Bioversity international

Chapter 1. Hunting, gathering and food sharing in Africa’s rainforests The forest-based food system of the Baka indigenous people in South-eastern Cameroon

Section 2 Sustainability of the Indigenous People’s food system


Adequacy of income opportunities

Major sources of cash income come from (1) sales to merchants of NTFPs, crafts and, for a few households, cacao beans, and (2) daily wage labour for the Bantu to clear swiddens, transport harvested crops and maintain cacao plantations. Some men may occasionally be employed by logging companies or safari organisers, but opportunities are limited and cause social tension locally. The cash obtained serves to buy kitchen utensils, clothing, machetes, flashlights and batteries, wire cable for snares, lamps and petrol, alcoholic drinks, tobacco, food items (primarily salt, sugar and oil), manufactured medicine, and school furniture. Occasionally money may be shared with other community members in need of cash.

As primary producers, the Baka poorly participate in and benefit from the value chains of the forest products. Most NTFPs collected by the Baka are exchanged with the Bantu. The Bantu then sell these products to local shop vendors who will resell them to regional vendors. Only cacao and a few wild edibles like Irvingia kernels, Aframomum pods and Ricinodendron nuts will enter national and international markets. Although transformed Irvingia kernels, into condiment paste, and Baillonella seeds, into oil, may generate more income, most products are basically sold either fresh or dried.

The Baka unanimously feel that they get unfair prices for NTFPs in their exchanges with their neighbours or with outsiders. They are poorly skilled in negotiating directly with merchants and the prices they are offered are significantly lower compared to those obtained by the Bantu. It takes about three hours for the Baka to collect and process kernels of pɛ́kɛ (Irvingia gabonensis), for which the Bantu will pay approximately XAF 5003 per kg. When the Bantu sells them to merchants, they obtain a price ranging between roughly XAF 1 000 to XAF 2 000,4 making their margin roughly from XAF 500 to XAF 1 5005 with a considerably lower investment of labour compared to the Baka, who are the primary producers. These margins are lower at the beginning and peak of the fruiting season, from July to September. They reach three times the Baka’s benefits when the season comes to an end in October. In the minor dry season, many Bantu visit the Baka’s forest camps to exchange kernels for food supplies, alcoholic drinks, and daily commodities such as clothes, radio, music player, flashlight, battery, tobacco and so on. Although they rarely feel like this exchange is equitable, many Baka succumb to the attractiveness of these goods. Merchants from the cities sometimes offer higher prices than the local merchants but they are often discouraged by poor road conditions that globally affect connectivity to market. Furthermore, the Baka fail to coordinate any form of collective action that would leverage their access to the market economy, although they fully admit the advantage they would gain in structuring their efforts. Such incapacity is chronic amongst egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies, which hinders any leadership initiative needed to change the associative dynamics. This intrinsic obstacle makes it difficult for the Baka to organise as an association for marketing. Collective or group sales are seldom or never done amongst the Baka, although they are aware of the potential contribution that it could have for raising the prices they obtain.

When asked about income sourced from agriculture and from the wild, opinion amongst the Baka are mitigated. Whereas it is difficult to purchase all they hope, the Baka consider that their earnings are sufficient to ensure their food supply, but far from enough to cover school and medical expenses.

Adequacy of diets

For the Baka in Gribe, a pani a djô (typical meal) is a combination of a staple and mòsùkà (a sauce). The staples are plantain, cassava, cocoyam, sweet potato, maize and wild yams, whilst rice and spaghetti may be purchased occasionally. The sauce is usually composed of bushmeat, fish, caterpillars, snails, termites, a leafy vegetable or mushrooms, which may be mixed. Depending on availability, the sauce may include oil or a fatty condiment and be seasoned with salt, chemical seasoning, chili pepper, tomato paste, and the bark and fruit of ngìmbà (Afrostyrax lepidophyllus) tree, which has a garlic flavour and is renowned for its deworming properties.

