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REDD+: Seeking Social, Environmental Safeguards For Local People 

By Pegue Manga Fidelis
— Indigenous peoples and local communities living within forest areas exude understandable worries about the new mechanism aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation through the sustainable management of forest (REDD+).

Participants at Kribi Workshop on REDD+ safeguards

They see another ploy aimed at depriving them of sorely needed forest land for their livelihoods. Their worry is predicated on troubles they have faced for decades with logging companies, agro industries, national parks and now big infrastructure projects.

It was in a bid to find potential solutions to these worries that a three-day workshop to reflect and share experiences with the aim of spelling out social and environmental safeguards and rights of indigenous people and local communities was held recently in Kribi, in the South Region of Cameroon.

Organised by WWF in collaboration with the Centre for Environment and Development (CED), the workshop had the benediction of Cameroon’s Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development (MINEPDED) and drew participants from local and indigenous communities in the East and South regions of Cameroon.

There were calls for recognition of customary rights to land and improvement of governance in management of forest revenues for the benefit of local communities and indigenous people. It was also resolved that institutions promoting REDD+ make it an obligation to meet demands of beneficiary communities.

Testimonies from indigenous people during discussions at the workshop revealed that they face problems of benefit sharing, land tenure and participation in the process of attribution and management of forests. Jeanne Noa, representative of a Bagyeli pygmy community, captures the worry of her people: “How are we going to live outside the forest now that it has become the white man’s forest? Where do you place us?” she growled during the workshop.

Talking on past experiences, Samuel Nguiffo of CED said there has been general absence of a coherent management of natural resources and a stubborn continuation of old colonial system. This has been made worse by the absence of laws spelling out sanctions in case of violation, making it difficult for affected populations to seek redress.

“Local people have not been associated in the conceptual stages of projects and are only consulted during the implementation phase,” Nguiffo regretted. Consequently, local people are demanding safeguards prior to engaging the REDD+ process. In this light, there have been reflections on the best social and environmental safeguards from Cancun in Mexico to Durban in South Africa.

“Emphasis is being placed on respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and members of local communities,” stated Kalame Fobissie, Regional Forest and Climate Coordinator for WWF – CARPO. “Safeguards spelled out in Cancun in 2010 in consonance with World Bank safeguards, highlights transparent and effective national forest governance structures, taking into account national legislation and sovereignty,” Fobissie explained.

A field visit to two Bagyeli pygmy communities, Kilombo and Nyamabandé, cornered within the concessions of two agro industrial going concerns: SOCAPALM and HEVECAM typified the tribulation of indigenous people in the face of surging pressure on the forests they have hitherto considered their home.

Drawing experience from benefit sharing efforts in the Southeast of Cameroon, Dr. Louis Defo, Project Manager of Ngoyla-Mintom REDD project, stated that the fight against corruption and impunity, the quality of governance at local and national levels, reinforcement of skills of local communities, amongst others, are important leverage to the promotion of equitable community management of natural resources.

The REDD+ mechanism seeks to reduce deforestation by providing incentives to actors in the forestry sector so that they do not cut down the forest that provide services to the ecosystem. REDD+ has the potential to ameliorate the socio-economic and cultural situation of indigenous people and local communities.

Cameroon’s REDD+ Coordinator, Dr. Wassouni Amadou, stressed that the country is still in the process of elaborating a REDD+ Readiness Preparation Proposal. “As it stands now, no final decision has been taken on indigenous people and local communities,” he said.

First published in The Post print edition no. 01355

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