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Cameroon: Creation of National Park Will Protect Biodiversity And Boost Development

Posted by Admin on Feb 2nd, 2010 and filed under Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Ryan Dicovitsky| 2 Fevrier 2010| Media Global

Towering over the surrounding area, Mount Cameroon’s new designation as a national park will bring new benefits to both the environment and local population. (Photo credit: Flickr users John & Mel Kots/Creative Commons.)

On the shores of the Gulf of Guinea, the actively volcanic Mount Cameroon towers over the landscape, functioning not only as the tallest mountain in the region but also as the epicenter of biological diversity. Elephants and chimpanzees roam the local forests amidst multiple species of rare plants, creating a scene unparalleled both in west Africa and throughout the world. And although local humans thrive off the resources given to them by the lush environment, their presence may be putting the entire ecosystem at risk.

In response to the growing threat posed by the human population, the Cameroon government decreed in December that Mount Cameroon and the surrounding area would be designated a national park. Although environmental protection will preserve the diverse wildlife near Mount Cameroon, the decree is also expected to bring economic benefits to the same population which serves as an existential threat to the environment.

Dr. Atanga Ekobo, the Coordinator for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Coastal Forests Programme and based in Cameroon, described to MediaGlobal how the creation of the Mount Cameroon National Park will benefit the local population. He said “The park will trigger the government to create investment in the locality, especially [on] roads and other infrastructure.” The park is also expected to function as a tourist destination, creating a multitude of necessary jobs to keep the park operational.

In order to protect the environment and help the local population, though, certain old practices will have to be discarded. The WWF points out that multiple human activities have brought an assault on Mount Cameroon from all angles. Hunting and the encroachment of local cities have placed animals at great risk of extinction. The creeping urbanization has also meant that water resources are threatened, spinning the deleterious effects back on the population. As Ekobo put it: “The park is a watershed of the area and the environs, providing water to over 300,000 inhabitants. The encroachment to the remaining forest would deprive them [people] of this important resource.”

Rather counter-intuitively, the greatest threat to Mount Cameroon is farming and agricultural activities. Considering that agriculture is often a key component of economic growth for Africans, halting its progress might raise eyebrows in some development circles. Yet, the detrimental effects to the environment, and subsequently to human inhabitants, have been clear. For example, residents regularly use trees and brush as firewood and torches to search for honey, prepare their farms, and even aid in their search for game. Although useful, the continual burning of the landscape is damaging the long-term health of the forest.

The soil of the land has proved to be an equally dangerous double-edged sword. It is so rich that farmers find the land very suitable for their livelihoods and the government has turned the land into an agricultural co-operative. However, over-farming has begun to take a mighty toll on the viability of the land.

To ensure that the population was given a say on the national park and that the process remained transparent, the government made sure to be inclusive at every step of the process. Collaborating with the WWF, the government started the process of creating the park with public input, as required by national forestry laws. Ekobo noted that “meetings took place at the regional, divisional, sub-divisional and village levels.” Maintaining the sense of transparency and involvement, the signatures of all the participants in the discussions were forwarded to the Prime Ministry with other paperwork.

Like anywhere else, trying to find an acceptable medium between human development and environmental protection is a tough, but necessary, challenge. Hopefully the residents of the area surrounding Mount Cameroon will benefit from the new park designation, and see their lives improve dramatically. It appears that this decision was made at just the right time, because as Ekobo put it, “This important flora biodiversity hotspot could be wiped out in the next 10 to 20 years.”

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