In consuming two to three such meals per day, the Baka tend to maintain a diversified diet. Starches are typically eaten several times a day. Meat or fish are eaten several days per week and nearly every day during the minor dry season. Leafy vegetables and other vegetal foods are eaten several times per week. Fruits and nuts are eaten several times per week, whilst wild eggs from reptiles and birds, insects, pulses, and honey are consumed at reasonably high frequency during the minor dry season, yet more rarely in other seasons. A few Vitamin-A-rich fruits such as mango, guava and papaya are occasionally found in home gardens, and chili pepper is moderately consumed. Milk is totally absent from the Baka diet.

Food scarcity occurs occasionally. Around 40 percent of the male participants felt that food supply was not totally adequate over the past year. Both men and women recounted not having enough food in the household and having felt hungry. All reported having gone to sleep without eating at least once. Apart from general hunger caused by lack of pòte (food), the Baka also express by the word pɛnɛ a form of acute hunger felt when the consumption of bushmeat is insufficient. These forms of hunger both occur primarily in the major dry season, when encounters with mammals are rare and hunting conditions are less favourable. In this season, the availability of many major wild edibles and crops also declines (Table 1.2).

The Baka evoke a few ways to cope with food insecurity. One of these is “sleeping without eating.” When food is temporarily scarce, the Baka may accept the situation with philosophy and will not let the obsession of finding food take over control of their actions. This apparent passivity is backed by the Baka’s trust in the forest: “food is always available somewhere”. “Sleeping without eating” is strongly associated with a conviction that they belong to the forest. It mitigates the stress originated from punctual hunger, and the feeling of insecurity is compensanted by the acceptance that “we sleep hungry tonight but we will eat tomorrow”. Going to bed with an empty stomach occurs more frequently during the minor dry season, when they eat animal skins and intestines discarded around camp to get through that time.

Frequent movement between the forest and the village and the flexibility to shift between foraging and farming activities also greatly sustain Baka’s food security. Throughout the year, the Baka undertake food generation and production activities both in the village and the forest (Figure 1.2). During the minor dry season, which is dedicated to gathering Irvingia kernels in forest camps, regular trips are carried out back to the village for groundnut harvests. Kernel production from Irvingia species fluctuates strongly from year to year. In years of poor production, the majority of the Baka will remain in the village and more will engage in farming and wage labour by weeding the cacao plantations of the Bantu, whilst the few who entered the forest will focus on hunting and gathering Aframomum fruits. During the major rainy season, some will continue these activities in the forest, whilst others will opt to stay in the village and participate in cacao harvests for their neighbours. From the major dry season to the minor rainy season, the majority of the Baka of Gribe are engaged in slashing and burning new swiddens for the Bantu or for their own use, whereas others will prefer long stays in the forest for fishing, hunting and gathering. Although the major dry season is known to offer less diversity in food resources, the availability of annual wild yams and non-seasonal fruits is worth enough for a stay in the forest. Fish is an abundant resource during this major dry season and intervenes as a valuable safety net (Dounias and Oishi, 2016), although bushmeat remains the preferred food.

Storing, which is a common way to secure access to food, is not meaningful amongst hunter-gatherers as it would drastically impede their mobility. In immediate-return societies, which are known to process and consume food immediately after procurement, sharing becomes fundamental and is an efficient response to food insecurity. The Baka praise sharing as a prominent feature of their cultural identity, be it for food or non-food resources. When it comes to food, sharing occurs twice: a first round of sharing occurs for the food items before being processed, and a second round intervenes once the food is cooked and ready for consumption. Sharing is in full coherence with the egalitarian political system of the Baka, in which no distinction should be tolerated between those who have and those who have not.

Exchanges with the Bantu and NTFPs sales contribute to moderating food shortage. In case of low food procurement from the wild or from farming activities, income-generating activities provide access to foods sold by merchants and small shop retailers, and afford punctual opportunity to enjoy the exotic taste of rice, noodles and manufactured snacks. Baka women lament, however, that the entirety of the money they earn is spent on food and basic necessities, leaving them with no possibility to buy less necessary little extras.

The Baka may occasionally borrow money from their neighbours but contracting such a loan has its drawback. Obligation to work for the Bantu to reimburse the loan may in turn restrict the indebted Baka from entering the forest or cultivating his own swidden, and consequently contribute to experiences of food insecurity.

