Communities, conservation and commitment
WWF’s Statement of Principles on Indigenous Peoples and Conservation is very much alive today, and we continue to be committed toward integrating social equity into our programmes in the field and in our policy work at national, regional and global level - from Indonesia to Chile and Cameroon.
Recognizing indigenous communities as stewards of natural resources:
Nature conservation and the development and wellbeing of people are inseparable goals. At WWF, we believe that indigenous peoples and local communities are among the Earth’s most important stewards of natural resources and are critical to build a future where human needs are met in harmony with nature.
Many of the world’s ecosystems and areas of high biodiversity under threat are also home to rural communities and indigenous peoples, whose livelihoods and cultures are closely dependent on the natural environment. To protect these areas, it is vital to engage and empower these local communities. The old-fashioned divide of 'nature versus people' is simply not sustainable.
From the heart of Borneo to the pristine rainforests of Suriname and the coast of Madagascar, WWF has a long tradition of working with local communities to achieve sustainable conservation goals. We collaborate with indigenous peoples and local communities such as the Bagyeli and Baka in Cameroon and the communities living adjacent to forest reserves in Uganda to help manage their resources sustainably, and to maintain, use, and strengthen their traditional ecological knowledge to amplify the impact of the work we do on conservation area management, sustainable use of natural resources, and relevant policy and decision-making.
Our work on the frontlines of conservation in more than 100 countries has shown us that the environment and people are inextricably linked: we must care for nature and people together to achieve inclusive and sustainable development. WWF strongly advocated for that principle in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the global community last year. In Cameroon, WWF’s efforts to formalize and extend Free Prior Informed Consent for communities were also commended by the UN Special Rapporteur as an example of “best practice” by international environmental NGOs in 2016.
Over twenty years of working with indigenous communities in Cameroon:
Since the setup of the WWF-Cameroon office in 1990, we have worked closely with the Baka people and other local communities on the establishment of protected areas to safeguard natural resources vital to local communities and our shared natural legacy. We have also advocated consistently for the rights of all indigenous people, working with communities and local NGO partners such as CEFAID to improve access to schools, education and healthcare. In September 2017, we launched a joint project with Plan International to promote joint sustainable forest management and the equitable distribution of benefits among the Baka and other communities. Both organizations are also advocating for increased participation of Baka in local structures, managing forests and wildlife resources.
In addition, WWF has also helped create a first-of-its-kind multilateral forum to bring together government ministries, representatives of indigenous groups like the Baka, human rights NGOs and conservation experts to design appropriate solutions for greater recognition and inclusion of indigenous peoples in projects aimed at protecting the environment and ecosystems they depend on. Organized by the government with WWF support, the first meeting of the forum took place in April 2017 and highlighted the importance of biodiversity protection for local lives and livelihoods, especially against growing threats such as poaching and ivory trafficking.
In 2009, WWF played a critical role in creating the first Baka-managed community forest in Southeast Cameroon and as the government’s eco-guards programme was set up to counter heavy poaching in and around Baka lands, WWF also acted to facilitate the provision of human rights training to the government eco-guards. In addition, to further build inclusion and trust with the Baka who have traditionally been subject to discrimination and abuse, we encouraged the government to employ Baka eco-guards to promote the rights and recognition of the community.
We are currently actively supporting a ministry review of the government eco-guards programme on conduct, use of traditional community sanctions and exploring possibilities of community and collaborative policing.
A commitment that stands firm even in the most challenging of circumstances:
WWF works in a wide diversity of settings, including places where extreme marginalization and difficult demographics or socio-political contexts present particular challenges, because we genuinely believe that conservation can improve lives.
In Cameroon, a country presenting a rich and complex social and biological diversity, WWF operations are led by fully empowered local leadership and staff, often from the many local communities. The Baka are a long marginalized and often exploited minority and WWF has worked over the years to improve the rights and recognition of the Baka through our conservation work.
In Cameroon or elsewhere such as Tanzania or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in biodiversity hotspots and places affected by escalating resource exploitation, social unrest, extreme poverty, war and ethnic tensions, we have been, and always will be, committed to collaboration, support and engagement with communities and organizations on the ground to improve and seek solutions to protect the rights of people and indigenous communities.
Why we are working with the Swiss NCP for the OECD:
For more than two decades, WWF-Cameroon has dedicated itself to finding lasting solutions to protect people, forests and wildlife in the country. In light of recent allegations made against WWF and our work in Cameroon and with the Baka people, WWF reaffirms its unequivocal commitment to indigenous communities in Cameroon and strongly refutes accusations of supporting human rights abuses. Our presence in the country and support to the government is aimed at protecting the exceptional biodiversity of Cameroon for the benefit and development of local communities.
The socio-economic context in the heavily-poached forests of Cameroon is challenging but we are not deterred by its complexity and have instead developed mechanisms to not only promote the rights of communities but also take measures against any alleged abuses of human rights brought to our attention.
When informed of a possible incident of abuse, whether it comes from an individual or an organization, we leave no stone unturned to ascertain the facts, speaking to communities, authorities and other civil society organizations to verify cases and communicate them to appropriate authorities to ensure remedial action is taken. We have also adopted a complaints resolution process across our Network that each office is adapting for their specific circumstances.
We are constantly seeking to engage and build solutions with the actors on the ground to improve the conditions of indigenous people like the Baka and this determination is what guided our support of the voluntary mediation process offered by the Swiss National Contact Point (NCP) for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). We believe the discussion about the real needs of this vulnerable community should happen constructively within the country by engaging the government and the Baka people, and we continue to pursue our work, with regular reviews, together with credible partners and other NGOs
Nature conservation and people are inseparable:
WWF works under the knowledge that the environment and people are inextricably linked. This approach of ‘nature and people’ rather than ‘nature versus people’ guides all of our conservation work and we believe it is the kind of conservation model needed to achieve inclusive and sustainable development.
Quick facts on WWF in Cameroon:
● Leads four major field programmes across the country to monitor, track and protect flagship species including Great apes; support the creation and management of protected areas and local communities; promote green economy, sustainable forest management and forest certification and encourage capacity development for communities and local organizations.
● WWF played a critical role in creating the first-ever Baka-managed community forest in Southeast Cameroon in 2009.
● WWF’s Jengi programme, named after the Baka God of forests, encompasses three national parks created through participatory land-use planning and together with the Baka community.
● WWF’s efforts to formalize and extend Free Prior Informed Consent for communities were cited by the UN Special Rapporteur as an example of “best practice” by international environmental NGOs in 2016.
● WWF does not employ eco-guards. WWF provides support to the Government of Cameroon programme to purchase uniforms and training for the eco-guards.
● WWF takes any and all allegations of human rights violations extremely seriously. Formal procedures are in place to verify any alleged abuses, and teams consistently take all appropriate measures to address allegations brought to their attention, including communicating these to the appropriate authorities.
● WWF’s work in Cameroon has not been under ‘investigation by the OECD’ (or ‘subject to investigation by’). WWF supported a voluntary, non-legal process led by the Swiss National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD to help further the rights and recognition of the Baka people in Cameroon.