YAOUNDE (AlertNet) – While Cameroon’s green forest canopies appear to stretch out endlessly over the horizon, they are in fact getting smaller every year.
The government is hoping that the west Central African nation’s women can come to their rescue. Last month, it launched an initiative that will see them take the lead in planting some 800,000 trees by July next year in an effort to replenish forests, while boosting livelihoods.
“Women have often been at the forefront in bringing solutions to crisis situations, and I think the women of Cameroon will, through this project, contribute in no small way to dealing with the problem of forest degradation and climate change,” said Marie Therese Abena, minister for women’s affairs and family.
The aim is that every woman between the ages of 15 and 60 will plant a tree, especially in areas that are suffering most from the impacts of climate change. Planting trees curbs environmental degradation and soil erosion, and increases capacity to store carbon in vegetation.
Cameroon lies in one of the world’s most densely forested areas, but these forests are shrinking due to national and international demand for timber and ambitious economic investment plans.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), around 42 percent of Cameroon is forested - but it lost nearly 18 percent of its forests between 1990 and 2010.
The government has been involved in tree-planting activities with local communities over the last five years, and nearly 2,000 trees have been planted each year. The plan for this year is to boost that annual number.
“This year is a year with a difference as women... have taken the initiative to multiply this number with a gigantic project dubbed ‘One Woman One Tree’ with the goal of getting every woman to participate in greening the environment,” said Philip Ngole Ngwese, minister of forestry and wildlife, at the campaign launch in Yaounde in mid-July.
The forestry and women’s ministries are working in partnership with women’s groups around the country to put the 875-million FCFA ($1.66 million) plan into action. They include Circle of Friends (CERAC), a women’s organisation headed by Linda Yang, wife of Cameroon’s prime minister, and the president’s wife, Chantal Biya.
Women’s minister Abena said the action by Cameroon’s women should serve as an inspiration to other women in Central Africa’s Congo Basin.
The forest area of the Congo Basin spans the borders of six countries – Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon – covering around 330 million hectares.
But tackling deforestation and climate change aren’t the only aims of the project; it also hopes to support women by providing additional income and easing poverty.
“We are going to provide jobs to some 1,000 women who will be taking care of the young planted trees in the project areas... as well as train them on tree-nursery projects, from which they will earn extra money to send their children to school and meet other social needs,” said CERAC’s executive coordinator, Yang.
“We will be fighting against poverty while ensuring the sustainability and continuity of the tree planting project,” she said.
LAW ENFORCEMENT NEEDED
Environmental experts are enthusiastic about the women’s tree planting scheme. But most believe there would be more progress in dealing with deforestation if better use were made of the law to control logging.
“The proliferation of this activity is accentuated by the inability of the administration to enforce its own regulations. Of the 100,000 hectares logged each year, at least 40 percent of them are illegally deforested,” said Zachee Nzoh Ngandembou of the Centre for the Environment and Rural Transformation (CERUT).
“The best way for Cameroon to protect its forest resources and curb deforestation is to apply very strictly its 2004 forestry laws and to implement (the action plan of) the Central Africa Forests Commission (COMIFAC) which focuses on sustainable management of forest and forest governance,” he added.
International climate change negotiations have focused on how to protect forests because almost 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the sector - mostly from deforestation in developing countries. Curbing deforestation is seen as a cost-effective way of reducing emissions.
Elias Ntungwe Ngalame is an award-winning environmental writer with Cameroon's Eden Group of newspapers.