Confined access to the forest is a factor seriously compromising the food security of the Baka of Gribe. Restrictions to penetrate the logging zone, the national parks and the portions of forest conceded to sport-hunting entrepreneurs generates tensions as they drastically reduce access to the forest resources, which are of prior importance, especially during the major dry season (Sayer et al., 2017).

Changes in the provision of livelihoods and social well-being over time

Diets and incomes of the Baka have changed over the past three decades. The Baka have increased their consumption of crops, whilst reliance on forest foods has declined due to reduced access to the forest and an abrupt increase in market demand for forest products that drives the Baka to sell rather than keep them for their own consumption.

Amongst the various forest foods, wild yams providing annual tubers such as sapà (Dioscorea praehensilis) and ʔèsùmà (Dioscoera semperflorens) used to constitute the major source of staples during the major dry season. Nowadays, reduced access to the distant forest hinders long-term expeditions and consequently lowered the contribution of wild yam tubers to the diet. With declining access to the forest, the Baka increasingly rely on labour exchange with the Bantu to obtain food in the major dry season. The highly nutritious edible caterpillars of bòyo (Imbrasia species), one of the Baka’s favourites, have also become rare, a consequence of the over-logging of the host tree Entandrophragma cylindricum (Sprague) Sprague, Meliaceae (also called bòyo).

The need for cash income in the community has increased considerably, along with the facilitated arrival of merchants as the result of improved road infrastructures in the late 1990s. Since the road and ferry to cross Boumba River were opened in 1997 and 1998, merchants began selling a variety of daily commodities and foods. The rise of the cacao market in the early 2000s drastically increased the cash income of the Bantu in Gribe, which permitted them to purchase new items such as bikes and new homes. Influenced by this new longing for introduced commodities, the Baka started increasing their cash incomes through intensified wage labour with the Bantu and sales of NTFPs.

Although reliance on the forest decreased in favour of agriculture and purchased food, the Baka do not consider that their self-sufficiency has been affected that much, arguing that their reliance on the market economy remains minimal. Nevertheless, the prominence of starches in their diet and declining consumption of forest foods reveals their increased investment in farming at the expense of forest explorations. This shift in their diet may be a factor contributing to trends. The Baka estimate that they are more likely than in the past to fall sick and blame their change in diet, evoking for instance their increased consumption of manufactured snacks, rich in additives like monosodium glutamate.


Land and soil

In general, the soil quality is considered good, although there is some heterogeneity. The Baka recognize two main types of soil in their landscape: sandy soils known as muséké, and red soils known as ngàò. In practice, the Baka recognize soil quality based on observation of crop growth. Although rare, gray soils are considered better for cultivation. Soils are judged better in forests called manjà, characterized by low presence of bushes or thicket in the understory, like in very old fallows or mature forests. Places where the tree species gbado (Triplochiton scleroxylon) grows are considered good for cultivating, since this species prefer fertile, well-drained ferruginous soils. By contrast, the Baka avoid farming in areas with the tree species mɛ̀ndì (Sclerocroton cornutus (Pax) Kruijt & Roebers, Euphorbiaceae) because its toxic litter inhibits the growth of other plants, including crops. When signs of crop withering are observed in the first year after planting, the Baka will abandon the swidden and seek another place.

Pɛ́kɛ (Irvingia gabonensis) kernels collected by the Baka for use as a condiment and for sale.
© Kyoto University/Masaki Hirai.

As a principle for shifting cultivation, an ecosystem’s sustained fertility requires short-term cropping alternating with long-term forest fallow. Cassava, peanut, okra and plantain, for instance, are mixed cropped. In the first year, peanut, okra and cassava are harvested, and in the second and third year, plantain and banana are harvested. After the third year, the field is set aside to allow fertility restoration by post-agricultural forest regrowth.

Labour and fuel energy

The food system of the Baka of Gribe is exclusively based on locally sourced renewable energy, mainly firewood and human labour. Firewood is used for cooking, processing and heating, and its availability is sufficient. In their semi-residential settlements, the Baka gather logs driven from clearing fields for crops, whereas in the forest, branches are collected from the forest floor.

