Michel Mbengo moved to Assoumindelé 2 in 2011 through marriage. He says that the small parcel of land they have been given as a community forest is for selling timber, but they would like to be able to do more. He explains.
“When CAFT and WWF arrived, it was around 6pm. They called three people – the chief and two others. We asked ‘why are you taking us apart from the community? Why aren’t you holding a community meeting? We don’t know what a community forest is. You need to explain it to everyone together.’ But they said no, that it didn’t work like that.
“WWF initiated the community forest project in the area but they didn’t train the Baka in what that means, for example, what is a hectare? To manage a community forest, we have to know the systems. Now, we’ll have a community forest, but we won’t know how to manage it. When they came, they said they had come to demarcate the community forest area for the first year. That they would keep doing that every year – giving us a bit more land at a time – until the 5,000 square-hectares had been reached.
“They offered to give us 2,000 CFA a day to go and demarcate the land. I said that 2,000 CFA was not a lot of money for the work we would be doing. They agreed but said they wouldn’t give more, and they said the money was just for the three of us, who would go with them to demarcate the land.
“I said three people weren’t enough for something that would concern everyone, and that there needed to be more people involved. So there were six from here in the end. They also took 4 people from Seh, as I said they were part of the community forest too and needed to be involved.
“They accepted that.
“We camped overnight, and worked there the next morning. We marked out an area of 1500m x 1500m. We made it into a square, put pillars in and painted it red to mark the boundary.
“The land is good. It’s a primary forest. There are all the trees that the Baka use and it’s never really been touched, but the community forest is a bad thing. The idea is a good one, and it would have been good to have our own forest here, but it’s bad because the Baka of Assoumindele 2 have their forest here and our new community forest is already Seh’s forest. The Baka from Seh are already saying it is their land. There will be problems.
“It takes 10km to get to Seh, and from Seh to the forest, it’s another 2km. We had a meeting here and people from Seh said it was their forest, close to their village, and where they carry out their activities. It’s not good.
“Nobody wants to accept it. There will be only a few individuals who will go to work there. They will live here and work there, but it will be hard.
“Our community forest will be used by Assoumindelé 2 and Seh, and more than 200 people will be able to use it. Even if we did want to use it, 1,500m2 is too small. It wouldn’t produce enough for us all for the year. It’s not for planting crops, it’s for forestry – for selling wood.
“The Baka’s idea is to demarcate the whole 5,000 hectare and then decide what to do with the forest. We would like to be able to take something like 2,000 hectares for conservation – to conserve the forest intact. This could be supported by project PES (Payment for ecosystem services). It’s sustainable forest management. We can look after the forest and get paid for it. The Baka said it would be a good idea to be able to keep the forest intact; it’s important for the Baka for have a forest space where they can carry out their activities.
“Instead CAFT and WWF aren’t giving us the whole amount at once. WWF said it is better to give a bit at a time as that makes it easier to watch over the area and make sure it’s not being exploited by other people. It means the community forest will work like a plantation. When we commission someone to exploit the forest, we will need someone to watch it night and day as they will do what they want otherwise, and with the distance we can’t watch it closely. Here we can keep an eye on what’s going on more easily.
“The Bantu community forest goes from the road by our village for 5km nearly up to the new Ngoyla-Mintom reserve, and includes our village. The Bantu and Baka had a meeting but it doesn’t have much strength in that it was not official. In it, they said we could still tend our fields but not cut any trees; that the trees were for them. It is not that simple though. If there is a tree in my field and the Bantu want to cut it down, it will fall and kill my crops.
“I think it’s a cheat because in the end there will be problems; we won’t be able to tend our fields for long. We usually shift cultivation to keep the soil good, but we won’t be able to and so it won’t last; things won’t grow.
“The other problem is that all our activities – fishing, hunting, gathering – are mostly done in what will be the reserve, and it will be harder to continue that.
“The idea was that if the Baka have their own community forest, they can better manage their own affairs. The Baka want to have their own community forest because when they are together with the Bantu, they always lose out. The Bantu cheat and the Baka always end up with less.”