Environment: 70% of Mangrove Loss Attributed to the Absence of Laws
A mangrove area transformed into a housing area

Environment: 70% of Mangrove Loss Attributed to the Absence of Laws

The absence of sanctions and specific legal texts governing the degradation of this fragile ecosystem contributes to its over exploitation and rapid depletion in the Littoral region of Cameroon Environment Mangrove Loss.

Machete strokes and power saws sound echo in the open air. The regular sound of these cutting tools banging against a tree does not stop. The further you go into the forest, the more noticeable this noise becomes. It punctuates the daily life of Bonabome 3 in Bonaberi, Douala IV subdivision. On this afternoon of Monday 03 October 2022, the soil is wet and muddy. Dexterity must be exercised when walking on this path, barely one meter wide, fitted with mud. Felix Wum shows up in the middle of the landscape in front of us.

The young man of thirty years old wears a red t-shirt and shorts with green boots. Felix holds a machete in his right hand and a long pole over his left shoulder. He has just cut this shrub in the wooded mangroves  area on the banks of Wouri.  » I harvest wood every day to build my house on a plot of land of 150m2 that I bought a year ago for 150 000 CFA francs from a local resident« ,  explained this internally displaced person who fled the conflicts of the  Anglophone crisis in the South West region, neighbouring the Littoral region.

Félix Wum is not the only one involved in this activity. Many other inhabitants of this quarter admit that on a daily basis, they harvest mangrove of this ecosystem, either for construction or for firewood. A multitude of land markers implanted in the mud on both sides indicate that anything that is not in line with the Cameroon law, recalls us that « these areas are prohibited from exploitation« .

Felix Wum is back from the forest

Mangrove Under High Pressures

« At the time, only one house was visible on a wide perimeter, that of ‘Chef de Bord’. Today, there are more than 50 houses built or being built in this small area », Félix Wum said while pointing to an area covering one hectare, clearly marked out in the mud. A notice board indicates that it is  » a military land « . Mangrove in the Cameroon estuary is subject to high pressure in Bonabéri, where according to a study by the Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development (Minepded), about 31% of these ecosystem has disappeared in 5 years.

Furthermore, at Yoyo, a locality situated in the Sanaga Maritime division, strong pressures are also recorded on mangroves. In 2018, Edouard Yougouda, the Divisional Delegate of Minepded at the time, tried to curb the trend. Above all, he was at the head of many reforestation campaigns in damaged areas. During a field trip to assess the work carried out by the teams, Edouard Yougouda met a man busily cutting down mangrove wood at the edge of the reforestation area. Although he was very upset by this discovery, he was powerless against this deforestation practitioner.

« He was clearing everything for more replanting. But I couldn’t do anything except sensitising him, since there is no legal provision to punish him. The law is silent. Much effort has been made in Yoyo 1, Yoyo 2 and Biako areas where we have reforested hundreds of hectares, but once we leave , people continue to cut down trees in order for us to plant more. We have raised awareness, and then raised it again. We are stymied, » said the disappointed Delegate.

He pinpointed main mangrove destroyers in Yoyo to be Nigerians, Ghanaians and Beninese.  » Quite often, we lack necessary resources to implement stronger actions. In order to totally fight against anarchical exploitation of mangrove along the Wouri, one must have necessary means to move around the rivers. Thus, at times, we rely on military authorities who are in the position of seizing illegally exploited timber. However, resources are still limited, » deplored the Delegate.

Based on the document of the National Strategy for Sustainable Management of Mangroves and other Coastal Ecosystems in Cameroon published in 2018 by Minepded, the country has lost almost half of its mangrove area in 30 years. In a survey report issued by the Participatory Management and Conservation of Mangrove Ecosystems in Cameroon project, mangroves are being massively exploited for fish smoking in the Yoyo area located in the Cameroon estuary.  According to the report,  » Protecting the mangroves in this area requires limiting or controlling the rate of exploitation (…) ».



