Posted on 17 October 2019
The health and well-being of local indigenous peoples is directly linked to the health of forests and biodiversity. WWF has long been committed to seeing how conservation can help promote social development efforts in the places we work, including Cameroon.
As part of our global conservation mission, we have worked in Cameroon since 1990 alongside government, NGO, and local and indigenous community partners to protect a diversity of natural resources and wildlife, including globally significant populations of elephants and great apes.
A number of Indigenous Peoples live throughout Cameroon, including the Baka people. There are approximately 25,000 Baka, spread across 400 villages and 6 million hectares in south and southeast Cameroon. They share their forest resources with more than 15 other ethnic groups who are also custodians of the forest. The majority of Baka subsist on hunting and gathering and although some of them also grow annual crops, often on Bantu (majority ethnicity) land, they depend mainly on the forest. Many local communities recognize Baka as “the people of the forest.”
The Baka and other Indigenous Peoples and local communities were consulted by the government regarding the creation of Boumba Bek, Nki, and Lobeke national parks in the late 1990s and early 2000s – in particular to determine access rights for those who depend on forest resources for survival. However, some Baka continue to voice concerns about losing access to their ancestral lands and livelihoods – a critical issue for their survival in Cameroon. These concerns stem from a combination of factors related to the socio-cultural challenges and increasing economic encroachment the communities face (e.g. through logging concessions, roads and in-migration from the region). Over the past two decades, WWF and partners have been working to address those concerns through a range of efforts.
- During the negotiation of the integrated land-use plan in southeast Cameroon in the early and mid 2000s, 14 Community Hunting Zones totaling 1,025,938 hectares were created for local communities and indigenous peoples. This allowed communities to manage these areas for cultural uses, for subsistence hunting needs as well as for generating additional revenues from resource utilization. WWF supported their set up, and management capacity-building.
- In addition, from 2004 until now, WWF and partners have supported the establishment of 42 community forests around Boumba Bek, Nki and Lobeke National Parks covering some 203,215 ha of which four (covering 18000 ha) have been allocated to Baka communities. 38 are mixed (managed jointly by Bantu and Baka communities).
In Community Forests managed by the Baka and other mixed forests (BakaBantu), agroforestry nurseries have been developed to reforest degraded areas, and priority has been given to silviculture development in this area to high-yielding tree products and medicinal plants selected by the communities. In 2019, all of these efforts and advocacy with many partners led to an unprecedented agreement between the Baka and the government of Cameroon which allows them to regain access to areas within three national parks for traditional hunting activities, gathering of non-timber forest products and performing customary rites.
Additionally, children’s education was a critical need identified with the Baka communities and WWF worked to support those efforts. In 2015, an inclusive education strategy that takes into account the cultural needs of Baka children was adopted by the local government and other actors involved in the Baka education. Since 2015, WWF has provided support in South-East Cameroon (around Boumba Bek, Lobeke & Nki national parks) for the implementation of this strategy, including:
- 4 classrooms built in partnership with PLAN Cameroon at KoumelaMboli and Assoumindelein schools that host Baka children;
- School scholarships (school supplies, schooling, classroom uniforms, payment of fees) annually provided to some 260 Baka children.
- Capacity building of teachers in Baka schools to improve education standards.
On the conservation front, WWF supports the government of Cameroon in conservation activities and projects aimed at safeguarding Cameroon’s valuable biodiversity for people and nature. While the government of Cameroon manages the national parks and employs the eco-guards responsible for protecting them, WWF helps provide logistical, technical, and financial support. This has included training over 300 rangers, including from local Baka communities, on protecting human rights in anti-poaching efforts.
WWF has worked with the government of Cameroon (GRC) to institute more permanent systems and processes that reduce the risk of human rights abuses:
Over the last 10-15 years, a number of factors – including conflict and instability in Cameroon and neighbouring countries, and an increase in wildlife crime in the region – have contributed to serious challenges within Cameroon. In recognition of poaching challenges and allegations of human rights abuses against government-employed ecoguards, WWF has partnered with human rights experts and consultants in the region to better understand the needs and concerns of indigenous peoples in Cameroon and to strengthen our engagements with them, provide enhanced community safeguards and to ensure deeper, stronger impact through conservation. Together with these experts, WWF has worked on a number of policy and programme enhancements to strengthen support for communities. Many of those efforts are highlighted below.