Farming is the most demanding activity in human labour. Yet, the Baka invest much less labour input into farming than their Bantu neighbours. The plots are left nearly derelict when they leave their residential settlements to join their seasonal forest camps. A male participant explained that “plantain bunches are mature when returning from the forest,” showing how the Baka approach agriculture in a similar fashion to wild edible gathering; they prefer to feed on ripened fruits rather than invest too much time and effort in increasing and stabilizing crop yields. The Baka follow an approach of “less managed is management” in their agriculture, wherein the yield per area – land productivity – is generally low, but the yield per labour – labour productivity – becomes high. This low management agriculture with minimal weeding allows the concomitant growth of numerous spontaneous wild edible plants such as Gnetum, wild yams, oil palm trees, Aframomum shoots and mushrooms, which purposely contribute to diet and income. For their cacao production, the Baka selectively decide whether to carry out maintenance according to the market and the amount of labour available at the time. Regardless of maintenance, cacao seedlings usually do not die. Biya biya or soya (mutual aid), a common seasonal practice to mitigate drudgery amongst the Bantu cacao growers, is less frequent amongst the Baka, who only have a few cacao growers and possess much smaller plantations.

Some fuel and batteries are used for lighting, such as kerosene lamps and flashlights. Locally sourced resins extracted from pàkà (Guibourtia demeusei L., Fabaceae), sɛnɛ (Canarium schweinfurthii Engl., Burseraceae), mòndùmbà (Copaifera mildbraedii Harms, Caesalpiniaceae) and ngámbè (Pentadesma butyracea Sabine, Clusiaceae) are also burned as a light source. Paka na bàle (old and hard bee wax) is also valued for the same purpose. The Baka occasionally use motorbikes owned by the Bantu as a means to visit distant relatives. Such punctual and minimal use of non-renewable and external energy sources is seldom linked to food-system-related activities.


Water is plentifully available at any time of the year. Drinking water is sourced from the many rivers in the area that are always found within a few hundred metres of the Baka’s use areas. Clear water is also available from some springs. River water and rainwater are used for washing clothes and dishes, which, along with cooking, are the greatest water demands. Swidden fields, plantations and home gardens are totally rainfed. Women and young girls are responsible for water collection, which requires approximately one hour per trip, two to three times per day. No specific practices of water capture and storage are used. In order to maintain clean ponds, Baka women regularly remove accumulated vegetal debris. Standing in the water source is considered bad manner.


The main waste products are residues of crop and forest products and plastic packages. Organic wastes are abandoned around the camp. Amongst the wastes, animal hides are sometimes used for making drums or vine-framed backpacks. Non-biodegradable wastes include spaghetti packages, plastic whiskey sachets, empty cans, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, and batteries. Most of these are burned or abandoned, whereas some are reused and repurposed into tools, which reduces drudgery and time investments. For instance, empty sardine cans are transformed into graters for grinding hard cakes made from Irvingia kernels. Sardine cans are also used to make toy cars for children. Occasionally, vinyl sachets are used to produce small baskets by weaving different colours together with plant material. Plastic whiskey sachets and rubber slippers are sometimes used as material for ignition when newly lighting a bonfire. Polyethylene terephthalate bottles from juices are reused as water flasks and bottles for decoction. Overall, the generation of non-biodegradable waste in the food system has increased as the market has brought in many products with metal and plastic packaging.

Changes in resource use efficiency over time

The tools used by the Baka for daily life have not changed greatly over time. Nonetheless, the introduction of some new tools has contributed to changes in fuel and labour inputs into food-system-related activities. Introduction of battery-powered flashlights and kerosene lamps have increased the dependency on external fuel energy. Although the Baka rarely use vehicles, increasing trade with visiting merchants is indirectly associated with a greater use of fossil fuels. The adoption in the 1970s of wire cables for trapping, which replaced vegetal ropes, has made animal capture much more efficient. Yet, in contrast with professional hunters and poachers, the Baka have taken advantage of this novelty to reduce time and effort in trapping without modifying the average number of traps that they usually set. Nonetheless, hunting efficiency – labour or time per catch – has decreased compared to before because the animal populations are negatively impacted by the proliferation throughout the region of non-Baka trappers and firearm hunters, to satisfy the booming bushmeat demand in cities.


