In recent years, many villagers residing in the undulating topography of Cameroon’s Northwest region, have taken an unusual interest in planting hectares of the fast-growing evergreen Eucalyptus trees.
The goal was purely economic – rather than environmental: Once the trees attained maturity, they were immediately felled, and used for furniture, building construction and in some cases, as fuel wood. But these sun-loving deciduous Eucalyptus trees posed an even bigger environmental problem long before they were cut down.
“The expansion of the eucalyptus trees into water catchment areas reportedly absorbed waters deep from the ground, causing water scarcity,” said Dr. John Paul Suiven , an environmental expert in the North West region.
Overgrazing by cattle breeders only makes matters worse, says Dr. Suiven.
“Most lands have witnessed degradation due to overgrazing. The Northwest region is the third highest cattle breeding area in the country."
This means that mainly Fulani cattle breeders require green pastures to feed their cattle, causing massive soil erosion in the process, he added.
“Jakiri in Bui Division is a glaring example of just how soil erosion emanating from these practices can have a devastating impact on agricultural activities.”
Two forest reserves in the region – the Kilium–Ijim Mountain reserve and Bali Ngemba forest reserve – are today a shadow of themselves as a result of uncoordinated felling of trees.
But two environmentalists have taken up the challenge to restore the region’s degraded land through various tree-planting initiatives.
One of them, Erasmus Tewu, thinks the solution lies in instilling tree-planting culture among youths. The Chief Executive Officer of New Vision for an Eco–friendly Environment is championing a youth-led program named “Green Legacy World”.
The program engages young people to plant ornamental and fruit trees in Mezam Division of the region. “We chose tree planting the day we discovered that trees and oceans combined can absorb up to 40% CO2 emissions,” Tewu says.
“We plant fruit and medicinal trees like “moringa” and “pine” to solve environmental and fruit problems,” he said. “We have the vision to plant 10 million trees in some parts of Cameroon within the next 7 years.”
His organization has already planted over 2,000 trees within the division. Another strategy which he is using is encouraging people in the region to plant a tree on their birthday for posterity.
Maurice Tambe Ebai is another environmentalist trying to change the climate change narrative in the region. “Land degradation is a major problem we are facing in the Bui Division,” Ebai says.
“This is mostly caused by wildfire (bush fire) which burns most of the trees and makes the land susceptible to soil erosion.”
Ebai adds that bushfires have extended to water catchment areas “thereby giving room for a water crisis.”
“Some of the trees have been cut down to give room for pasture for cattle,” he said, adding: “But we have been doing some tree planting to reforest the land, especially along the lawns in green spaces in Kumbo created by the Ministry of Environment and Nature protection.”
Ebai and Tewu are just two among many other environmental activists fighting environmental degradation in a region also roiled by civil strife.
Environmental sustainability through reforestation: Everyone’s concern
Another advocate, Franklin Ngalim leads the Greens non-governmental organization while Lovees Aferbombi, heads the sister Rural Women Centre for Education and Development. While the former engages communities in tree planting with the slogan “For each you fell, plant 10 more”, the latter is encouraging women to plant trees.
World Environment Day, celebrated on June 5th under the theme: “Only One Earth”, has once again brought into the limelight the often overlooked work of these environmental actors in this region of Cameroon.
The Northwest region has an agricultural economy with the existence of organizations which are charged with improving seeds of high-yielding crop varieties, constructing and rehabilitation of water schemes as well as preserving livestock.
The vegetation is predominantly savannah dotted with shrubs. However, dense tropical forests can be found in certain parts of the Menchum and Momo divisions, especially on the border with Nigeria. The topography of the region greatly influences the micro-climate.
The high mountains and plains are either very cold or hot respectively. The region has two distinct seasons. The dry season starts from mid-October to mid-March; and the rainy season begins from mid-March to mid-October.
Cameroon has some 19 million hectares of dense tropical forest, just below 40% of the total land area.
But deforestation has been on the rise, causing the loss of between 40 000 to 80 000 hectares of primary forest annually between 2015 and 2018.
Planned deforestation drivers include: government agricultural programs including biofuel crops, agro-industry expansion of crops including palm oil and rubber, infrastructure developments including railways connecting mining areas to deep-sea ports, hydroelectric dams and related electricity networks as well as legal mining and logging operations.
But the country recently set the target to restore 350 million hectares of deforested land by 2030 as part of a Bonn Challenge Initiative.
This story was produced as part of the 2022 UNCCD Virtual Reporting Fellowship, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Robert Bosch Stiftung. It was originally published in the CRTV on May 26, 2022. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: Eucalyptus trees planted on a hill in North West Cameroon to prevent land degradation / Credit: CRTV Radio.