The Kilum Ijim Project - community based conservation in the Bamenda Highlands, Northwest Province, Cameroon


Cameroon is among the top ten countries in Africa for biodiversity. The forests of the Cameroon Mountains are particularly rich, with high numbers of endemic plant, mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and insect species. The montane forests of the Bamenda Highlands are a sub-region of the Cameroon Mountains. The banded wattle-eye Platysteira laticincta and Bannerman's turaco Tauraco bannermani, classified as 'vulnerable' by the IUCN, are just two examples of the 15 endemic bird species found there. Very little of the Bamenda Highlands forest remains as it has mostly been cleared for farming and grazing.

The loss of the montane forests of the Bamenda Highlands is important not only because of the potential extinction of species, but because of the impact on the people of the area. For the people of the Kilum-Ijim Forest, the largest remaining montane forest patch, the forest is an important resource. Over 200,000 people live within a day's walk of the forest. It is a source of water, firewood, timber, fibres, medicinal plants, food (honey, mushrooms, fruit and animals) for most of the population of the area. It also plays an important role in local tradition and culture.

In 1987, BirdLife International, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MINEF), began working in the Bamenda Highlands region with the creation of the Kilum Mountain Forest Project in Elak-Oku, Bui Division. In 1992 the Ijim Mountain Forest Project in Anyajua, Boyo Division, was set up. While the two sites were originally run as separate projects, they started working together as the Kilum-Ijim Forest project in 1995. Project staff worked with local communities to establish sustainable systems whereby local people manage the forests themselves, meeting their needs whilst conserving the biodiversity of this unique area. In 2003, the project was handed over to the MINEF and the related local institutions. This case study reports actions and consequences between 1987 and 2001.

Study area: The Kilum-Ijim Forest is located in the centre of the Bamenda Highlands in north-western Cameroon. The area enclosed by the Kilum-Ijim boundary, at an altitude of over 2000 m, includes Mount Oku and the adjoining Ijim Ridge. It consists of a matrix of montane forest, grassland and wetland that extends over a total of 17,000 ha. Below 2,000 m, most of the submontane forest has already disappeared due to clearance for agriculture. The project worked with 35 communities that surround the forest. Traditionally three kingdoms cover this area. They are headed by the paramount chiefs (The Fons), who are highly respected and play an important role in the governance of the region. Traditionally, the Fons are custodians of the forest and can allocate it for farmland. This responsibility was eroded over the years as land pressure increased and rights were taken over by central government.

Activities undertaken: Initially, the project surveyed and demarcated the forest boundary, working with traditional authorities, village and government representatives. Some villagers farming in the forest were relocated. Inventories were produced to determine resource use and management in the past.

A four pronged strategy was developed for the project to integrate forest conservation with development:

1. Participatory community-based forest management system – ensuring an effective, particiaptory and community-based forest management system is in place according to the 1994 Community Forestry Law.

a) Creation of community based institutions for forest management (Forest Management Institutions FMIs), built from forest user groups and forest management committees. These are at the village level, represent 1-5 communities, and have strong ties with traditional authorities.

b) Federations of FMIs were formed to coordinate activites, with one federation for each kingdom.

c) Establishment of a Technical Operations Unit (TOU), a permanent part of the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry (MINEF) with a mandate to support community forestry and conservation at Kilum-Ijim. This output was not achieved by the time the project ended but is still being pursued (as of Nov 2005).

2. Institutional strengthening – ensuring communities, traditional authorities and government have the capacity to implement forest management.

a) Birdlife provided training, material support and help in facilitating processes as required.

3. Livelihoods program
a) Soil and water conservation activities e.g. establishing contours and ridging on steep slopes to reduce erosion and run-off.

b) Introduction of improved crop varieties and storage methods e.g. potatoes Solanum tuberosum, tomatoes Solanum pyracanthum, beans (Fam: leguminosae), maize Zea mays, oil palm Elaeis guineensis, bananas Musa sp. and plantain Musa paradisiaca.

c) Tree nurseries and tree planting for food, timber, soil improvement, fuelwood, medicine. Improving fruit tree production e.g. grafting methods.

d) Livestock and grazing improvement. e.g. veterinary healthcare for livestock; improving rangelands using Brachiaria grass; zero-grazing methods for livestock using guatemala grass; and fencing using wood from Erythrina trees.

e) Beekeeping e.g. improving processing of honey and wax using top-bar hives; tree planting for improved forest honey production.

f) Support for forest user groups e.g. institutional and market development for carvers, beekeepers, papermakers etc.