Protecting and conserving the forest are notions that are not conceptualized as such by the Baka and thus are not translated into measurable control and regulation practices. Declines in resource availability and difficulty procuring food are recognized as “a state in which the forest is closed by a forest spirit called jengi”. Nevertheless, Baka’s resource use embeds a corpus of social and cultural mechanisms contributing indirectly to forest conservation and to the enhancement of natural resource availability and livelihood quality.

Food taboos are a good illustration of existing socio-cultural regulations. Many foods should not be eaten, depending on individual, gender, social status and clan affiliation. For instance, whilst processing extraction of oil from màɓè seeds, women avoid eating any bushmeat. When conducting dam fishing, women will not eat red river hog, monkey or honey, as a means to prevent misfortune in catching large fish. When the forest spirit called kòse gets angry, men will interrupt hunting and share with the spirit tubers of ba (Dioscorea mangenotiana, wild yam), along with honey and cooked cassava flour, to calm it down. Having dozens of food prohibitions of this type is not meant primarily to sustain conservation goals. Rather, what is at stake is to gather food resources successfully and to ensure a healthy livelihood. This requires maintaining a balanced relationship with the supra-natural forces, which are the custodians of natural resources. Moderation dictates the humble attitude of the Baka vis-à-vis forest resources. Food proscriptions participate in this moderation and, incidentally, contribute to mitigating excessive exploitation of resources.

Between different residential groups tied by limited kinship, not entering an area already occupied by another group is somewhat implicit. Trails and ranges for gathering food resources tend to be formally differentiated. When the ranges used by different groups overlap, slight litigations may arise, particularly in the logging zone where the Baka collect forest resources more intensively. Although kinship is so conceived that it provides a broad range of shared exploitable forest between and within residential groups, access is not totally open and can become an acute concern. In the wake of extended familial and matrimonial ties, it is usual practice amongst the Baka to join other groups that occupy areas with higher resource availability. Gently differentiated access to the forest can defuse tensions and competition over resources, whilst preserving margins for permissiveness and tolerance in accessing resources and ensuring good citizenship between residential groups.

Interaction with forest resources

Forest uses by the Baka do not hinder natural regeneration dynamics and may even contribute to an increase in the availability of useful plants. Many wild yam tubers, fruits and nuts are collected over a wide range of the forest patches and brought to the campsites where some are cast out in a specific place to deposit as waste. Such circulation of plant material driven by the Baka’s seasonal mobility has likely contributed to regeneration of useful plants and expansion of their dispersal range. Small-scale disturbance of vegetation through honey gathering and forest camp building likewise facilitates regeneration and dispersal of light-demanding useful plants and incidentally creates favourable niches for wildlife. The non-random distribution of these plants along regularly used forest trails and in old residential settlements suggests that over generations, the Baka have extensively co-influenced, along with natural ecosystem engineers, the mosaic assemblage of forest patches.

Changes in resource availability over time

In the 1990s, along with the opening of the road, the Baka started full-scaled agriculture. At that time, the crops that they adopted had already been cultivated by the Bantu of Gribe for a long time. Since then, the Baka have introduced additional varieties on their own: five for plantain, as well as five for cassava. In addition, two plantain varieties and three cassava varieties were brought around the year 2000 by a local non-governmental organization (NGO).

Since the 1990s, bushmeat hunting has intensified. With the opening of the logging road, many merchants have come to visit the village in search of forest products. Demand from urban dwellers is high and supply is not sustainable. Merchants began selling more robust wire cables and guns to the Bantu to hunt more animals. The Bantu deliver those tools to the Baka and ask for intensive hunting in exchange for money, food and daily commodities. Animal populations seem to have declined in the early 2000s. This concern, known as the bushmeat crisis, has led to the empty forest syndrome. Nevertheless, many Baka state that “animals are not decreasing, rather, deep in the forest, there are still many”. For those who believe in this statement, animals temporarily move away to distant areas in response to increased trapping, but they eventually return. It is well confirmed by many Baka that the number of catches is high during the first week of trapping and decreases subsequently. Therefore, as soon as the Baka perceive a decrease in game captures, they tend to remove their traps. By restraining their trapping activities, the Baka may facilitate the populations of some mammal species, for instance the mostly preyed blue duiker, to recover.

