Stemming the tide of Desertification and Land degradation in Cameroon.
The National Action Plan for the Fight Against desertification (PAN/LCD)
A lost opportunity for Poverty Reduction and Fight against Climate Change?
According to UNCCD, Desertification is the extreme deterioration of land in arid and dry sub-humid areas due to loss of vegetation and soil moisture; desertification results chiefly from man-made activities and influenced by climatic variations. It is principally caused by overgrazing, over drafting of groundwater and diversion of water from rivers for human consumption and industrial use, all of these processes fundamentally driven by overpopulation. Desertification is a Global challenge, particularly in Africa where 66% of the surface area is arid lands or deserts and where approximately 70% of the agricultural land is almost degraded.
In Cameroon, the phenomenon have taken a worsening effect over the years , triggering a vicious circle of environmental degradation, leading to impoverishment , food insecurity and mass migration in the very dry areas of the North and Extreme North. Through The National Action Plan for the Fight against Desertification (the Country’s Blue print for the control of desertification) clearly sufficient studies have established the causes and impacts of desertification as well as identified responses and strategies. The country has also engaged in the fight against desertification through the ratifying the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), leading to the ‘PAN/LCD. However, with all these efforts, very little have been achieved and desertification, land degradation have progressed with disastrous consequences. The aim of this paper is to analyse issues related to desertification, bring out some current threats, look into the PAN/LCD, why it is failing and propose some recommendations.
Current threats of Desertification and land degradation in Cameroon.
Desertification and land degradation poses a real threat to the country as a whole most especially in the Regions of the Far and North, Adamawa West and North West. These regions are priority Regions for emergency actions to combat desertification and land degradation in the ‘National Plan for the Fight Against Desertification in Cameroon. (PAN/LCD)
Of recent, Cameroon some part of the Nation has witnessed the worst effects of Desertification and land degradation. The Bamboutos division, witness high level of water shortages never before, in Bui division all the run offs and water source dried off leaving the Kumbo Water Authorities wondering where there got it wrong. The story was same for Donga Mantung whose water tables have dropped by almost 50% in the past 25 years, etc. Mezam division was most affected by the effect of land degradation with heavy floods, inundation, erosions rock falls and mud flows that led to the collapsed of the main road into the NW region, in Menchum, mudflows and rock fall are frequent along the highway, increase in Farmer - Pastoralist tension and conflicts as witnessed in Ngu Sabongari. In the Northern part of the Cameroon, wild fires have increased, the cutting of wood for fuel doubled, conflict between locals and Migrant pastoralist from neighbouring countries etc. These examples and much more are clear indications of the effects of desertification and land degradation as result failures of the state to put in place appropriate mitigating measures and operationalise the PAN/LCD which in itself lack substance.
The principal threats of desertification and land degradation in Cameroon are;
Ø Drying off of fresh water sources such as witness in Mbouda, Kumbo, Nkambe
Ø Soil erosion and soil fertility lost leading to lost of cohesion consequently landslides, mud flows, flooding as witness in the Bamenda of recent.
Ø Flooding, sand and dust storms, siltation of drains, common in the Northern part of the country.
Ø Loss of vegetation cover, pollution of surface and ground water, salination and alkalization of the soils. All these effects are already being witnessed in many part of the country. Even along the tropical evergreen area of Cameroon, desertification and land degradation especially is very prominent contrary to popular opinions. This region particularly suffers from land degradation and pollution of land and water bodies.
Consequences of Desertification and Land degradation in Cameroon
According to the UN, desertification and drought deprive people of their livelihoods by taking away their source of food production, food quality and quantity, access to water, energy, particularly wood fuel and biodiversity which are at the heart of their economic activities and livelihood security. The effects does not only end at the environmental and resource level, in Cameroon and other countries these negative manifest into ethnic and political due to conflicts over the use of the scarce resources such as water, fodder, wood, fertile soils, and further undermines the already fragile local and National integration and security as prominent in the NW, North and Far North regions. In view of international perspectives, cross-border movements by Pastoralists in search of greener pastures for their animals interferes with host communities Agricultural lands water sources and cultures which often leads to tribal and ethnic tensions as witness in the savannah regions of Cameroon along the frontiers with Nigerian Chad, etc
In a total surface area of 475, 105 ha, forest covered an area of 280.25, 105 ha in 1965. This forest area
dropped to 233, 105 ha in 1980, of which about 165 105 ha of exploitable dense forest was for
Woodwork (World Bank, 1992). Meanwhile in 1995, the extent of Cameroon forestland camedown to 195.98 105 ha, that is a disappearance of 37.02 105 ha of forest compared to 1980Besides, desertification and land degradation has been the bane for massive rural exodus with some communities completely wiped out as witness in the North of Cameroon.
Desertification and Climate change.
