While the idea of creating ways for community self-sustainability is noble, it often hits a snag in Africa, mainly because of poverty and lack of structures but also because of rampant corruption and lack of education on how to properly utilize resources.
A good example of this is the Kongo forest in Cameroon where the Cameroonian government passed a law, the forestry law of 1994, giving villagers access to utilize forest resources in or around their villages. The Kongo village consisted of 500 inhabitants who mainly did small-scale farming for their own use.
The Bankoho Community of Kongo (COBANKO) was formed to oversee this process. Its partnered the Netherlands Development Organization’s (SNV) and Support for Sustainable Development in the Lomié/Dja region (SDDL), in helping to get the project off the ground. After the first two phases of the project, these partners gave way to the communities to do the exploitation on their own.
The communities, however, were unable to manage such a huge endeavor on their own, so they employed the help of different timber companies who managed to extract 1,096 m3 of sawn wood from the forest in five years. This helped somewhat, the community made 87000 dollars, approximately 27% of this was spent on community development and the rest on wages. Rife corruption set in, embezzlement and over-exploitation of forest resources became rampant and soon the project drew to a halt to allow time to find suitable timber operators that would adopt an environmentally friendly, small-scale approach.
There were many challenges encountered, the largest one was power struggles within the community, where their beliefs and their perception of the task at hand inhibited them from allowing for outside help. Where it should have been a simple business proposition became a power struggle resulting in serious difficulties in managing forest revenue.
The problems were numerous, a Food And Agriculture Organization (FAO) report states in part, “The case study of the Kongo community forest shows that communities need to strengthen their technical and management capacities. This is one of the conditions that will help lead to poverty reduction in rural areas. Success depends on proper implementation of the community forestry process. This entails the improvement of relations between the stakeholders involved, specifically between communities, the forest administration, and timber operators. Civil society, strengthened by SNV and other international organizations operating in Cameroon, can play a vital role in this area. It is in this vein that SNV and DFID have, since May 2006, been supporting a new program known as the Forest Governance Facility (FGF) in Cameroon. The aim of this program is to develop a ‘discussion forum’ and to facilitate the commitment and participation of non-State stakeholders in the development and implementation of Cameroon’s environmental and forestry policy. The other objective of the program is to improve the overall context to render faster, sustainable practices in the forest and environment sectors in Cameroon, within a framework of good governance and equity.”