Helping people help themselves

Posted on 15 February 2001

The people of Mount Kupe area in Southwest Cameroon depend on the forest for their food and livelihood. Despite the demands of increasing population pressure, the conservation organization WWF, through its small grants initiative, is helping them to provide for a sustainable future.
Yaounde, Cameroon: Snails are a delicacy and important source of protein to the Bakossis - the indigenous inhabitants of the Mount Kupe area in Southwest Cameroon. They are also a major source of income to some members of the community, especially the womenfolk.

In recent years however, these people have been witnessing a drastic decline in snail population due to overexploitation to satisfy an ever increasing demand - and this shortfall in stock translates into a significant loss in revenue.

The Small Grants initiative of the conservation organization WWF Cameroon Programme Office (WWF CPO) is supporting the creation of a snail farm (snailery) in Tombel - the chief town in the Mount Kupe conservation site. The snailery is run by a 15-member Common Initiative Group, 75 per cent of whom are women. The farm already breeds and distributes snails to membership farmers and will eventually provide breeding stock to other small scale farmers in the community. In its very first year of production, the farm incubated over 3,000 snails.

"The small grants scheme is one major action that has shown how WWF can work at the grassroots level", says Dr Michael Vabi, Manager of the Strengthening and Capacity Building Project of the Cameroon Programme Office and supervisor of the Small Grants Scheme. "The scheme addresses livelihood issues and is designed to meet the needs of those living in and around the Protected Areas. It is an excellent tool to alleviate poverty within WWF CPO field project sites".

The WWF Cameroon Programme has been working for several years through its Mount Kupe Forest Project to protect this montane forest which harbours some of the only remaining populations of the bushshrike (Malaconotus kupenensis) as well as five other threatened bird species, several species of highly threatened chameleons, a number of vulnerable and threatened primates, and an increasing list of new plant species.

The mountain lies within Bakossiland - home to the Bakossi people and straddles the border between two Cameroon provinces. However, its proximity to a major highway has attracted a steady influx of people from other parts of the country. And, as would be expected, the use of the forest by this increasing population attempting to derive a living from the natural resources is threatening the conservation of biodiversity in the area. The population around the Mount Kupe conservation site is today estimated at 140,000 inhabitants spread over an area of 350 square kilometres.

The WWF Small Grants initiative seeks to relieve the human pressure put on the forest by providing alternative means of subsistence.

Together with snail farming, the scheme also recently funded a beefarming project through the provision of 40 hives, bee-harvesting protective clothing and smokers to two Beefarming Common Initiative Groups. Bee-tree nurseries were developed and a training workshop to educate local people on modern beefarming techniques was organized. The project also established a market outlet for the honey.

In this region, honey is in high demand for medicinal, traditional and nutritional purposes, and has become a primary income generating source in the rural areas. A member of the Beefarming Common Initiative Group was probably speaking for everyone else when she, in appreciation, said, "WWF has entered deep into our hearts and will now reside there".

The small grants scheme has also sponsored a workshop on the management of a Non-timber Forest Products woodlot for, predominantly female, community-based groups around the Korup National Park.

Other initiatives include the production of an environmental education bulletin on endangered wildlife species in northern Cameroon for secondary schools and the planting of trees in a greening programmme for nursery and primary schools.

"In the past local communities saw WWF as an organization that is solely out to protect natural resources and prevent people from benefiting from them. Through the Small Grants Scheme they now reap the benefits - and appreciate what WWF really does", said Dr Vabi.

(705 words)

*By John Nchami, Communications Officer for the WWF Cameroon Programme Office in Yaounde.