Cameroon’s North Region covers an area of around 65 000 km2, twice the size of Belgium. Its capital, Garoua, the third largest city in the country, has just under a million inhabitants. Garoua has an international airport, which is a reminder of a recent period (roughly between the 1970s and 2000), when foreign visitors came to visit the region’s various national parks and game reserves, referred to as hunting interest zones (in French, ZICs). Indeed, until the early 2000s, these tourist areas, which make up almost half of the region’s territory, generated revenue for the local governments and communities. However, since the mid-2010s, the worsening security situation in the neighbouring Far North Region has driven the tourists away from the North Region. In addition, people fleeing the most dangerous areas have come and settled there.
In the North Region, customary land is managed by Lamidos, the main land chiefs. For generations, the region has been given over to agropastoralism, which continues to be the primary occupation of the vast majority of adults today. Indeed, this rural region is currently the country’s grain basket, as well as its main supplier of pulses and onions. However, since the 1950s, this part of the country has been undergoing a process of agricultural transformation, mainly driven by the introduction of cotton growing.
The transhumance corridors currently used by livestock farmers, whose herds can number up to several hundred animals, partly encroach on agricultural production areas, which can give rise to land-use conflicts.
Despite all these activities, the region is still poor and food security remains an issue. Added to this challenge are environmental issues related to soil depletion, water management and climate change.
Various development programmes are active in the region, addressing wildlife management, natural resources and rural development. With some 20 initiatives underway and a growing number of actors, better coordination, consultation and planning are necessary.
Towards the integrated management of Cameroon’s North Region ecosystem: the vision of the EcoNorCam programme
Given the security, environmental and agropastoral difficulties encountered, as well as the large number of actors on the ground, the Cameroonian Government is encouraging the emergence of an integrated management model for the region. Supported by the European Union, the authorities have the long-term goal of reconciling the different uses in a sustainable manner: improving resilience to climate change; producing sufficient food to feed a young and rapidly growing population; and protecting the soil and biodiversity.
At the national level, the EcoNorCam programme involves the MINFOF, the MINEPAT, the Prime Minister’s Office and the governor of the North Region. It aims to foster dialogue with a view to ensuring stability and sustainable development in the region. This initiative also aims to ensure the coordination and pooling of actions among the different technical implementation partners. The specific objectives of the programme include supporting the development of a resilient territory, conserving biodiversity and improving food security.
The implementation of EcoNorCam requires the establishment of consultation forums and activities at the local and national levels. These activities must take place both in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, and on the ground, with local mayors, the managers of protected areas, village communities, livestock farmers and private businesses. They will aim to support the climate resilience of degraded areas outside of the parks, maintain the integrity of Bénoué National Park while fighting against poaching, and increase plant and animal food resources.
In order to facilitate multi-stakeholder discussions about the future of this territory at the local level, the Land-use Planner has been used within the framework of the EcoNorCam programme to obtain initial diagnoses. This tool provides a participatory evaluation of the economic, social and environmental impacts of different land-use scenarios.
Complementary scenarios with multiple objectives
The Land-use Planner indicates preliminary trends corresponding to different land-use scenarios. These scenarios can inform discussions between the different groups of stakeholders as they seek a balance between conservation and development.
- Establishment of ecological corridors between three national parks in the North Region: the areas between the national parks, where there is remarkably rich fauna, are game reserves in which biodiversity corridors could be created to provide a continuum between the protected areas. Classifying certain ZICs as multi-use zones is an initial possible option.
- Restoration of degraded areas (soil and vegetation) to enable a return to sustainable agricultural production: the starting point for identifying the areas to be rehabilitated is the capacity of some ZICs to provide the ecosystem goods and services necessary to maintain their functions, particularly those that are grazed during the transhumance of herds. Programmes to restore forest landscapes are taken into account as a rehabilitation scenario.
- Improvement of crop yields in connection with food security: increasing the amount of agricultural land dedicated to cotton culture must not be at odds with local food production needs. Thus, areas of agricultural intensification are envisaged, based on practices that particularly mobilise women and young people in the sustainable exploitation of non-timber forest products and fuel wood.
Enough space, but competition for the most fertile land
Special attention is given to territories where there are several competing land uses. Hunting, livestock farming and agricultural production are sometimes concentrated in the same areas, and in order for managers of protected areas, livestock farmers and crop farmers to coexist harmoniously, regular consultation is necessary. The ZICs are key in this consultation among the various land users: agro-sylvo-pastoral operators want to obtain the official recognition of their activities on these lands, while other stakeholders are keen to restore or ensure the continuity of hunting activities framed within the objective of a sustainable tourism offering.
Changes in land use are envisaged, based on necessary compromises among political, economic and environmental actors. These collective choices must be set out in consensual plans and need to be made sustainable through long-term funding. Tools such as the Land-use Planner will help quantify the costs and potential benefits. The challenge will be to define a development scenario in a document that is understood and adopted by all the stakeholders, in the common interest.
The negotiated regional land-use scenario that results from the participatory process will then be transcribed in local land-use and sustainable development plans. This will enable the application of regional-level reflections to the communal level. This local-level articulation will be ensured through the implementation of local plans that reflect local practices and customs.
For more information
Delegation of the European Union to Cameroon in Yaoundé
Sylvaine JARDINET, Agriculture and Environment Team attaché