable management team for the community forest 
Here are my recommendations for the various stakeholders involved in BBCF
• The government should review the scope of formal and informal rules in the 1994 Forest law to prevent ambiguities in terms of ownership of forest resources and land. It is necessary to clearly define boundaries and forest property rights .
• The government should implement UNDRIP and other declarations and conventions on human rights by giving full recognition to the customary tenure rights of indigenous people and local communities in Cameroon .
• The legislative body and administrators should provide the right kind of network, social security, norms needed by registered farmers and other forest user groups as well as improve the interplay management process at the operational level.
• The government should ratify the International Labour Congress (ILO) Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO 169) of 1989.
• The government should release adequate funds to MINEF to offer the necessary technical assistance for local communities apply for community forests as well as organise regular capacity building training to improve the efficiency of MINEF personnel.
• The government should also consider factoring in Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) into CFs is critical for long term sustainability 
. To elite groups and local leaders
• Local leaders should embrace transparency in the management of the forest resources and proceeds from the forest.
• Local leaders should take it upon themselves to partner with local and international NGOs to embark on massive sensitization of the local community on CF processes, their roles and rights in community forestry.
To NGOs (local and international)
• NGOs should always develop a long-term sustainability plan that will help sustain community forestry projects after the termination of project funding.
• NGOs should continue to support indigenous peoples and local communities to regain full customary rights of their ancestral lands.
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