WWF advocated action by the Government to strengthen human rights and social welfare, working with the Ministry of Social Affairs (MINAS)—the Ministry responsible for the welfare of Indigenous Peoples:
- In 2017, WWF, under the auspices of MINAS, brought together the different ministries concerned with human rights issues, social welfare and conservation to discuss the matter and seek solutions.
- As an outcome of this meeting, in October 2017, MINAS set up an inter-ministerial working group consisting of six government ministries along with the National Human Rights Commission and national Indigenous Peoples civil society organizations.
- This working group has held four meetings between October 2017 and April 2019 and has proposed that action be taken to map out the rights of Indigenous Peoples, update the government’s action plan for protecting rights, and develop a monitoring process for implementing this updated plan.
To advance implementation of these actions:
WWF supports Baka communities and citizenship:
- In February 2018, WWF provided support for mapping the rights of Indigenous Peoples in matters concerning conservation, and for a stakeholder meeting to validate the output. The mapping included a review of the various rights (and the current status of their application) that national laws and treaties ratified by Cameroon have in place to recognize the Baka when it comes to conservation issues. Actions were proposed on how to better protect and promote those rights.
- WWF supported a multi-stakeholder meeting to update the government’s action plan in June 2018. A monitoring plan was developed.
- WWF also supported a meeting in August 2018 of the CISPAV (Inter-ministerial Committee on Oversight of Indigenous People’s Projects). The updated action plan for the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples was validated by the ministries represented.
- WWF has supported since 2016 an initiative run by CEFAID (Center for Education, Training and Support to Development Initiatives in Cameroon), a local civil society organization, to develop a complaints mechanism to receive, document and support the judicial follow-up on cases of abuse against Baka people in and around the Lobeke, Boumbe Bek and Nki National Parks. The process of developing this mechanism brought the various ministries together around the table with civil society, Baka representatives, and church representatives, to clarify the roles of each ministry in the process of handling cases in the complaints log.
- WWF continues to advocate for action, including in February 2018, when the WWF International Chief Operating Officer and Head of WWF Cameroon met the Minister of Social Affairs (MINAS) and the Secretary General of Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF) to advocate for clearer government accountability on human rights and community welfare matters while starting a dialogue to strengthen our current country agreement with additions around human rights.
- In April 2019, WWF Cameroon and MINAS signed a cooperation agreement that amongst other things is geared to promoting and protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples and ensuring their active participation and voice in conservation and associated interventions.
- WWF is currently negotiating a new memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF)- updated from the current agreement, which was signed in 2006. We are seeking to further strengthen MINFOF’s responsibilities beyond the major steps taken to allow Indigenous Peoples access to the parks, to ensure appropriate government oversight of eco-guards under its command, the active participation of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in park management decision making, and the long-term standing of these measures through explicit commitments to respect human and indigenous rights in any future versions of our agreement.
WWF works with Indigenous Peoples on their forest-use strategy:
- The Government of Cameroon has not yet ratified ILO Convention 169. WWF supports provisions related to indigenous rights to align with international law and standards in the ongoing revision of Cameroon Forestry and Wildlife Law. In the domain of citizenship, WWF supports the initiatives of communities and NGOs to facilitate Baka access to citizenship. In 2018, 300 Baka children obtained birth certificates as a result of WWF support. Additionally, WWF and partners have advocated for an increase in the number of Baka delegates represented in each community-based organization related to wildlife and forest resource use, such as the Committees for the Management of Wildlife Resources (COVAREF). Baka representation in COVAREF’s college of delegates increased from 7% in 2004 to 15% in 2018. WWF is also supporting an ongoing capacity building system that includes training of Baka leaders, preparation for Baka attending committee meetings, debriefing sessions organised after committee meetings, and support for Baka leaders on disseminating the results of committee processes to their peers.
- In the area of capacity building, an inclusive education strategy that takes into account the cultural specificity of Baka children was developed and adopted in 2015 by the local government and the various stakeholders involved in the education of Baka children. The aim now is to scale this program to the national level in collaboration with the Ministry of Education. WWF support, in collaboration with Plan International, has included providing classrooms and school scholarships, and building teacher capacity in Baka schools.
