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The East African : Jul 19th 2015
30 LAND RIGHTS Evicted, pygmies of Congo Basin Rainforest now want their ancestral land back Came≥oonian gove≥nment is emba≥king on seve≥al p≥ojects, including exploiting the ≥ich fo≥est, to d≥ive economic g≥owth By NDI EUGENE NDI Special Correspondent T he Bakas, an indigenous forest tribe who live in an area close to the Nki National Park in southeastern Cameroon, and the Bagyelis of South Kribi, near the Atlantic Ocean, are seeking a return to their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The two tribes were forced out of their ancestral land, which forms part of the rich Congo Basin Rainforest, when the government leased it to rubber-producing giant Hevecam. The company started operations in the forest nearly three years ago. The pygmy tribes were then relo- cated to the periphery of the forest in Bissiang, where the agro-industrial firm had prepared a resettlement camp for them. “We lived in the forest there,” said the Bagyeli community head, Albert Minyala, pointing towards an area being exploited for timber. “Then the government gave it to the firm, forcing us to move to this area.” But the move affected their life- style and source of income. Traditionally, the community mainly hunts unprotected animal species and harvests non-timber forest products that they exchange for other goods with their neighbours. “The camp did not match our initial habitat; we cannot carry out our traditional activities,” said Mr Minyala. The indigenous community now fears their future is under threat. They say that, because they are not involved in the management of the forest and related activities, the majority of them have become squatters on their own land. They also say that their entry into the forest is being restricted as expatriates take charge. “We cannot hunt or eat bush meat anymore because the company has destroyed the forest and the animals therein,” a Baka told The EastAfrican on condition of anonymity. Bissiang forms a significant part of the greater Congo Basin Rainforest, which also covers Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rainforest is not only the sec- ond largest in the world after the Amazon but is also rich in biodiversity. About 70 million people inhabiting the 300 million-hectare forest depend on it and its other products for their livelihood. According to the World Wild- life Fund, the forest contains the greatest number of mammals, pri- “The camp did not match our initial habitat; we cannot also carry out our traditional activities.” Albert Minyala, head of Bagyeli community mates, birds, amphibians, fish and swallowtail butterflies in Africa. More than 1,000 species of birds are found there too. Poor forestry governance, cou- pled with illegal logging, however, prevents most of the forest-dependent indigenous communities of the basin enjoying the benefits of their heritage. Weak laws Like most rural communities, the Bakas and the Bagyelis are not versed with the forestry and land tenure laws of Cameroon. Experts say that the suffering of the indigenous communities is the result of the weak laws which have failed to protect them. The secretary-general of the Cen- tre for Environment and Development in Cameroon, Samuel Nguiffo, said the indigenous forest people need to be empowered so that they can negotiate with logging and mining companies. “Rather than giving away land and resources to companies to the detriment of their citizens, African governments, including Cameroon’s, must respect the rights of the former and let them negotiate with investors on their own terms,” said Mr Nguiffo. “The companies, too, should be asking who owns the land they obtain before sealing the deal.” Meanwhile, illegal logging in the Congo Basin Rainforest, has deprived governments of revenue from timber. The World Bank estimates that about $10 billion to $15 billion is lost annually to illegal logging. NGOs and rights organisations, as well as governments, have put in place several initiatives to check Baka pygmies in the Congo Basin Rainforest. Picture: File the illegal exploitation of the Congo Basin Rainforest and non-timber forest products that would benefit local communities. The European Union has signed the Voluntary Partnership Agreements as part of its Forest Law En- LIFE IN THE BASIN The Congo Basin Rainforest is home to some of the most celebrated tribal people, the pygmies. Subsistence: Many of the rainforest’s inhabitants rely on its natural resources, which complement agricultural activities. Agricultural activities involve extensive rotation of cleared forest spaces, cultivation, abandonment, fallow reforestation and subsequent reclearing. forcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan adopted in 2003. Some Congo Basin countries — such as Cameroon and the DRC — have signed the agreement allowing legally harvested wood to be ex- The EastAfrican OUTLOOK JULY 18-24,2015 A Baka man. Picture: File Weak laws, easy ma≥kets aiding t≥ade in bush meat By EVELYN LIRRI Special Correspondent WEAK LAWS and easy access to markets for wildlife products are contributing to the growing trade in bush meat in Uganda, conservation groups say. According to a study published jointly by the International Institute for Environment and Development, Wildlife Conservation Society, Imperial College Conservation Science and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), attention is focused on preventing poaching of animals such as elephants and rhinos even though the hunting of other less celebrated animals for food or commercial purposes poses a big threat to the future of wildlife in Uganda and other countries across the continent. Bush meat hunting is the most widespread wildlife crime in Uganda, occurring in at least 20 of the 23 protected areas for which data was obtained, the study shows. While it does not quantify how much bush meat is hunted and sold annually, the report notes that one way to prevent the practice is to strengthen the legal system and put in place stronger penalties for offenders. In Uganda, convicted game traffickers get sentences ranging from three months to a few years or cash fines, depending on the type of crime committed. Dr Andrew Seguya, the executive direc- tor of UWA, said that the Wildlife Act, which is being revised by parliament, will ensure stronger penalties are put 20 yea≥s Expected minimum jail term under the revised law for a person found guilty of killing an elephant in place. “For example, we put the value of an el- ephant at Ush200 million ($60,940),” said Dr Seguya. “If you kill an elephant, you should serve a jail term of not less than 20 years.” An online database will soon be launched to track wildlife crime, which its perpetrators and common areas where such crimes occur, Dr Seguya added. Dr William Olupot, a wildlife expert who has done extensive research on bush meat and hunting patterns across East Africa, in Uganda, the practice is common in areas around the Kafu River Basin, Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Kigezi Wildlife Reserve, Murchison Falls National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park. Uganda has experienced major declines in its wildlife populations in the past four decades, largely as a result of poaching. For example, the country has only 6,500 hip- pos compared with more than 26,000 in the 1960s in the past four decades while the number of elephants declined from 30,000 to about 4,300. The population of white rhinos has also plummeted from more than 300 to only 15. Dr Olupot said the common animals hunted for their meat are bush pigs, buffalos, white rhino, impala, Uganda kob, bushbuck, oribi and waterbuck. “Bush meat-eating households regard it as tastier and more medicinal than livestock meat and fish,” said Dr Olupot. “Animal parts are also valued for spiritual uses and this is what, in part, drives hunting of some species.” In some cases, the feathers, skins or teeth of the animals are used as cultural artefacts or for personal adornment. Hunters also depend heavily on bush meat as a source of income.
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