By CAMGEW (Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch)
Just over a month ago, on February 21st, CAMGEW director Wirsiy Emmanuel Binyuy was alerted that a bushfire, allegedly started by a farmer in Bihkov, a small community in Jakiri sub-division in the Northwest Region of Cameroon, had gone out of control and was threatening to extend to the whole Kilum-Ijim forest, which covers over 20,000 hectares. The Kilum-Ijim Forest is an area of mountain rainforest, found on Mount Oku and the nearby Ijim Ridge in the Cameroon mountains.
In spite of heavy community mobilization, it took people over seven days of hard work to finally manage to end the fire, which had devastating consequences. The other communities had seen the fire coming to their forest and had started cutting firebreaks to prevent it from extending further.
Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch (CAMGEW) is a community based organisation in Oku, that works to promote the conservation of this forest, and has worked with Well Grounded since 2015.
CAMGEW works with inhabitants of communities living around the Kilum-Ijim forest to promote alternative livelihood practices, ensuring that the natural endowment of the forest is not threatened. CAMGEW supports community members to plant trees to ensure forest regeneration and to engage in commercial bee farming. The bee farming practice encourages bee farmers to consciously protect trees in the forest that favour high yields in honey production.
The fire which broke out last month caused CAMGEW and their beneficiaries huge losses: “This fire destroyed an important part of the trees we had planted in July 2015: 4500 of them burnt down, as well as over 400 beehives. A total of over 820 hectares of forest were destroyed”.
Our community members had many of their beehives destroyed by bushfires: 1124 beehives with bees and 624 without bees. 45 bee farmers have reported losing some of their beehives.
Sole Dzefoteer, one of CAMGEW’s beneficiaries, lost all of his 88 beehives, while Ngum Ndijia lost 80. Both of them watched helplessly as their beehives burnt to ashes. These hives were their major source of income.
A new cooperative called Bikov Oku White Honey Cooperative had been created and bee farmers promised to bring much honey to make it work. Key bee farmers have lost almost all their beehives.
Many environmental activists try fighting the bushfire practice but feel the forest should be more protected by the government:
“It’s high time for the government to intervene in this issue of bush fire. Some are busy building while others in their ignorance are destroying. We must learn from other countries how to protect our forest. Let’s borrow from Kenya. We must put an end to any outdoor fire no matter how small it is. Anyone caught in the act [of starting a fire] must face the law. Let our parliamentarians look into this issue. Our forest is our life” (Njini Primus John-Paul, forest conservation activist).
This bushfire reduced to ashes years of effort in forest conservation, replanting and honey economy. Farmers often start fires, believing that burning down the vegetation before cultivating can contribute to better crop yields. CAMGEW continues their tireless efforts in questioning this practice through awareness raising efforts, including through radio programmes and an open-letter sent to local newspapers.
“All we can do is to continue sensitizing the community through seminars, lectures, games, billboards etc., on the evils of bushfire. That is how the Kilum forest project management of the 90s succeeded. I say so because I took part in the planting of forest border trees in 1990 and warning signals about bushfire were everywhere in and around the forest”. (Moses Chung, forest conservation activist).
Civil society actors are calling on the government so that they join their efforts to fight bushfires and their disastrous consequences on forest communities. Meanwhile, they continue their work of prevention and awareness campaigns.