 « The Law Is Silent »

Edouard Yougouda is currently the Regional Delegate of Minepded of the Littoral. Despite his ascent to the top of the administration, his hands are still tied. The chapter on sanctions in Law  No. 96/12 of 5 August 1996 on the framework law on environmental management is silent. In Yougouda’s view, this legal silence contributes to 40% of mangrove loss in the Littoral. More, up to 70%, estimated Dr. Joseph Magloire Olinga. The Deputy Director of Studies and Environmental Protection at the Douala Urban Council pointed this out during a debate organised by Adisi Cameroun within the framework of the Odeca’s project. The this percentage was based on a personal analysis of recurrent land management problems.

This 40-page framework law on environmental management, which we read through, sets out a number of sanctions for those who destroy the environment. However, no criminal sanctions are clearly set out for those who specifically put pressure on mangroves. However, this law acknowledges how important this fragile ecosystem is. Article 94 states: « Mangroves are subject to special protection that takes into account their role and importance in the conservation of marine biological diversity and the maintenance of coastal ecological balances. »

Article 62 above in Chapter 5, though it does not mention mangroves directly, states that the protection of nature, the preservation of animal and plant species and their natural habitats, maintaining biological and genetic balances from any cause of degradation and threats of extinction are of national interest (…). « (…) It is the duty of the government and of every citizen to ensure the preservation of this natural heritage. »

Environment Mangrove Loss Ignorance and Absence of Legislation

At the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (Minfof), it is recalled that mangrove is a forest. This explains the fact that laws apply to the forest also concern « mangrove forests ». Law  No. 94-01 of 20 January 1994 on Forest, Wildlife and Fisheries Regime under Title 6 “Enforcement of Infringements” does not specifically mention mangroves. “The law of 1994 is a law that concerns forests. And if we want to consider mangrove as a forest, it is quite reasonable to mention it. However, this is not what it’s all about, » argued Prof. Ndongo Din, a mangrove expert and lecturer (researcher) at the University of Douala.

To understand this legal vacuum on the particular issue of mangroves in Cameroon, experts of this sector point out that the law was drafted in a context where some issues were not yet raised and it is necessary to contextualise it. « In 1996, we were in line with the United Nations Framework Convention, we had to go to Rio. After Rio, we quickly drafted the laws. But today, there are other issues at stake. Mangroves are not managed in a sustainable way, » Dr. Olinga noted.

In the final report of the sub-regional forum of the Central African Forest Commission (Comifac) held in Douala in June 2017, Dr. Gordon Ajonina of the African Mangrove Network highlights ignorance and the absence of appropriate legislation as threats to this ecosystem.


Environment Mangrove Loss For a Special Legal Status

However, Cameroon is not ill-equipped in terms of texts and laws on the overall issue of protecting biodiversity. In the survey report  on the mangrove ecosystems are listed about twenty ratified conventions (Rio 92, Ramsar, World Heritage Paris 1972…), cooperation agreements (Fauna and Flora of the Lake Chad Basin…), memberships in regional and international processes and organisations (World Conservation Union, Comifac, Cefghac …). Finally, the report mentions some initiatives undertaken in the field for the protection and conservation of mangroves by organisations such as the Cwcs in Mouanko, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Fao.

« Despite these efforts, policies, laws and institutional measures for the protection of these mangroves are still insufficient. Mangroves are under the control of several ministries: the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife, Minepded, the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Fisheries and Animal Industries, etc., » states the final report of the Comifac forum.

A situation which does not ease the management of this special ecosystem. Mangroves, as Dr. Ajonina pointed out, straddle three types of ecosystems: the terrestrial ecosystem, the freshwater ecosystem and the marine ecosystem. A specificity which, in the view of many experts and government authorities in charge of issues indirectly related to mangroves, requires the establishment of a special legal status Environment Mangrove Loss.

Mathias Mouendé Ngamo

This investigation journalism study was conducted in collaboration with Data Cameroon, as part of the Open Data for Environment and Civic Awareness in Cameroon (ODECA) project, put into place by ADISI-CAMEROUN. It is funded by the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) as part of its Open Climate for Reporting Initiative (OCRI).
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