The intensity of NTFP gathering of Irvingia kernels and Aframomum fruits with cash value has clearly increased in response to exploding demand. However, in contrast to animal population dynamics, regeneration of NTFPs is facilitated or even expanded by human activities, and may not be negatively impacted by increasing demand.

Since the 1990s, the Baka recognized that bier a toto (new fields) and wùndɔ (young fallow) areas increased in the agroforest zone, whilst bele (mature forest) regressed at the same time. Fields in production cover less than 3 percent of the total area of the agroforest zone and, during forest clearing to create a new swidden field, 30 percent of the trees are maintained uncut. With the extension of swiddening, the agroforest zone is constantly enriched in NTFPs, especially Gnetum and Piper vines, Aframomum shrubs, and Ricinodendron trees. Long fallowing rotations and a scattered distribution of swiddens within the agroforest zone contribute to create forest micro-patches at different stages of regeneration. This forest mosaic is favourable to many small mammals, which tolerate proximity with humans, such as rodents, blue duikers and Bates dwarf antelopes. They remain abundant in the zone and constitute a reliable source of meat. Although the Baka do not have explicit conservation practices, their poorly intrusive agricultural system participates in maintaining a rich biological diversity within the agroforest zone.

By contrast, in the logging zone, the Baka deplore the decline of resources obtained from logged trees, like the oil obtained from màɓè (Baillonella toxisperma) seeds or the popular bòyo (Imbrasia oyemensis, caterpillar) that feeds exclusively on Entandrophragma cylindricum leaves. Many sites suitable for establishing forest camps have been destroyed. It has generated serious litigation amongst various residential groups of Baka, which have lost their home range.


Governance of forest resources

The Baka and Bantu in Gribe have no structured endogenous institution related to forest management, nor do they have explicit rules aimed at restricting access to and use of their resources. Their extensive exploitation of forest resources has shaped a loose “local commons” principle characterized by mutual resource property and social interactions, leading to a consensual management. Through establishing fields, anyone can use a vacant place. Once occupied by someone, the land may be perceived as owned by that person, but in reality, property is not defined by a specific ownership system and erodes with time, after being retroceded to clan and lineage broader levels, especially if effective use of the land is dropped. This trend is more applicable for the forest camps. The preferable campsite for the Baka is a flat place located near a relatively large river where many useful plants grow. Such places are not that numerous in the landscape. Therefore, once such a spot is found, they claim their occupancy by planting some items such as oil palm. In the absence of the owner, anyone may temporarily occupy the site. Nevertheless, this tolerance is fading, especially with Baka from another village. For example, when one of the participants went trapping in a village located 50 km south of Gribe, he was threatened by a local Baka, “I will notify the ranger that there are poachers.” The “local commons” principle seems increasingly fragile and loses its ability to prevent resource depletion in a context of increased market economy and zonation of forest accessibility by local people.

As many red-listed animal species inhabit the forest surrounding Gribe, several forest management and livelihood improvement projects have been conducted since the 1990s. Most of these projects were implemented top-down, even though some adopted a community-based approach. Alternate activities to hunting were promoted as a means to reduce the threats on the most endangered species. There were improved agriculture, livestock raising, NTFPs promotion and so on, as well as the creation of community institutions. They were aiming to foster a sustainable use of fauna through licensed hunting – managed by COVAREF – and legalized logging – managed by “Forêt Communautaire” – with profits to be shared with the villagers. In many cases, the proposed initiatives do not meet people’s aspirations and are eventually poorly accepted, notably by the Baka, who are chronically marginalized and not included in any decision-making processes.

