Press Release - Baka and Bagyeli forest communities at the Green & Black's Rainforest Garden, Chelsea Flower Show, London

Mathilde, Margrite, Aisha and Jeanne at London's Chelsea Flower Show
By
John Nelson

Press Release - Baka and Bagyeli forest communities at the Green & Black's Rainforest Garden, Chelsea Flower Show, London

"We are excited about this garden at the Chelsea Flower Show. It provides a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness among the wider public about the many challenges facing African forest peoples. These include discrimination and violation of their rights, the impact of industrial expansion and deforestation, and the loss of access to forest biodiversity upon which communities rely." John Nelson, Policy Advisor, Forest Peoples Programme.

Baka are considered to be the oldest inhabitants of Cameroon's equatorial forests. They have developed an intrinsic and deep-rooted connection with the forest because of the multiple economic, social, cultural and recreational benefits they derive from it. The Baka's maps accompanying the Green & Blacks Rainforest Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, 2010, help to illustrate how hunter-gatherer and forest communities in general rely upon extensive areas of forest to secure their subsistence.

There is a strong need for Baka communities to create their own maps of forest use in Cameroon, especially in and around protected areas where the enforcement of laws prohibiting their forest access and use undermine their subsistence and welfare. Baka communities are very anxious about the impacts of outside pressures on their forests, especially from logging, mining and commercial poaching which ruins the forest for subsistence users, whose livelihoods are based upon forest hunting and gathering. An old Baka has expressed their strong attachment to the forest:

"If I do not go into the forest, I do not eat"

From 2004 to 2006, the local and indigenous communities living in the area around the forests of the Dja Reserve in Cameroon documented their customary use of the forest through a project to evaluate the State's implementation of Article 10(c) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in the Congo Basin, which is of particular relevance to indigenous peoples. This process has enabled these communities to document and map their use of the forest, and to begin recording their opinions of the forest management and its impact on their livelihoods and rights.

Evidence collected by the Baka hunter-gatherer communities demonstrates that Baka forest use in the Mekas region of the western part of Dja is: firstly, linked to the ancient forest culture, beliefs and rites of these communities; secondly, extensive, and overlapped by areas also sought after for forestry concessions as well as conservation organisations and agencies; thirdly, directed towards satisfying their subsistence needs and this use is sustainable and non-intensive; and lastly, adaptable, on the basis of a varying combination of uses including hunting, gathering and fishing on the one hand, and farming on the other.

These results mirror findings of numerous other studies carried out on the use of the forest by the Baka of Cameroon and the Central African sub-region (see link to FPP documentation on Cameroon, above).

The mapping process The main barriers to participatory mapping are low literacy rates amongst indigenous peoples, local support organisations' financial and technical issues, and a long history of discrimination against forest communities, especially indigenous peoples. The Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and our partners have developed methods to help overcome these barriers through collaborative projects with local partners and participatory approaches with communities. New tools have also been developed, such as this icon-based GPS mapping system for use by literate and non-literate peoples, such as Baka, to allow them to document their forests themselves.

Using data collected by the Baka, draft and final maps are created by local partners and community members. In the World Heritage Dja Reserve maps were developed by Baka with the support of the Centre for Environment and Development (CED) technical staff. During multiple meetings the maps are corrected and then validated by the communities once they are sure that the maps accurately describe their traditional forest areas. FPP and local partners then seek to facilitate communities' participation in the development of joint forest management plans for the forests in and around the national parks.

As part of this process, preparatory working sessions are held with the communities, who are provided with information and technical and logistical support to prepare for meetings with national/local authorities, in order to ensure that their participation will be effective. During these sessions communities choose the representatives and spokespeople who will attend the meeting and who will be responsible for making a general presentation of the communities' results.

Indigenous mapping, self-determination and conservation Indigenous communities want to protect their customary forests from outsiders in order to safeguard their forest livelihoods, and also to protect their most important cultural sites and plant and animal species. However, Baka have not been adequately considered in protected area planning and have been persecuted by forest guards, forcing them to leave their ancestral lands and settle in Bantu villages along roadways, leading to a culture of dependence, intensified conflicts between the two communities and increased poverty. FPP and our local partners have found that almost no Baka have been involved in discussions about plans for logging concessions and conservation areas, even when they overlap forests that these communities have used for countless generations.

Experience has shown that developing trust between communities and forestry and conservation agencies is vital before effective discussions can take place. Such trust can be established by revisions to government forest and national park management plans in order to protect indigenous communities' forest rights, and to create mechanisms enabling hunter-gatherer communities' views to help guide management. Establishing indigenous peoples' right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) and self-determination are central to the work of FPP and local partners. Projects with Baka forest communities in Cameroon show that community-based mapping processes can contribute to achieving these important goals.

FPP has worked to develop and promote models of cooperation between communities and conservation organisations based upon principles that recognise the rights of indigenous people to use, own and control their traditional territories, and which protect their traditional knowledge and skills. These new conservation principles are embodied in, inter alia, WWF International's Statement of Principles on Indigenous Peoples and Conservation (1996), subsequent World Conservation Union (IUCN) resolutions on indigenous peoples (1996) and World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) guidelines (1999), and decisions by the Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Our work shows that these conservation principles are not being applied properly in most of the areas we have examined.

FPP and local partners in Cameroon will continue to assist forest communities to map their traditional forest areas in and around national parks and forest management units, to become informed about forestry and conservation plans affecting their lands, to participate meaningfully in planning processes at local and national levels, to secure their forest rights, and to draw lessons from these experiences for mainstreaming into conservation programmes and the plans of logging and mining companies.

 

Moungoulou (house) in the rainforest garden
By
John Nelson
The BBC interview indigenous women from Cameroon on completion of their rainforest garden
By
John Nelson