Women from a village in south east Cameroon say they won’t be able to access a parcel of land that has been allocated to their community as part compensation for land lost to a national reserve.
In 2014, the Ngoyla-Mintom Reserve was created in an area of dense forest in south east Cameroon. At a size of 156,672 hectares, the reserve borders land inhabited by several communities who, for generations, entered the forest freely.
Communities who used the forest for fishing, hunting and gathering of forest products such as leaves and berries were told they would only be allowed in certain parts of the forest and only allowed to carry out certain activities. Instead they would be given what was called ‘community forests’ - smaller, alternative parcels of land of up to 5,000 hectares.
Many of the details about both the reserve and the community forest allocated to the village of Assoumindelé remained undecided until recently.
Now, officials from MINFOF (the Cameroon Ministry of Forests and Wildlife) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which are implementing the World Bank-funded scheme, have released a map that shows the Baka from Assoumindelé will be able to access some of the reserve where it borders the edge of their land around 10km away. They will, however, no longer be able to go into the densest forest, where only particular medicinal trees can be found.
Before the details were revealed, they had permission to enter the reserve to carry out their traditional practices, but eco-guards often stopped them and threatened them with violence. The community remains concerned that this permission will continue to mean no access in reality.
A further blow has come with news about their community forest. The villagers of Assoumindelé have been allocated a small patch of land, but it is 10km away, meaning a long walk before they even reach the land. They will also struggle to walk back while carrying the forest products they have collected, and nobody in the village has access to a car.
The land that is to become their community forest is already being used by another village, called Seh. The Baka from Seh have been told they will have to share the land they have tended for generations, and are not happy with the arrangement.
Also worrying to the Baka of Assoumindelé is the fact that the land immediately surrounding Assoumindelé – and indeed the land where the village itself is based – has been allocated to another village, where Bantu people live. They are not sure what this will mean for the future of their village.
The women of Assoumindelé are worried their way of life will forever change, and their culture will be lost unless fairer changes are made that meet their practical needs.