The Baka people have lived in the rainforests of Cameroon for thousands of years. Their way of life has changed little in that time. Semi-nomadic, they rely on the forest – hunting, fishing and gathering honey, fruits, medicinal plants and the many other riches the forest holds.
But their home and livelihoods are under threat. In the name of economic development, large areas of forest have been parcelled out to logging and mining companies, but the Baka have rarely seen the benefits. Instead, they find themselves living in poverty, displaced from their homes and barred from areas where they have hunted, harvested and worshipped for centuries.
In the Mbang area of eastern Cameroon, one company is trying to do things differently. Société Forestière et Industrielle de la Doumé (SFID), a subsidiary of French timber company Rougier, is a participant in WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN). In March 2013, SFID achieved FSC certification for three concessions covering 285,667 hectares. Beside environmentally sound forest management, SFID respects the rights of indigenous people and helps ensure the social and economic well-being of local communities – all fundamental principles of FSC certification.
“Local populations are benefiting from certification on several levels, through activities that didn’t exist before,” says Pierre Ndjetoh from PERAD, a local NGO which has worked with SFID and the communities throughout the certification process. SFID has helped set up 11 local residents’ committees. These enable better communication between both the Baka and the majority of Bantu villagers and SFID, as well as other companies operating in the area. The committees participate in the recruitment of local workers: SFID now employs around 160 people from neighbouring communities.
Pascal Bassoe, a 37-year-old father of three and a member of one of the local resident committees, believes his community benefits from the job opportunities forestry provides. He wants the Baka to be able to build good houses “like the Bantu ones” and to send their children to school. The forest remains vital to their livelihoods – which is why FSC certification is so important. Not only does it respect “the legal and customary rights of indigenous peoples to own, use and manage their lands, territories and resources” but it ensures the forest is conserved for future generations, rather than plundered for short-term gain.
Another product of the FSC certification process is the Local Development Funds, a multi-stake holder dialogue platform that validates the implementation of local projects. Several villages have already implemented projects that benefit the whole community: the construction of a storage space for non-timber forest products and a classroom at a local primary school for example. SFID also helped to build a social centre for Baka children, provided teaching materials for education centres and supported HIV-AIDS awareness training in the area.
The certification of SFID’s concessions, which also protects critical habitat of Great Apes, is a breakthrough. It is the first large increase in FSC certification in the region in several years, and brings the certified area in Cameroon to over 1 million hectares. European markets have mainly been concentrating on preventing imports of illegally logged timber; few forestry companies have been looking to go beyond legal compliance. By embracing voluntary certification, SFID has sent an important reminder that legal timber is only the first step towards responsible timber.
“Certification in tropical forests is hugely challenging because of weak governance, complex social issues and the amazing biodiversity that needs protecting,” says Daniel Tiveau, Regional GFTN Manager for Central Africa. “But it can also bring huge benefits, for the same reasons.