Women transporting seedlings to the forest. Image credit: Courtesy of CAMGEW

Restoring Kilum-Ijim Forest Biodiversity by Centering Social Justice and Women's Empowerment

The 20,000-hectare Kilum-Ijim Forest is the largest remaining area of the Afro-montane rainforest on the African continent. It is the last remaining habitat for the Bannerman’s turaco (Tauracobannermani), a bird listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The region also provides critical habitat for the Newtonia camerunensis, a leguminous tree only found in Cameroon that is critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. The forest’s particular ecosystem properties have made it the only place in the world where one can find the naturally white and creamy honey referred to as Oku White Honey. It is one of only two products in Cameroon certified as a Geographical Indication Product, recognizing its unique endemic properties.

Bushfires, agricultural encroachment, and unsustainable forest harvesting have significantly degraded and fragmented the Kilum-Ijim Forest. In 2012, seven bushfires destroyed large swaths of Kilum-ljim, and in 2014, more than 1,000 hectares of the forest were destroyed. Women and youth suffer the most from poverty and unemployment in the villages around Kilum-Ijim. Women have been excluded from apiculture and forest-management activities, as men often dominate these.

CAMGEW tree planting in the forest involve men, women, and youth. Image credit: Courtesy of CAMGEW

The forests of Mount Oku and the Ijim ridge is a designated Key Biodiversity Area in the wider Guinean Forests of West Africa Biodiversity Hotspot. The Kilum-Ijim area hosts 18 community forests predominantly used and managed by three tribes, the Nso, Oku, and Kom, and a Plant Life Sanctuary, protected by the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife near Lake Oku. The area is known for traditional healers, wood carving, and non-timber forest products (NTFPs), including honey, mushrooms, medicinal plants, and spices. While tribes continue to value the forest, the growing population of nearly 300,000 people among 44 villages within walking distance of forested areas has increased pressures on the ecosystem.

The organization Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch (CAMGEW) created a project called the HoneyShop in Bamenda to support the sustainable livelihoods of bee farmers in the region. The HoneyShop sells various products such as honey, beeswax, candles, bee suits, bee smokers, honey wine, honey juice, soap, and lotion. The learning facilities at the Honey shop also serve as a demonstration and resource center for the public.

Trainees field honey production. Image credit: Courtesy of CAMGEW

Funding for this project will promote the protection and restoration of Kilum-Ijim forest biodiversity. This will be accomplished by:

  • Developing a tree nursery of 20,000 native forest trees that will protect watersheds, increasing bee forage and biodiversity in 100 hectares of forest;
  • Planting 20,000  native  forest  trees  in  Kilum  forest  to  protect  watersheds,  increasing  bee  forage  and biodiversity;
  • Organizing training for  300  forest beekeepers in  Kilum-Ijim,  Magba, and  Bankim and providing them with 600 beehives to increase honey production in the forest to fight bushfires that destroy the forest.
  • Organizing a capacity-building workshop for ten forest community leaders on bushfire prevention. This will strengthen them to lead bushfire campaigns in their various forest communities

Funding will also promote agroforestry practices that conserve the soil and increase food production around Kilum-Ijim forest peripheries to adapt to climate change. This will involve:

  • Ten agroforestry training for 20 days around the Kilum-Ijim forest and Bamenda highlands communities of Magba and Bankim for 300 community members, especially women and youths.
  • Provide  30,000  seedlings and seeds of improved fruits, climbers,  medicinal plants, and vegetables to trained farmers.

As of 2021, CAMGEW had planted 104,446 native and bee-loving trees to regenerate the forest. This has been successful thanks to  CAMGEW’s holistic approach ranging from forest education, tree nursery development, tree planting, bee farming as an opportunity cost to forgone bushfires, agroforestry techniques, and bushfire prevention campaigns. The success of the  Kilum-Ijim communities in managing their forests and improving the livelihoods of women and youths did not go unnoticed by the rest of the Bamenda Highlands Region.

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