Cameroon: Indigenous People’s access right into the forest granted

A memorandum of understanding signed between the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife and indigenous Baka people, grants the Baka access right to three national parks in the East Region where biodiversity conservation programs are under implementation with the technical support of WWF.

This historic agreement signed on February 26 in Bertoua, chief town of the East Region, took place in the presence of NGOs, representatives of Baka communities, WWF and Cameroon’s Minister of Social Affairs, Irène Pauline Nguene, whose ministry is working with partners to promote the rights of indigenous people,.

Following the signature of the MoU between MINFOF and the Association of Baka communities (ASBABUK), the indigenous Baka people of the East region of Cameroon now have free and improved access to natural resources in the forest that they depend on for their livelihood.

The aim of the agreement, according to Jules Doret Ndongo, the Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, “is to involve the Baka in the participatory and sustainable management of the forest and its natural resources,. Through this MoU, Baka’s rights are fully protected and government will ensure their access to natural resources and their participation in the management processes of the parks,” states Minister Doret Ndongo.

Some 26000 indigenous Baka live in Eastern Cameroon, particularly in the peripheries of Boumba-Bek, Lobeke and Nki national parks, where the Cameroon government with the technical support of WWF is working to preserve the rich biodiversity. The Baka have lived in the forests of southeast Cameroon from time immemorial, practising subsistence hunting, fishing, harvesting of wild yams and honey and performing their cultural rites long before the creation of Lobeke National Park (2001) and Nki and and Boumba-Bek national parks (2005). The area harbours some 765.4751 hectares of rainforest and some of the world’s most emblematic wildlife species like elephants. However, they face threats from elephant poaching, illegal and unsustainable wood exploitation and artisanal mining.

The creation of these parks to preserve the rich biodiversity of the area limited access into the forest thereby restricting the free movement of local communities including Baka. In a bid to restore Baka’s access rights into the forest and natural resources, WWF working with partners and local civil society organizations, engaged dialogue and discussions to formalize an agreement which will permit them to carry out their ancestral activities in the forest. Following years of efforts and dialogue, the MoU, elaborated with the participation of representatives of Baka communities supported by WWF, was signed on February 26.

“This MoU gives us free access into the forest once again and we are now free to carry out our activities like in the past,” states Ernest Adjina, President of ASBABUK.

WWF that has supported similar MoU processes between the government and the Bagyelis around Campo Ma’an National Park and Bakas around the Ngoyla Wildlife Reserve is ready to work with Baka around Lobeke, Nki and Boumba Bek national parks to ensure the effective implementation of this agreement.

“We are ready to work with other NGOs to assist the Baka communities to better implement this MoU in order to promote their access to natural resources and to improve their wellbeing”, states Clotilde Ngomba, National Director of WWF Cameroon.

Sebastian Chi Elvido, Cameroon

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