• Indra Van Gisbergen

    Indra Van Gisbergen

    Forest and Development Campaigner

“We work with our partners in Cameroon to address illegal logging and illegal forest conversion and convince EU policy makers to prioritise these issues. We try to build bridges between what our partners do and what we do, so that we have a common and complementary strategy that achieves the same goal: protecting forests and people.

Key EU Member States such as Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands import timber from Cameroon, but it seems easy for them to close their eyes to what’s happening on the ground.

Corruption is a big hurdle. Another is that a lot of people who depend on forests are excluded from decision making.  

But addressing these sensitive issues in a country where there’s political turmoil and limited democracy can be risky. For example, last year we worked with a person fighting for his land against encroaching palm oil companies - and he’s under serious threat. But by creating networks around him, and publishing reports about the situation - and others who are courageous enough to speak out - it at least provides some protection.

Cameroon children collecting waste

Illegal logging hasn’t stopped in Cameroon. There's a lot of forest conversion, especially for agricultural use. Most of it is happening illegally. When you go there, you see hundreds of trucks on the road laden down with huge logs, and ask yourself, how is that possible?

Man from Cameroon village in palm oil plantation

The Voluntary Partnership Agreement has moved at a snail’s pace for few years now, but in 2018 there were efforts by donors and also the Cameroonian government to get it back on track.

On the positive side, there’s a new draft of the Forest Code, and in some key areas it reflects what civil society wants: including a better recognition of customary rights and support for community forestry. 

Community forestry in African village

Cameroon was the first county in Central Africa to promote community forestry and adopt a legal framework. Although the practice of Community Forestry on the ground is far from perfect, it enables local communities to directly benefit from forest management, and is a way to help fulfil the aims of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. Lessons learned in Cameroon are inspiring others to move towards viable alternative models contributing to sustainable community livelihoods and the empowerment of women in Cameroon as well as elsewhere in Africa.

With the proper support and secure land rights, community forestry is better at providing income and food security than industrial logging. It’s also better at protecting forests for future generations.

Cameroon woman discussing palm oil plantations

We need the support of Cameroonian policymakers as well as donors to make this happen.

Our big challenges in Cameroon are developing a common vision among the many NGOs working on community forestry, and for communities to resist the loggers who are approaching them every day and trying to sabotage their efforts. 

Along with our partner CED, we’re supporting communities to develop simple management plans for their forests which respond to their needs, so that they can survive without relying on loggers, but instead by producing,  commercialising and transforming non-timber forest products, such as honey, oils and fruits. 

Communities want to keep their forests standing, but they also want to profit from them, and they can do this by selling their products, but of course, they then need a market.

Even though our focus is on ensuring better policies we are already seeing benefits in the villages we visit, such as the demand for the honey villagers are producing rising sharply.  

Community from African village

Seeing people benefit from of their natural resources like this, and the way in which they are improving their livelihoods, is inspiring.”

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