4. Monitoring of the effectiveness of the program – ensuring a permanent system is in place for monitoring the effectiveness of forest management.

Vegetation cover changes: Using satellite imaging and aerial photographs from 1958-2001, changes in vegetation cover and the forest boundaries were analysed using GIS. The results show over 50% of montane forest was lost to deforestation between 1958 and 1988. Since 1988, 7.8% of the montane forest has been recovered (see for animated GIS results).

Evidence for changing attitudes: Between August and November 1998, a combined random questionnaire survey of current attitudes and behaviour, with participatory surveys, was undertaken. The first questionnaire survey measured the direct impact of the livelihoods interventions. This comprised 950 randomly sampled individuals in 19 villages. To select the villages, the project area was divided into 20 zones, each with approximately the same number of villages. One village was randomly selected from each zone and 50 respondents were randomly selected from each village. Data from one village were not included as respondents were not chosen randomly.

The participatory survey used individual interviews and group discussions with three stakeholder groups: staff of the Kilum-Ijim Forest project, traditional leaders and local communities, to explore attitude changes over time. Semi-structured group interviews were conducted with the technical staff at the Kilum and Ijim sites. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 traditional leaders of the three kingdoms. Within these, five villages were randomly selected, representing different degrees of involvement in the project, thus being a sub-sample of the villages that participated in the questionnaire surveys. Focus group discussions were conducted with men, women, the youth and community-based organisations to represent different community stakeholders. A timeline was used to understand attitudes changes towards forest protection and forest boundary demarcation (see Abbot & Thomas 2001, for detailed methods).

The results showed attitudes had become more positive. At the beginning of the project, on average, 44% of people did not support forest protection and 60%, boundary demarcation. By 1998, only 16% of people still did not support forest protection and 19%, boundary demarcation (see Table 1, attached).

Three origins for more positive attitudes were determined: attitudes had softened with time – people who were originally against the changes had time to accept them; the project was timely as people were experiencing resource shortages; and the long-term presence of the project has allowed people to benefit from forest protection such as through the harvesting of food, medicines and increased water availability.

Participants in the livelihoods program showed more positive attitudes than non-participants to forest protection and boundary demarcation. Those that did not lose land also showed more positive responses. However, there was a mixed response from those that lost land. For those that participated in the livelihoods program, 87% now support forest protection compared to 29% at the start of the project. Among those that did not participate in the program, support for forest protection fell from 60% to 40%, but increased from 20% to 40% regarding boundary demarcation (see Table 2).

Evidence for changed behaviours: By 1998, 74% of farmers at Kilum and 75% at Ijim produced items such as bark, carving wood and poles that were formerly obtained from the forest (see Table 3 for breakdown of activities).

There has also been an uptake of new farming technologies, primarily those that aim at soil and water conservation. These are listed in Table 4.

A significant behavioural change toward the forest is evident in the creation of institutions for forest management and progress has been made toward legal registration of community forests. By 1998, 34 of 35 villages had established forest management institutions. By 2003, nine out of 18 villages that had applied for legal recognition of their community forests, had acquired full management rights. This indicates significant investment and commitment in village organisation, planning, demarcation, conflict resolution and meetings with neighbours and government officials.

Evidence of linkages between the livelihoods program & forest conservation: In three villages, approximately half of participants identified the livelihoods program as precipitating changes in their attitudes and behaviour toward forest use and conservation. In these villages, they cited benefits such as increased crop yields through soil erosion control; agroforestry and provision of improved seed; decreased conflict between farmers and grazers resulting from live fencing (hedges) and zero-grazing methods of production; and the economic empowerment of women through women's farmer groups and introduction to traditionally male activities such as beekeeping.

Abott J.I.O., Thomas D.H.L., Gardner A.A., Neba S.E. & Khen M.W. (2001) Understanding the links between conservation and development in Bamenda Highlands, Cameroon. World Development 29, 1115-1136.

Tsongwain D.V. (1999) Conservation and development: Agricultural intensification and the uptake of project initiated alternative livelihood activities around the Kilum-Ijim Forest (Cameroon). Unpublished MSc Dissertation, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK.

Note: If using or referring to this published study, please read and quote the original paper. Please do not quote as a case as this is for previously unpublished work only.

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