Changes in governance of forest resources over time

Forest governance in Cameroon has experienced tremendous changes since the 1990s. In 1989, the Government decided to stimulate timber exports with the support of the World Bank, in an attempt to recover from the economic crisis of the 1980s. In 1994, the CFA Franc (XAF) currency was devaluated by half, benefiting foreign logging companies, which intensified timber exports. Induced acceleration of deforestation led major international NGOs for nature conservation to intervene in the East region, including the area around Gribe. In 1994, prohibitions and regulations regarding hunting activities entered the Forest Code (Law n° 94-01 of 20 January 1994), with specific statements on protected species, bushmeat trade, hunting seasons and equipment, and so on. In 1998, the Jengi Project was launched by the Government in collaboration with international NGOs with the aim of establishing new protected areas and fixing sustainable forest management processes in their periphery. Small-holder farming, livestock keeping and anti-poaching measures were strengthened. Despite claiming participatory forest management, the projects remained fundamentally top-down in process, and were based on land segregation designing that discouraged forest dwellers from entering the forest, thus obliterating the adhesion of local communities to the proposed forest management plans. In 2003, the Government eventually adopted a drastic logging plan to mitigate timber exports. In 2005, the Boumba-Bek and Nki National Parks were created, southwest of Gribe.

The daily life of the Baka of Gribe was severely impaired by these external drivers of change. Activities to protect the primary forest were put in place whilst logging continued, which ended with severe restrictions of access to the forest for all local communities. Establishment of protected areas and anti-poaching measures reduced their average home range by approximately 80 percent. Exclusive concessions delivered to sport-hunting enterprises also contributed to lessen people’s access to their forest. Despite laudable efforts of organizations to try and conciliate the diverging interests, conflicts are inclined to expand. Many challenges remain to achieve compatibility between conservation goals and the livelihoods of local peoples who are being caught between forest-intensified and non-sustainable exploitation, and more acute conservationist sanctions.


A summarized assessment of 13 indicators of resilience is presented below.

1. Exposed to disturbance: The major disturbances affecting the Baka consist of climatic shocks such as heavy rain, strong winds and prolongation of the major dry season. Other sources of disturbances are wild animals that cause damage to their crops, along with some insect pests and weeds. These shocks are relatively rare.

2. Globally autonomous and locally interdependent: Despite higher interference of the market economy, the Baka still stay autonomous as they source most food from the local food system, and the Baka and Bantu are strongly interdependent through frequent exchange of products and labour. Even with the exchange not always being profitable for the Baka, the Bantu are seen to play an important role in buffering the Baka against the negative impacts of the market economy, as their collaboration has increased. However, augmented monetization has also created more confrontation with the Bantu.

3. Appropriately connected: Gribe has about 10 local stores but they are of only minor importance to the Baka for food procurement. The road to Gribe is poorly constructed, impeding merchants from visiting, as well as increasing the prices of goods from those who do travel to the village. However, for the Bantu, the connectedness to markets and access to commercialized foods has increased largely since the 1990s. Further, the arrival of mobile phones in 2018 greatly enhanced their ability to gather timely information on NTFPs and demand in urban areas, enabling more efficient profit maximation. However, the Baka have not benefited from this information network as much as the Bantu. The village has seen technical agricultural guidance from NGOs, yet it has never continued long term.

4. Socially self-organized: The social frame is organised through a shared set of norms based on respect of every individual’s autonomy and extensive sharing of goods and services. The ad-hoc groups organised to perform ritual ceremonies and for labour purposes are intended to share entertainment and mitigate drudgery, thereby strengthening social ties. The Baka are reluctant to participate in systematic initiatives by external organizations, as they are greatly excluded from decision-making processes in the wider community and landscape. In light of recent economic commercialisation, the Baka still value the well-being of the entire group with close kinship more than pursuing personal property.

5. Reflective and shared learning: The Baka maintain flexibility in their resource management, and base it on changes in forest resource availability, the conditions of their crops and opportunity for exchanging with the Bantu. This contributes to strengthening and stabilizing their food system and risk management and reflects a process of learning and adaptation over time. They emphasize that all community members are free and encouraged to enhance collective happiness and food security through sharing and thereby acquiring knowledge for livelihood maintenance. Their relationships with the Bantu and other communities contribute greatly to introduction of new knowledge.

