Our Cameroon story: Over two decades of working with communities on conservation, the many challenges along the way, and the path ahead

Posted on 06 September 2017

Spanning more than 47 million hectares, Cameroon is a country that has as rich a diversity of people and cultures as it does of landscapes and wildlife.

Indigenous people which include Baka, Bagyéli, Bakola, Bedzang and Mbororos make up 10 percent of the country’s population of 23 million people. For centuries, these communities have conserved their traditional way of life, customs and culture, possessing a unique identity and precious inter-generational knowledge of preserving natural resources.

They have also faced longstanding challenges related to marginalization that are coming to the fore, more than ever before, as the nation finds itself at the crossroads of sustainable development or unbridled - and unplanned - growth. Our Cameroon director Dr Hanson Njiforti, for one, tells a deeply personal story of what it means to live and work in Cameroon, and how he and his team are striving to create positive change together with the country's diverse people.

Today, as the country is in the midst of unprecedented change, indigenous communities - and the traditions they have lived by for centuries - remain key to protecting nature and the many resources and services it helps provide to the people, wildlife and ecosystems across Cameroon and the broader region.

By being the stewards of conservation, as they have always been, indigenous people can set the foundation for sustainable development across Cameroon.

This is why WWF-Cameroon, which has been present in the country since 1990, has developed a number of projects to engage local and indigenous communities actively in conservation, safeguard their rights and empowerment, and protect the resources they have depended on for generations.

In addition to implementing projects focused on improving access to livelihoods, education and healthcare, the latest being a partnership with Plan International, we are supporting a forum to bring together all relevant communities and organizations to meet and find long-term solutions for protecting the rights of indigenous communities through conservation.

Organized by the government with WWF support in April 2017, the first meeting of the forum, which has met regularly since, brought together government ministries with Baka and other indigenous community representatives, human rights NGOs working in the field, and WWF conservation experts to design appropriate solutions for improving the lives of indigenous communities and protecting the environment and ecosystems they depend on.

As these on-ground efforts continue, we remain focused on working together with communities and stakeholders on the ground and ensure indigenous people like the Baka are a part of the solutions and the resulting impact. This sentiment was echoed in a recent public letter jointly signed by Baka NGOs, Cameroonian human rights NGOs and WWF-Cameroon.

Our work on the frontlines of conservation in more than 100 countries has shown us that the environment and people are inextricably linked. In Cameroon and across the world, we are committed to integrating and promoting human, indigenous and gender rights through our projects in the field and our policy work. People are central to our vision - and mission - of building a future where people live in harmony with nature, and where both thrive.

Should you wish to learn more about how WWF works with indigenous people, please consult our social policy as well as read about the work we are doing globally. 
Women on a plantain plantation, Mambele, East province, Cameroon. They are members of a WWF-supported association, the Womens Heath and Conservation Society. WWF helps the women find sustainable sources of income and to sell their goods for a fair price.
© © Brent Stirton / Getty Images / WWF
A Baka man working at a community forest project in Yenga village, East province, Cameroon. WWF helped to set up this community forest which started trading in April 2010.
© Brent Stirton / Getty Images / WWF-UK
Western lowland gorilla in Cameroon.
© naturepl.com /George Chan / WWF
© Jaap van der Waarde – WWF