- WWF also promotes the effective participation of Baka in the implementation of park management activities. For instance, in the case of ecological monitoring, the Baka represent some 50% of local community teams, earning the same amount of money as other team members. This contributes to improved livelihoods and household incomes.
WWF is supporting Indigenous Peoples in the development of their strategies for natural use management through collaboration with local Indigenous Peoples organizations as outlined above. For example, upon their request, WWF provided financial support to ASBABUK (Association Baka Sanguia Buma Kpode, a Baka community-based organization) to enable CEFAID to assist them in developing their own strategy of implementation and follow up on the MOU they had recently signed with the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF).
While the government of Cameroon is responsible for demographic surveys of the populations and land use planning, WWF as a civil society organization has contributed critical data and research to support strategy-setting by Indigenous People. In project areas, socio-economic surveys and participatory mapping are carried out by WWF and other development organizations and independent researchers. This information can be used in actions to advocate for Indigenous Peoples’ rights. For example, WWF collected such data during project development for communities in southeastern Cameroon around the Lobeke, Boumba Bek and Nki protected areas. The data then enabled Baka communities, through a process supported by WWF, to advocate with MINFOF and reach an agreement between ASBABUK, acting on their behalf, and MINFOF to allow the Baka to regain access to these parks for subsistence hunting and traditional uses.
An agreement facilitating the sought access rights was signed on February 26, 2019. The parties agreed to annually develop an action plan with specific measures to assure Baka have easy access to natural resources in the three parks, and to hire and engage the expertise of Baka in the implementation of park activities. The Agreement also strengthens accountability by setting up a multi-party oversight body, which includes the signatories as well as MINAS and development agencies. The first action plan is under development at this writing.
WWF continues to adaptively manage its office and programs:
In 2018, WWF Cameroon launched a new five-year strategic plan (2018 – 2023) that incorporates a sub-strategy on promoting Indigenous Peoples’ rights to natural resource management. This strategic plan was guided by significant preliminary work with the Research Network for Pygmy Concerted Actions (RACOPY), a network of Indigenous Peoples and civil society organizations working on the protection of the rights of Indigenous People in Cameroon, to undertake stakeholder consultations with Indigenous Peoples. The effort sought out Indigenous Peoples’ views on how to improve WWF’s engagement with and interventions for this population group, how to better protect and promote their rights, and how to have a long-term impact.
In addition, in Cameroon and other areas we work in, WWF continues to provide extensive training to enhance its social policies
- In 2017, WWF International hired a social policies leader to support a global commitment to human rights and social policies and guide offices in the application of these policies into conservation work.
- In 2019, WWF launched a global e-learning course on human rights in conservation for staff. Further awareness courses around application of human rights, indigenous people’s rights and inclusion of communities in conservation are under development. In 2019-2020 all conservation staff will be trained in WWF’s enhanced Environmental and Social Safeguards Framework and will be required to apply it to all conservation programs within the next year.
- WWF staff in Cameroon have received, and will continue to receive, awareness training on our social policies including human rights commitments. In addition, the Indigenous Peoples-focused staff provide ongoing support and advice to other staff.
- All new contracts in Cameroon since January 2018 incorporate the commitment of partners to respect and implement WWF's social and human rights policies. WWF Cameroon uses service agreements for all non-governmental downstream partners. We continue to advocate with the government to strengthen human rights protections. All contracts signed since February 2018 include social policies as an annex. Prior to the implementation of a contract, partners are briefed on those social policies and human rights. Follow up is done during implementation.
- WWF Cameroon has developed and implemented a due diligence document. Since April 2019, all contracts with its partners are subject to this due diligence requirement.
- In addition to the complaint mechanism for the Lobeke, Nki and Boumba Bek areas already mentioned, WWF Cameroon is also rolling out its own mechanism for local community complaints related to WWF interventions. This will be localized to ensure local communities are able to use it (using local language and appropriate communication tools, etc.).
- Ethics codes for Eco-Guards:
- In Lobeke, the government of Cameroon has instituted an ethics code that must be signed by each Eco-guard. Every month the government holds a discipline committee session to assess all cases related to misbehavior of Eco-guards and related sanctions are taken as deemed necessary.
- In order to avoid confusion among Indigenous Peoples about who works for the government versus WWF, a policy preventing the transportation of eco-guards in WWF vehicles was reinforced in March 2018.