Scientists have established the intricate relationship between climate change and desertification. It is exacerbated by climate change and climate change is further exacerbated by the effects of desertification and land degradation. According to Zasilari, human induced ( Land Use and land Use Changes and deforestation) activities have lead to the emissions of Greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the over concentration of these gases is responsible for climate change and global warming. It has been further affirmed that, the ongoing climate change will accelerate land degradation by exposing unprotected soil with the most affected areas being the dry lands and savannah regions. In Sub Sahara Africa, including Cameroon, climate change models predicts higher temperatures which will cause drying up of the soil and water bodies increasing pest and diseases and reduction in the areas for livestock and food production. Already, mean rainfall predictions shows drops and erratic patterns with increasing extremes weather patterns worsening desertification and land degradation.
It is the realization of this intricate and complex relationship between climate change and desertification that the Rio conventions, viz, United Nations Convention to Combat desertification, The United Nations Frame Work Conventions on Climate Change, and the UN Conventions on Biodiversity acknowledge the value of a synergy to better achieve their respective goals.
In the yesteryears, much more efforts were put in place, some which lack appropriate research and led to mix results, like the introduction of foreign species to the area that ended up killing local vegetation adapted to the Sahel zone, such has the introduction of Eucalyptus Trees from Australia which is now more of an environmental hazard and dilemma
Where has the state failed in combating Desertification and Land Degradation
As far back as the late 60’s Cameroon, the issue have been futuring in the agenda of successive government and all the many structuring and restructuring of the Ministries, the fight against desertification and land degradation have always been allocated important funds, why has very little been achieved? Why the results are attained not reciprocating the amount of time and energy put in? Many excellent projects, plans and programs like the ‘Operation Green Sahel, the PAN/LCD etc, huge amount of funding, hundreds workshops, conferences and seminars the problem is on the increase, more land farm lands are being lost to the desert, poor farming practices are persistent, environmental ignorance is on the increase, water and food shortages, environmental conflicts are on the increase etc. the reason is very simple, the Cameroon government have not decided to take decisive decision that is equal to the challenge needed.
Ø The government is still in the dark as to the direction to take, who to do what, when and how. The government prefers to react to situations than take preventive actions. The frequent Environmental problems faced are fast becoming good area of political propaganda where politicians use to obtain cheap scores. Example of the shameful collapse of the road in Bamendakwe and subsequent media frenzy and a simulation of rehabilitation work.
Ø The activities are reactionary and erratic, successive ministers and ministry meant to take care of the issue are not ready to tackle the issues ‘head-on’, they prefer erratic responses to disaster and occurrence, ‘plants are few trees here and there and call in the press and journalists’ etc.
Ø Corruption and misplaced priorities by responsible those in charge. With the huge funds available from the international communities, Cameroon is now being considered by the NGO world as a place to come and make fast, hot cash. Considering the strategic geographical position of the country, the international cannot afford to sideline Us. So many International projects and their Staffs are now very fast at learning and doing things ‘the Cameroonian way’. Many of the projects are not effective because the money is simply put into private pockets, simple. Signs of misplaced priorities can be seen every where , just look at the PSFE , all that we can show for are the pick up cars and new equipments that ends up as private properties ‘anyway’. one of the most genius ideas ‘en vogue’ now in the NW region with the MINFOF Staff is the creation of nurseries or worst still the use of ‘ success story nurseries’ in their localities to show off. Visitor after visitor will be driven to these nurseries of a handful of very green leafy plants. “Too much for the fight against desertification.” Some of them are big merchants in plants from Tax Payers money to the Tax payer.
Ø Many say, many projects don’t come to Cameroon because they are places with much more urgent needs, but the truth is, the name Cameroon is tantamount to Corruption and corrupt citizens that is the main reason why many NGOs, projects and Private initiatives for the fight against environmental degradation don’t dare to step into Cameroon. We are in the domain just demand for details and examples.
Ø Another strange reason which I just realized is Cameroon’s visibility in the international arena. In environmental diplomacy, Cameroon is simply not interested. The the presence of Cameroon government is not felf at the international arena. Top State officials don't attend International meetings, if so , they will send a very ‘ Perdieme (DSA) conscious political pupil in the name of Researcher, who is more interested in searching for family Members, friends or deuxieme bureaus’ that very often accompany them, than listening, following up and negotiating for the country. I have been traumatized many times by Cameroonian professional who come to international environmental conferences, ill prepared if at all. One clearly said he forgot his USB key with his presentation while the whole world was waiting. The most prepared ones will simple do ‘copy and paste of some text books or undertake their presentations on word.
Ø Many of the engagements relating to environment and conservation unlike other countries, are not Indigenous Initiatives. The ideas are either copied from outside or are from International agendas, conventions, or recommendations. I don’t think if the PAN/LCD was a Cameroonian agenda, with the UNDP and UNOP logos on it, it most have been sponsored 102% by the UN bodies. It is because of this that, such a Plan as PAN/LCD become impossible to operationalise, because the ideas did not come from Us, we never allocate budget or time for it. So it is just another Perdieme making exercise after which the Ministries decorate their shelves, and another media show-off.