6. Honours legacy: The Baka greatly value and maintain their ancestral practices based on traditional knowledge, beliefs and interactions with the environment. The growing market for NTFPs and bushmeat is seen by community members as a way to strengthen the relationship between Baka and the forest, and to contribute to the reproduction and further development of their knowledge. Yet, written documentation of their traditional knowledge does not exist. The recent increase in contact with the Bantu and merchants through exchange and trade has made the Baka realize to a greater extent that they are exposed to marginalization, such as the inability to join information networks, unfair exchange rates, and lack of participation in decision-making. This has led the Baka to further strengthen their common identity. This phenomenon is pointed out in revisionism, arguing that hunter-gatherer societies are formed as a result of marginalization within the power structure of the macro system.

7. Builds human capital: The Baka build and strengthen human capital by transmission and uptake of knowledge through observation of and participation in their livelihood activities. Knowledge is transferred horizontally as well as from older generations to youth by observation, active participation and word of mouth. Yet, lack of infrastructure, health and education institutions pose challenges for community members.

8. Coupled with local natural capital: The Baka have livelihoods that demand almost no external inputs, other than fuel for transportation of NTFPs and cacao beans. Their major energy sources for the food system, human labour and firewood are locally sourced and sufficiently supplied. Water is abundantly available. Soil quality is generally adequate due to a long fallow system, although some Baka recognized the quality to be inadequate for plantains. The major waste products are biodegradable from crop and forest products. The major changes seen since the 1990s are a result of their increased use of processed foods and, subsequently, non-biodegradable wastes.

9. Ecologically self-regulated: The Baka’s activities for forest management allow for spontaneous growth and ecological self-regulation, with little or no degradation of the environment. Some of their activities, relating to gathering honey and wild plants, ensure dispersal of useful fruit trees. Their philosophy behind resource management is not connected to the notion of sustainability, but rather “how to successfully collect food resources and promote health”. Despite the sustainability of the Baka’s practices, recent increases in bushmeat trade, commercial logging and conservation policies have not only caused a large disturbance to the ecological processes in the community but have also somewhat segregated the Baka’s livelihoods from the forest.

10. Functional diversity: The Baka source foods from 12 food groups (seven from their fields, eight from the forest), providing substantial diversity in their diets. Further, their forest resources can also be used for other purposes, such as building materials, furniture, cooking utensils, igniters, carriers, ropes, lighting, cosmetics and medicines. Agricultural and forest resource diversity has not changed in a major way over time. In the 1990s, some species were given cash value by the external economy and the profits from these contributes to the household economy considerably.

11. Optimally redundant: Because of the crop and species diversity, the food system has redundancy for some food groups. Having more varieties with different characteristics is perceived as a source of joy. Several food groups are also available through exchange with the Bantu and purchase in local stores, further increasing the diversity of available foods. The redundancy of forest resources has remained high over time; however, it has decreased with external interventions such as commercial logging. One exception is the increase of plants demanding substantial amounts of sunlight.

12. Spatial and temporal heterogeneity: The forest used by the Baka has areas with different types of vegetation, swampy areas and natural clearings. In the agroforest zone, a mosaic distribution of vegetation in different stages has been generated through the fallow system. Tree diversity in the agroforest zone is significantly higher than that of the logging zone.

13. Reasonably profitable. The Baka earn an income from which they can live on through NTFP sales, wage labour with the Bantu, and small-scale cacao cultivation in a few households. The cash income amount is still small, yet since they are nearly self-sufficient in food provision, only minimal supplies are necessary. The Baka are not driven to put significant effort into increasing their revenues. Their interest in cash use is oriented toward continuously fulfilling their daily needs, as well as satisfying instant personal or collective interests.

  • 3 Equivalent to USD 0.9.
  • 4 Equivalent to USD 1.8 to 3.5.
  • 5 Equivalent to USD 0.9-2.7.

“Individual independence in food sourcing is important to eat well and share food with everyone.”

Saying of the Baka from Dimgba.