Conserving Cameroon’s mangroves
FAO partners with local authorities, communities to promote better management
29 March 2006, Limbé, Cameroon -- Catherine Molindo and a group of her friends are the proprietors of the LIWOFISHCO fish-processing cooperative, a small-scale, self-started business based in this bustling port town on Cameroon's southwest coast.
Using wood-burning ovens, the women smoke fish caught by their families or purchased from local fishermen and then market them locally. Business is good, Catherine says, and she and her friends would like to expand their operations.
“We have two kitchens, two burners, and are making more money than before," she says. "The money is helping us send our children to school, clothe ourselves, cover medical costs and increase the cooperative's operating funds.”
But at the same time, she adds, they worry about the wood they use in their ovens.
It is mangrove wood, from Cameroon's fragile coastal ecosystems, and thanks to extensive community extension and education work by FAO and other agencies and NGOs working here -- Catherine and her partners are keenly aware of the need to conserve their country's mangrove resources.
They worry that the bigger their business becomes, the more wood they will need to smoke fish and that this will lead to the over-exploitation and degradation of mangrove forests.
According to a recent FAO study, the extent of the world's mangrove area was reduced from approximately 18.8 million hectares in 1980 to 15.2 million hectares in 2005 – mainly due to conversion of mangrove land to other uses, such as aquaculture ponds or agriculture. Many mangrove areas have also been degraded due to pollution and unsustainable levels of wood harvesting. Cameroon -- where mangroves currently cover around 250 000 hectares -- has been no exception to these trends.
A new way of doing things
The success of an FAO project in the nearby fishing village of Yoyo offers a solution to the dilemma faced by Catherine and the other women of LIWOFISHCO as they try to provide for their families.
The project, titled "Participatory management of the biological diversity of mangrove ecosystems in Cameroon", helped teach a group of immigrant Nigerian fisherfolk living in Yoyo how to do things differently. They have been sensitized to the dangers of indiscriminate cutting of mangroves and are also now using a more fuel-efficient type of smoking oven that allows them to process more fish while using much less wood.
“If we were previously using twenty mangrove trees, with the modern smoking kitchen we can use ten,” says Jibi Tedunjaiyé, leader of the Nigerian community.
However, he also admits that he has little training in how to re-plant and regenerate mangroves, an activity that he, like many of his neighbours, would willingly undertake. “I do not know how they do it, but if I am called upon to plant, I can give my help,” he says.
Collaborative efforts to protect mangroves paying off
The FAO project also helped Cameroonian authorities address mangrove management in the policy arena by helping them develop strategies for the sustainable use of mangroves in cooperation with the communities whose livelihoods depend on them.
In Cameroon FAO is also working in close collaboration with local communities and non-governmental organizations, like the Cameroonian Wildlife Conservation Society, to promote the sustainable use of mangroves.
These efforts have helped put sustainable mangrove management on the policy map here. On 13 January 2006, President Paul Biya ratified the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty that provides a framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands, including mangrove habitats.
Signing the convention can provide countries with the domestic political momentum needed to make changes. “The convention has enabled a number of countries to set aside mangroves and other wetlands as designated areas for protection for their valuable resources,” explains FAO forestry expert Mette Loyche Wilkie.
The mangroves of Central Africa's western coast are important in a number of ways.
In addition to fuelwood and charcoal, coastal communities also depend on mangroves for timber used in home construction and boat building. Additionally, mangroves provide water-resistant roof thatching as well as fodder for feeding some domestic animals.
And mangroves also play a number of important ecological roles, notes Wilkie.
One important function of mangroves is to serve as spawning grounds and nurseries for large populations of fish and shellfish, used as food by other animals and humans alike.
“Mangroves provide leaves for the marine food web, shelter and breeding grounds for fish and shellfish -- they also trap silt from uphill erosion and provide coastal protection from winds and waves,” Wilkie says. The role of mangroves in helping to prevent and reduce coastal erosion, providing nearby communities with protection against the effects of wind, waves and water currents, means that where extensive areas of healthy mangroves exist, coastal villages suffer less damage, according to the FAO expert.
But because they are located in coastal zones, where population densities are typically high, mangrove areas are frequently converted to other uses, including fish-farming, agriculture, salt production and urban development. In Cameroon the primary threat is rapid urban development; as coastal populations grow, the country's mangrove resources are being affected.
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