Ø Let’s look into the public service recruitment and trainings: I mean those who are suppose to operationalise such Plans as PAN/LCD, from the various forestry, environment and related training institutions. Very few go to these schools out of the desire to work, they want Public service matriculation ’payment for very little or no work done’ simple, they prefer to stay in Yaoundé or the regional capitals, no where near the divisions or rural areas. ‘for me it is tantamount to unemployment benefits in the West.
Let’s look at the PAN/LCD
According to the ‘then’ minister of MINEF, the PAN/LCD is a tool that can be useful if it is operationalise. True, so what have become of the ‘operationalisaion’ of the tool since it was published, don’t ask me when, for there is no date on the document. The minister makes it very clear in the Preface of the tool that the government of Cameroon is simply following in the foot steps of the international conventions, Rio, Kyoto, MDGs, as I said its very difficult to operationalise what you did not conceive, it takes extra work, conviction and sacrifice. I don’t see it in Cameroon.
Lets take a look into some of the chapters of the PAN /LCD.
Page 76, VII titled RISQUES, this chapter focuses on why the PAN/LCD can fail to materialise. Apart from ‘ les risqués lies à la pauvreté et la paupérisation, very understandable, the most explicit ‘risques’ was ‘ Les risques institutionnels et organisationnels’ here the challenges are linked to the limitations of the technical services, Staffs to operationalise the plan , Staff quality and the field realities. This ‘Risqué’ is the most explicit, but come to look at it, it s the easiest to surmount. It just needs a government with a vision, enough will and focus.
Other ‘risques’ ares juridiques, environnementaux, financiers, normal Project ‘stuffs’ nothing to write home about.
Factors for the success of the PAN /LCD.
Looking factors giving as reasons for success of the plan makes the whole thing looks gloomy and I prefer to consider the document an academic thesis. Factors like setting up a National desertification observatory, capacity building for “ All” stakeholders, bringing in the local population or ‘ Grassroots’ and the 10th and last point is the most interesting, considering ‘Gender aspect in the LCD’ very simplistic and very Cameroon project writing style. No passion no conviction.
The conclusion of the PAN/LCD, any way it is just another conclusion, no ‘X’ factor, I can’t even say what I was looking for in the conclusion that I have not seen in the whole document.
What can we do to fight Desertification and Land degradation in Cameroon?
It is rightly said ‘Criticism without recommendation for fixing or ameliorating the situation is gossiping or bad faith, which is the truth. Since I have no bad faith, I will like to offer my own modest recommendations. My recommendations are inspired by what I am witnessing in the rural areas of the dry sahelian lands of West Africa, where I intervene. Very simple and straight forward.
- Education and sensitisation of the Grassroots: adaptable and easily understood materials, coloured pictures almanacs or cartoon illustrations. I don’t mean badly printed almanacs as seen all over the place.
- Building of platforms and synergies between projects, programmes, communities and Local and decentralisation government structures.
- Innovations, lets be innovative in our work or project conception, lets bring in more innovative and simple approaches , lets make the whole thing more ‘ enjoyable’ , what happened to the ‘ one tree per child or birth certificate’ of the Kumbo council.
- start with the children, especially when they are still young , not yet corrupt like Us, start when their minds can still have time to wonder why things grow, encourage them to plant trees, flowers etc . I started very young, if supported and sensitize, I should have been a noble prize winner for the environment today.
Desertification and land degradation, climate fluctuations and change, are challenges which are putting humanity at risk of disappearance, it does not need the state or CSO, and International organisation to take up the fight for survival. The Grassroots have more roles to play, and the above just need to offer support and the enabling environment to do so effectively. I am still waiting to see grassroots mobilisation against these challenges in Cameroon. With the political changes taking place like decentralisation, we need to see communities taking up these challenges. Yesteryears, In the North West region of Cameroon, community mobilisation use to be a very effective development tool, but with the advent of democracy and development NGOs, this very important tool is dying down very fast in an era when it is most needed. We need to bring back this tool, maybe in a more advanced and so – call ‘civilised’ manner, what ever manner, community mobilisation needs to comeback. The traditional rulers and Leaders needs to be at the epi- centre of community development as it use to be. That’s why the Government of Cameroon has to support initiatives like the Cameroon Traditional Rulers Against Climate Change (CAMTRACC) to take back the fight against Global challenges to where it is most effective i.e. the Grassroots.
Food for thought:
All through, we have been advocating for Mitigation, we have been talking about the need to stop desertification and land degradation. What about Adaptation and change in our lifestyle. Is adaptation a better way of solving these challenges or is it a cowardice surrendering to the caprices of nature as one prominent Environmentalist put it. Let’s think about it.
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