Ministries, conservation groups and indigenous communities unite to protect biodiversity and the rights of indigenous peoples
Indigenous people who include, Baka, Bagyéli, Bakola, Bedzang and Mbororos make up 10 percent of Cameroon’s population of 23 million people. For centuries, these communities have conserved their traditional way of life, customs and culture, possessing a unique identity and precious inter-generational knowledge of preserving natural resources. However, they have faced longstanding challenges related to marginalization and the April workshop, organized by the ministry with support from WWF, marked a critical step forward in building an inclusive dialogue and approach to addressing some of the issues faced.
Cameroon Minister of Social Affairs, Madame Pauline Irène Nguene, while opening the workshop, said the country has adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals which seek to fight poverty and inequality while protecting the environment. “We need to synergize our actions to ensure protection and rational exploitation of natural resources in the interest of the local population in general and the indigenous people in particular to attain these objectives,” she said.
National observatory for indigenous peopleThe ministries represented at the workshop included the Ministries of Forestry and Wildlife, Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development, a representative from the Prime Minister’s Office, civil society organizations, international NGOs, development partners and indigenous people associations. The two-day workshop concluded with the adoption of a three-year action plan as well as the decision to create a National Observatory for indigenous peoples.
Participants agreed such an observatory will contribute “immensely” to ensuring that the rights of indigenous people are respected in implementation of projects on biodiversity conservation. Strengthening of ongoing actions and solutions such as training of actors in the respect of human rights, establishment of a mechanism for resolution of conflicts in biodiversity conservation projects, greater involvement of indigenous people in such projects were also recommended.
During the workshop, as indigenous communities voiced their concerns, they also highlighted the magnitude of threats facing biodiversity, resources they have depended upon for centuries and underscored the need to step up efforts against poaching and ivory trafficking. “We wish to salute the efforts made by conservation organizations and the government to protect these resources which we Baka rely on for subsistence,” stated Mopolo Etienne, a Baka from Mintom, South Region of Cameroon. “We feel honored this meeting was organized to discuss the protection of our rights and appreciate the attention and readiness of all stakeholders to support us,” Mopolo said. “Baka have always supported conservation efforts and will continue to work with all actors to keep our environment and biodiversity safe,” he added.
Pressure on natural resourcesSamuel Nguiffo, Director of the Centre for Environment and Development (CED), a national NGO, also highlighted the danger posed by poaching and the urgency to take action while respecting the rights of indigenous people. “There is huge pressure on natural resources. Poachers armed with automatic weapons are decimating wildlife systematically,” Nguiffo said. “The menace has now taken an international dimension thus requiring a different response from government, to ensure protection of what is left of Cameroon’s biodiversity,” he said. Nguiffo called for greater involvement of indigenous people in biodiversity conservation activities and proposed that the government ministries work together with local communities to resolve any conflict or challenge that may arise as they aim to jointly protect valuable biodiversity.
Dr. Hanson Njiforti, WWF Cameroon Country Program Director, who participated in the workshop, said, “We are comforted by the fact that participants across the board recognized that the environment is in peril and showed a sense of urgency to take action.” Dr. Njiforti said WWF welcomed the creation of a national observatory for indigenous people and will continue to work closely with minority groups to protect the environment.
The workshop was attended by international NGOs including the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), WWF, INADES formation Cameroon, Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Several local civil society organizations including CEFAID, APIFED, Okani, GOMITRI, and ASBAK also participated in the workshop. Amougou Victor, who heads CEFAID, an NGO defending the rights of Baka, said “the workshop reiterated the need for local NGOs to be more involved in issues related to indigenous people’s rights and conservation.”