The country of Cameroon contains some of the largest expanses of mangrove forest in the world. In total the main coastal expanses of woodland cover around 250,000 ha between the Bimbia estuary and the Sanaga River1. Mangrove forests provide a vital supply of resources to the local community in the form of fisheries and forest products. However, the region’s forest has been extensively abused and mismanaged leading to its ever-increasing destruction. This is not the fault of the local people, who have never received instruction in forest management, but instead the responsibility of external and informed sources to introduce community-based forestry practices to Cameroon.
The importance of mangrove forests in the poverty-stricken areas of the world cannot be expounded upon enough. The complex ecosystem which the timberland creates results in the interweaving of human, flora, fauna and maritime interests, benefiting all if properly managed2. Examples of the benefits these relationships provide include:
- The provision of a coastal buffer zone which protects coastal areas from storms2.
- The protection of local shoreline areas from coastal erosion2.
- The provision of breeding and nursery ground for fish2.
- Aiding in the siltation process of local reefs increasing their productivity and growth2.
Due to its proximity to Cameroon’s industrial heart of Douala and the rapid population increase in the area, the mangrove forest is increasingly being cleared to support the energy needs of the local people. This reliance on the forest to provide fuelwood has resulted in its destruction at a rate of 6.2% per year3. This is especially bad news in light of the current climate crisis, with mangrove forests providing a massive carbon store and a unique and valuable ecosystem.
A simple solution to deforestation, here and elsewhere, is not often available. The city of Douala is constantly plagued by power shortages and unaffordable electricity. The main source of protein, and a staple of the Douala diet is “mbounga”, a fish smoked using mangrove wood. Therefore, it is understandable that inhabitants are reliant on cutting down the mangrove forest to support their families and less concerned about the environmental consequences of their actions4.
In the case of Douala, CIFOR, in partnership with the University of Douala, have made a concerted effort to provide environmentally sustainable fish smoking technologies. Additionally, CIFOR has sought the provision of more efficient stoves, which not only require less wood, but also liberate much of the manpower previously required in cutting down the mangrove forest4.
However, the provision of technology cannot be viewed as a single long term solution to preventing future deforestation of mangrove forests. Instead, community-based involvement in managing the mangrove sustainably for local benefits must be included and pushed to the forefront of discussion.
This alternate strategy of community education and involvement in the protection of mangrove forests was successfully demonstrated in the village of Pred Nai in Thailand, where an area of 1,920 ha of mangrove was successfully afforested via community inclusion5.
The mangrove forest which had previously been situated around the small Thai village located near the border of Cambodia, was removed in the 1980s and converted into shrimp pond aquaculture, seen as more profitable and useful to the locality at the time5. Moreover, the Thai government had placed much of its support behind large corporate entities that had moved into the area and started a process of industrial land conversion for agriculture and unregulated logging5.
The destruction of the mangroves caused a domino effect of greater and greater deforestation and local poverty. The mangrove forest had previously provided the bulk of local income to Pred Nai, via marine product collection and fish farming, with its destruction posing a major threat to the village5.
What followed could be described as a modern-day David versus Goliath. A group of five to ten villages, confronted the corporate firms responsible for the destruction of the mangrove forest and succeeded in persuading the government to withdraw its support for the removal of the mangroves5.
Following these events, the local community established the Pred Nai Community Forestry Group (PNCFG), which served to manage the local mangrove forests and involve locals in its future.
Within twenty years of the removal of the mangrove timberland, the local communities had recognised and acted against the poorly implemented corporate shrimp farms without any external provision of information or technological support.
Since the creation of PNCFG the mangroves around the village of Pred Nai had thrived and expanded. Much of the success of PNCFG has been from its ability to create local incentives to protect privately owned mangrove timberland and generate sustainable income from the maintained forests.
In a subsequent study conducted by Kasetsart University on the success of the mangrove rejuvenation in Pred Nai, the importance of creating local capacity and expertise for long term natural resource possession is strongly emphasised.
Overall, it seems evident that external involvement in the protection of mangroves is beneficial, but long term conservation and creation of sustainable practices lie in the hands of the local landowners and communities. It is therefore essential that in countries were communities see land conversion as a more profitable enterprise than forest management, that incentives are provided, in the form of forest education and subsidy, which ensure deforestation is prevented.
- Ngomba, L.S. (2018). Mangrove Ecosystem Ecology and Function. Intechopen. Available from: https://www.intechopen.com/books/mangrove-ecosystem-ecology-and-function/cameroon-mangrove-forest-ecosystem-ecological-and-environmental-dimensions
- Hasan-Basri, M.M. Hasan-Basri, B. Zaiton, S., (2019). CONSERVATION OF MANGROVES IN KUALA PERLIS MALAYSIA_ A CASE STUDY OF SOCIO_ECONOMIC ATTRIBUTES OF FISHERMEN DRIVING VALUATION IN SUSTAINING LIVELIHOODS THROUGH FOREST MANAGEMENT. Forest Research Institute Malaysia. Journal of Tropical Forest Science. Vol 31. NO 4. pp 433-442
- Awono, A. Rim, L.F.E.A., (2020). Securing the future of mangroves through sustainable wood fuel management. CIFOR. Available from:https://forestsnews.cifor.org/66600/securing-the-future-of-mangroves-through-sustainable-wood-fuel-management?fnl=en
- On-prom, S., (2014). Community-Based Mangrove Forest Management in Thailand: Key LEsson Learned for Environmental Risk Management. Kasetsart University, Faculty of Forestry. Bangkok, Thailand. pp 87-89