Africa: Indigenous People at Centre of Protecting Ecosystems #AfricaClimateCrisis

Cape Town — Indigenous peoples are increasingly being acknowledged for their protection and management of land, water bodies and wildlife.  As their culture and livelihood are intimately linked to the natural environment they often become the first and fiercest protectors of these spaces.

The United Nations Development Programme, through its Equator Initiative and the biannual Equator Prize, is shining a light on the success of rural and indigenous communities in managing to create sustainable livelihoods while respecting and honouring the environment in which they live.

The prize highlights ‘outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity’.

Tropical Forest and Rural Development in Cameroon’s Dja Biosphere Reserve is one such space.

The reserve is a World Heritage site in the south of Cameroon, covering an area of 800,000 hectares. It includes 37 villages with approximately 40,000 people, according to 1999 figures.

According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “the biosphere reserve hosts a rich diversity of fauna including 109 mammal, 360 bird and 61 fish species. It is also home to the world’s most important colony of grey-necked rockfowls. Other mammals in the reserve include the chimpanzee, giant pangolin, elephant, mantled guereza, leopard and the critically endangered western lowland gorilla”.

Tropical Forest and Rural Development is a community based enterprise that works in and around the Dja Biosphere Reserve by promoting cocoa-based agroforestry value chains and the collection of moabi – a local tree valued for timber and its oil, wild mango and other fruits while protecting the forest ecosystem. Moabi is It is also valued for traditional medicine and is‘highly threatened’ due to logging, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Agroforesty has become more widespread as an agriculture system that incorporates trees, palms and shrubs as well as annual vegetable crops and livestock.

According to the Equator Prize, more than 70,000 trees have been planted by the members of Tropical Forest and Rural Development, as well as training on quality standards so that the group can get better rates for the sale of food and cosmetic products.  The enterprise also “focuses on the economic inclusion of several indigenous groups, some of them pursuing traditional semi-nomadic lifestyles, through access to education, the registration of community businesses, and jobs for 500 women collectors and 300 cacao producers”.
Forests are need of protection not only because of the habitat they provide for plants and animals and but also for their ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to a changes in climate or longterm weather patterns.

A recent report on forests by the FAO, The first-ever stocktake of Africa’s forests and landscapes, which was recently released finds slow progress in repairing Africa’s degraded lands and urges ramped up efforts for climate action.

“Extending well beyond tree-planting, forest and landscape restoration is an all-encompassing approach to returning trees and forests to landscapes where they have been lost and is of great benefit to sustainable food production, building resilience and disaster risk reduction”, said Nora Berrahmouni, FAO Senior Forestry Officer covering Africa, and one of the review’s lead authors.

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