Some villages in the south region of Cameroon have opted for the promotion of ecotourism as a way to preserve their forest reserves while fighting against poverty.
The eco friendly approach is being experienced in Campo, one of the biggest subdivisions in the south region that shares border with Equatorial Guinea. The municipality shares a vast coastal line with the Atlantic Ocean and a dense forest reserve which is being threatened by mass illegal deforestation and exploitation. Every year, thousands of cubic meters of wood species come out of the tropical forest in logs, cants and planks to reach to Kribi or Douala, where they will be either sold or shipped to Europe or Asia. According to the National Agency for Financial Investigation ANIF, both foreign and local logging companies are at the maneuver of this activity which causes the State of Cameroon to lose about 33 billion CFA francs each year. Added to this is the fact that the non-recommended activity does not benefit the affected communities. The fight against this phenomenon in recent years with the advocacy of environmental NGOs has begun bearing fruits. Thanks to the concept of sea turtle ecotourism in Ebodje for instance, the villagers have come to realize that illegal logging has decreased in their village.
Ebodje, haven for sea turtle
Ebodje is a small village of more than 1000 inhabitants, watered by the Atlantic Ocean. Each year between the months of August and March, period dedicated to egg-laying by the female turtles, the village registers a large number of tourists. “Sea turtle ecotourism has changed Ebodje,” says Oscar, a local resident. “In this village, there are several young people who have finished their secondary education thanks to the sponsorship system’’ he adds. A fisherman who catches a turtle, hands it over to the tourist. The latter takes care of the protected specie and releases it into the sea. In return, the tourist sponsors one of the fisherman’s children from primary to secondary school. The system of child sponsorship has led to the conversion of many villagers who have abandoned illegal logging to embrace eco friendly activities.
It took several years of sensitization and environmental education to teach the villagers to protect this aquatic mammal which was ignorantly cherished as food. The ecotouristic project initiated in 1998 by a Dutch foundation is presently managed a local NGO known as “Tube Awu” (our ocean). According to one of the conservers at the Ebodje turtle hut Albert Ndomi Yavoua, “all the tourists who arrive in Ebodje come for one reason only, to admire the turtles. The villagers therefore thought it wise to leave the forest and capitalize on this opportunity by playing the role of tourist guides, and carrying out income generating activities built around the turtle to fight against poverty”
An organized community
The community of Ebodje is organized around two local ecotourism associations, Ebotour and Tube Awu that manage ecotouristic activities with the accord the population whom they consult on all decisions relating to the operation of the project. Part of the income from ecotourism is paid directly to the villagers, and the other is used to finance community projects. All over the village, families have furnished rooms for visitors, small restaurants have sprung up and offer local dishes. Other activities such as fishing, excursions in the forest, and guided tours to the Lobe waterfall have occupied former loggers.
Worries of the villagers!
On May 6, 2022, the government of Cameroon signed a mining agreement with a Chinese company. A project which, according to the government, « should eventually bring at least 500 billion CFA francs to Cameroon », as well as thousands of jobs for young people. The people of Ebodje are not moved by the said investment benefits. Their major preoccupation is maintaining their special status as an ecotouristic village.
On May 13, 2022, the chief of Ebodjè released a memorandum signed by members of his community, drawing the attention of public authorities to the risks posed by this mining project to what constitutes the tourist attraction of the village. « The gradual disappearance of rare species such as protected sea turtles and natural touristic sites is imminent » exclaimed Chief Christian Ndjokou Djongoon on behalf of his people. To him, turtles and tourists have the right to resting places. The inhabitants of Ebodje recall that the mining area is located about twenty kilometers from their land which entails that mining activities can only result to negative effects on their natural environment and tourism promotion campaign.
Ateh Bonaventure /Rainforest Journalism Fund/Pulitzer Center