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By Francis Tim Mbom — Experts from the Ministry of Environment, Protection of Nature, the University of Dschang and partners have fine-tuned discussions on conservation project of the Bakossi to the Bayang Mbo wildlife sanctuary.

The Ministry, the University of Dschang alongside representatives of local and international partners met and fine-tuned the multi-million project destined to ensure sustainable farming practices and effective areas in the Bakossi to the Bayang Mbo wildlife sanctuary, Southwest Region.

The Bakossi Landscape area that covers much of the Kupe Muanenguba and Meme Divisions and the Bayang Mbo area which covers Manyu Division are habitats for some of the most endangered species such as the Cross River Gorilla and chimpanzees. It also harbours a lot of high value fauna and flora. The increasing threat posed by both commercial and subsistence farming drives in these biodiversity sanctuary has been of concern to conservationists.

The Post gathered that a project was conceived to see how farming in this area can be made sustainable while mainstreaming and effectively conserving the rich biodiversity of the area.
A workshop organised in Limbe by the University of Dschang, which is one of the main local executing partners for the project, was to “create a common understanding and support of the project’s vision, objectives, plans and goals.”

Amongst the participants at the workshop, from July 3 – 4, were experts from the Ministry of the Environment, representatives of international funding and support partners like: Adamou Bouhari of the United Nations Environment Programme, Rob Brett of the Fauna and Flora International, FFI, a representative of the Global Environment Facility, GEF, CHEDE and the Buea-based Environmental NGO, ERUDEF, local chiefs, representatives from WWF and Herakles Farms.

The GEF representative disclosed that the project was destined to cost some 1.7 million US dollars (approximately FCFA 850 million) which GEF is putting in the project. The representative of the Southwest Governor, Fabian Nkenfack, called on the project stakeholders to ensure that their discussions come out with answers that will lead to a sustainable development of the area and also enable the local populations to benefit from the outcome of the project.

“We are not only called to contribute to biodiversity conservation, we are called, most of all, to ameliorate our living conditions,” Nkenfack said. He added, “Our wish is that the reflections should go deep and should border on the formulation of a project that shall be functional and take into consideration the real needs of the populations at the base.”

On behalf of the UNEP, Adamou said they were thankful that the Cameroon Government has given them the trust by inviting them to support the project. But given that the project’s conception was developed during a Kribi meeting in 2010, he said there was need for the Limbe gathering to come up with a consensus implementation plan. His argument was based on the fact that due to the time lapse since their Kribi meeting, there must have been some changes along the line.

The workshop was facilitated by Mwambo Okenye who said the Ministry of the Environment was very keen on the fact that environmental issues are mainstreamed into developmental issues.
He added that one of the objectives of the project was also to have a sustainable land use plan for the project area. Dr. Martin Tchamba of the University of Dschang said they have been involved in the project right from its inception.

He said from the Limbe workshop, they would submit a full proposal to the funding agency, GEF, in this December. Meanwhile, ERUDEF’s Louis Nkembi said they were “putting in place a comprehensive livelihood and economic development programme across the entire landscape.” The FFI representative, Rob Brett, told journalists that one of their interests in the project was to see that local communities within the protected Bakossi and Bayng Mbo areas can “have some benefits.”

He said it was “impossible” to maintain the protected areas without looking at the communities living around them. “We have to look outside the parks in terms of how the land is used productively to try and provide sustainable livelihoods for these people so that they are not so dependent on the resources that come from these protected areas,” Brett said.

UNEP representative said “consideration of environmental protection and conservation should be one of the key actors of every developmental activity including agricultural development.” He reiterated that the project will support community-based conservation activities, for instance, “if the local communities wish to promote the production of cocoyams, we will help and see how they can mainstream biodiversity conservation in that cocoyam production.”

First published in The Post print edition no 01445