Conserving Afromontane Forest in the Bamenda Highlands of Cameroon
For conservation of biodiversity in Africa to be relevant it has to be linked to the pressing issues of development and poverty alleviation. This doesn't just mean increasing incomes - poverty alleviation is also about empowering local people to manage their resources, giving them rights and access to land, and transferring technical skills and knowledge so that people can manage resources sustainably. BirdLife is working with local communities and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in Cameroon to conserve the endangered biodiversity of the Cameroon Mountains by giving local people more control of the forest resources that they have traditionally depended on for their livelihoods.
The Cameroon Mountains run along the western border of Cameroon and extend south to the island of Bioko. BirdLife is implementing two projects in the Bamenda Highlands, which is a range of mountains that lies approximately mid-way along the axis of the Cameroon Mountains, and which includes Mount Oku, the second highest peak in mainland West Africa.
The Bamenda Highlands region falls mostly in the North West Province of Cameroon (an anglophone region) but extends into the West Province (a francophone region).
BirdLife International began working in the Bamenda Highlands region in 1987 with the creation of the Kilum Mountain Forest Project in Elak-Oku, Bui Division.
Ethnic and administrative divisions, as well as logistical considerations, necessitated the creation of the Ijim Mountain Forest Project in Anyajua, Boyo Division, in 1992. While the two sites were originally set up and run as separate projects, the two sites started working together as the Kilum-Ijim Forest project in 1995.
The Kilum-Ijim Forest Project is one of the pioneers of community forestry in Cameroon and is widely regarded as a model of how communities can manage their forests for both biodiversity conservation and to meet their own needs.
Over the years, other communities learned of what was happening at Kilum-Ijim and came to the project to express their interest in conserving their own forests. The Bamenda Highlands Forest Project was conceived in order to work with these interested communities outside of Kilum-Ijim.
Cameroon is among the top ten countries in Africa for biodiversity and the montane forests of the Cameroon Mountains are particularly rich, with high numbers of endemic plant, bird, amphibian, reptile, mammal and insect species.
The Cameroon Mountains Endemic Bird Area (EBA) comprises the mountains which run south-west to north-east through western Cameroon and adjacent south-eastern Nigeria, and the mountains on the island of Bioko. This is the highest mountain range in West Africa. The mountains are volcanic in origin, and include the highest and second highest mountains in West Africa (Mt Cameroon at 4,095 m and Mt Oku at 3,010 m). The Cameroon Mountains EBA contains 28 restricted-range endemic bird species and ranks as the third richest area for birds in mainland Africa (after the Albertine Rift mountains and the Eastern Arc mountains).
The montane forests of the Bamenda Highlands, a sub-region of the Cameroon Mountains, contain many plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. For example:
- The Bannerman's Turaco, Tauraco bannermani, and the Banded Wattle-eye, Platysteira laticincta, are found only in the Bamenda Highlands
- A small tree, Oxyanthus sp.nov, was recently discovered in the Bamenda Highlands region, and is now known from only two sites there
- Seven species of endemic amphibians and four reptiles have been identified in the area so far, at least six of which are known to be threatened
- Sixty-two mammal species have been recorded from the forests of the Mount Oku area alone (the Kilum-Ijim Forest), at least six of which are restricted to Mount Oku and a further ten species are endemic to the Cameroon Highlands
- The Kilum-Ijim forests of the Bamenda Highlands are the last stronghold of Alpine bamboo, Arundinaria alpina, in West Africa
Unfortunately, very little of the Bamenda Highlands montane forest remains as the forests have been cleared over the years for farming and grazing. It is estimated that had clearing continued unchecked, the Kilum-Ijim Forest (the largest remaining patch of Bamenda Highlands montane forest) might have completely disappeared by 1997.
Importance to local people
Fortunately, in addition to its value for biodiversity conservation, the Kilum-Ijim Forest is also very important to the people of the region.
- The forests act as water sources for most of the population of the area.
- The forests are important sources of firewood.
- The forests provide a large number of other products such as medicines (the area is known throughout the country for its traditional healers), honey, bamboo, mushrooms, wood for carving and tools and animals to eat.
- The forests are very important in the culture of the people of the area. Many traditional ceremonies are held in the forests and make use of forest products. One particularly noticeable aspect is the red feather from the Bannerman's Turaco, which certain notables wear in their caps.
The loss of the montane forests of the Bamenda Highlands is important not only because of the potential extinction of different species, but because of the impact on the people of the area. Many communities describe streams that used to run in the dry season that have now dried up. Others describe the animals that their fathers and grandfathers used to catch that can no longer be found. Women complain of the distance that they now have to travel to find firewood.
BirdLife projects in the Bamenda Highlands build on the convergence of the interests of the conservation community with those of the local population. For different reasons, both want to conserve the forest. The project works with local communities to put in place systems whereby communities can manage the forests themselves, thereby meeting the needs of the communities whilst conserving the biodiversity of a unique and important area.
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