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Mount Bamboutous - Taking Root!

TreeSisters has been funding International Tree Foundation (ITF)'s Mount Bamboutos Initiative for a full year through a partnership with ITF on April 1st, 2018, to re-robe Mount Bamboutos with trees. Mount Bamboutos is a volcanic extinct mountain range that is part of the so-called Lebialem Highlands in Southwest Cameroon. It is a powerful community-based reforestation project that regards the people as the agents of change.

Mount Bamboutos Initiative includes three administrative regions. TreeSisters focuses on the Southwest region (with 3 villages and 3,500 people), while Darwin Initiative's UK government funding focuses on the West and North West Regions.

Southwest represents the highest potential for forest restoration within the ITF-led initiative our project is part of. With the presence of great apes (endangered River Cross gorillas and chimpanzees), the project gifts us with a large opportunity for rehabilitating their habitat through forest restoration.

The project is new, but it is being skillfully held by our trusted partner ITF, whom we have already had the pleasure of working with for three years in Kenya. Moreover, it is based on small-scale projects ERuDeF ( ITF's local partner) conducted on the mountain in the last decade. ERuDeF's work includes biological surveys, biodiversity conservation and land restoration work.

ERuDef is headed up by Louis Nkembi, who won a Whitley Award in 2015 for his work to introduce community-based landscape and biodiversity management to the Lebialem Highlands. Their research and identification work supports the conservation of endangered species and plants and has supported the creation of the first system of protected areas across the Lebialem highlands.

Our project is taking root!

Paul Laird, ITF's Program manager, visited the project area from June through August 2018 to follow and support the initiative. He is happy to report that the field project team is now established! The local partner ERuDeF has set up a partnership with a youth group called "Operation Green Space" to implement the project on the ground. The official launch of the whole initiative took place on August 2nd in a city called Dschang (West Province). The launch was well attended, with key commitments made by the Government of Cameroon and local authorities.

During the first ten months, TreeSisters has essentially paved the way for reforestation and regreening with trees.

Since the project started, ERuDeF has been focusing on building the communities' awareness around the adverse effects of deforestation and the need to reforest in response. They have also been mobilizing people to take action through their involvement in tree nurseries and planting.

A baseline survey, including a diachronic study (a study done over time) of the forest assessing the change of forest cover from the beginning of the 20th century to today, is also being carried out.

Eight tree nurseries, all in the Lebialem division, are now operational and ready to serve our project area:

  • in Magha, Aghong, Atsualah, Formenji and Nchingang in Bamumbu village.

  • Ajangeum Fonang in M'Muockmbie village.

  • Mbelenka and MBa-M'muock in Fossimondi.

The only tree nursery that has not yet started is the Lebialem forestry centre due to insecurity in Lewoh, which is discussed below. Community members responsible for growing tree seedlings and managing the tree nurseries have already benefited from technical training from ERuDeF.

Reforestation works at the pace of Nature

To date, the project has been prepared for reforestation. The team had been waiting for the correct time for seed collection. Tree fructification started on October 2018. Seeds have been collected. The sowing phase started in the first quarter of 2019, with the tree nurseries ready to welcome them. Mount Bamboutos's planting season runs from March to October each year, with the best months for tree planting being April to August. Hence, tree planting work is due to begin in April and continue through July of 2019, so planting is beginning slightly longer than one year after the project's start.

The importance of community

ERuDeF has been busy developing the necessary partnerships with all the local stakeholders. This is important in Cameroon to make sure no one feels excluded, and everyone can contribute along the same vision. Meetings and partnerships are held with community-based or small Non-profit Organizations, with traditional rulers (kings or chiefs), the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) and the University of Bafoussam.

Where will the trees be planted?

The plan is to plant within a variety of lands included in a proposed Biodiversity reserve (Mt Bamboutos' Biodiversity Reserve) under Community Forests status (near a biodiversity sanctuary), along streams, and on farmer's plots for the agroforestry trees (40% of the total number of trees).

Engaging with communities

Participatory identification of the priority sites is currently being conducted. The traditional rulers and community leaders are very concerned about the rivers drying out and being polluted by the deforestation of the slopes of the mountain and by intensive water use. Therefore, the result of participatory site identification will likely allocate most of the forest restoration work around water sources and springs to improve water catchment. And this is a good decision when thinking of the striking number of "40 per cent of the world's 230 major watersheds have lost more than half of their original tree cover - while three-quarters of the globe's accessible freshwater comes from forested watersheds", as reported in the Food and Agriculture Organisation's State of the World's Forests report released in 2018 here.

Significant change takes courage.

After all this good news, we need to acknowledge the courage of ERuDeF's team and associated youth group members. Mount Bamboutos has been a place of long-term friction between the English-speaking and French-speaking communities, and thus, it is not always safe or easy to travel or work in the area. Some communities have faced security problems and left their villages, and lives have been taken.

To avoid curfews and internet intentional disruptions, ERuDeF had to move the project team up to Dschang, a city located in an area not impacted. ITF will continue to keep us posted about this issue as it may impact ERuDeF's ability to work with the local communities and challenge the restoration work.

ERuDeF holds a positive and determined vision in Cameroon. ERuDef and ITF will be planting 102,900 trees in Year 1, 251,700 in Year 2, and 245,400 in Year 3 ( these numbers are agroforestry and forest restoration trees combined). TreeSisters is expected to have 60% of the trees planted for forest restoration and 40% of the trees planted under agroforestry systems.

What type of trees will be planted?

The following species will be transplanted from the tree nurseries to the reforestation sites: Cola acuminata, Canarium schweinfurthii, Ricinodendron heudelotii, Maesopsis eminii, Raphia vinifera, Avocadoes, Entandrophragma angolensis and Croton macrostachyus.

These are agroforestry trees and thus are used for the community's subsistence and livelihood and will be planted on small farms. Agroforestry areas will constitute 27% of the trees planted over three years.

The Southwest of Mount Bamboutos represents the highest potential for forest restoration. Moreover, thirty critically endangered Cross River gorillas and 81,257 people spanning ​​three regions of the Mount Bamboutos ecosystem depend on the success of this project. They are awaiting a transformation, and TreeSisters believes that community-based reforestation is key.

Photos are courtesy of EruDef


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