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Indigenous Baka people in the East Region of Cameroon have been consulted on the renewal of a three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) they signed with Cameroon’s Ministry of Forest and Wildlife (MINFOF). The MoU that was signed in February 2019 defined the framework regulating access to resources areas within Lobeke, Boumba Bek and part of Nki National Parks by the Baka in the East Region of Cameroon.
An evaluation of the implementation of the Accord, conducted by a team comprising MINFOF personnel and representatives of some civil society organisations, showed that while the MoU permitted the Baka to gain access to the forest, they still faced several challenges from fully enjoying their access rights. Absence of a monitoring committee to follow up implementation of the MoU’s action plan, lack of financial and human resources capacity of ASBABUK (the Baka Association representing the Baka), to conduct sensitization in the entire area, and conflict with sport hunting hunters, are some of the problems that plagued the implementation of the MoU.
In a bid to collect the views of Baka and produce a much improved MoU that will meet their hopes and aspirations, a vast field consultation was carried out in June 2022 involving 88 Baka villages straddling the Lobeke, Nki and Boumba Bek National Parks and the Ngoyla Wildlife Reserve. Local and national NGOs that make up the consortium of civil society organisations working to promote the rights of Baka, RACOPY (Réseau Action Concerté Pygmé comprising Okani, AAFEBEN, Fusion Nature, CADDAP, CEFAID, PERAD, ASTRADHE and ASBABAK), carried out the consultation with the support of WWF and GIZ.
Views of Baka collected during the consultation revealed that in spite having obtained free access to protected areas through the MoU, lack of collaboration by key actors operating in the periphery of the parks like sports hunters contributed to deny many Baka access to protected areas. About 50% percent of Baka of the 88 communities consulted said they could not have access to the parks due mainly to fear of reprisals from safaris. Other reasons are linked to their lack of awareness of the MoU.
For Yaya Marcel, Baka man of Mambele village, “the MoU has been very beneficial for Baka. We went into the park and carried out our activities as before without any problems. However, many Baka were afraid to go to the conservation service to request authorisation to go to the park.”
“The MoU enabled us to freely move into the forest and carry out our activities as in the time of our parents. That is what is important for the Baka in the paper we signed with Government,” says Gabale Beatrice, Baka woman of Long Trait community situated on the fringes of Lobeke National Park.
Role of stakeholders
Following the consultation, key partners including RACOPY and FPP (Forest People Programme) with the support of WWF and GIZ are working together to propose a draft revised document to be submitted to MINFOF for review and validation. The expected outcome is a new MoU that reflects Baka communities' aspirations for access to resources in national parks, clarifies the responsibilities of both parties (the communities and MINFOF), ensures greater representativeness of ASBABUK in all the areas covered by the MoU, and establish a mechanism to evaluate their commitments.
This will entail listening to the indigenous Baka on how they wish to collaborate with the conservation services (conservators and eco-guards among others) and the various actors involved in the management of protected areas and their peripheral zones (community hunting and sport hunting zones, forest concessions, community forests, etc.).
“From the series of meetings held around the Lobeke and Nki National Parks that were assigned to us, by using participatory approaches with simple illustrative tools where communities participate democratically, we were able to learn many lessons,” states Venant Messe, Coordinator of OKANI.
“For the communities, crucial problems linked to this MoU are human-wildlife conflicts, the restructuring of the body (ASBABUK) implementing the MoU and financing. How to finance the implementation of the MoU is a challenge to be met so that the Baka Association (ASBABUK), CSOs, international organisations and even the government can effectively accompany this process,” Messe says.
For WWF, one of the main partners that is supporting the MoU revision process, “working with all partners as well as key actors around protected areas will produce a more inclusive document, ensure effective implementation and guarantee greater access to natural resources for the Baka,” states Moise Kono, WWF Cameroon IP Coordinator.