World Wetlands Day 2004 -- Cameroon


Sustainable Wetlands Management Aid to Alleviate Poverty in Cameroon

(Chi Napoleon Forpah , BSc.,MSc. Email:

Cameroon is often called "Africa in miniature" because of its geographical, climatic, and cultural diversity. Cameroon covers 475,440 square kilometers and shares its borders with six other African nations (Nigeria, Chad, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Central African Republic). It is a diverse country with coastal plains in the southwest, dissected plateau in the central region, mountains in the west, and plains in the north. The great diversity of the country lends itself to a great biological diversity as well. Cameroon is home to some of the world's most endangered species, such as the western lowland gorillas, forest elephant, the Central and Eastern Nigerian-West Cameroon chimpanzee, among others. Cameroon is divided into five broad ecological/ bio-climatic zones; the north/wooded savanna, the coastal/maritime/littoral zones ,the western highlands, the forested southern zones and the urban zones.

Cameroon is also home to a number of significant wetlands. Wetlands are highly productive ecosystems where excess water dominates the environment. Wetlands are defined as transitional lands between aquatic and terrestrial systems where the water table is at or near the surface of the land. This area is usually covered by shallow water. To be classified as a wetland, an area must have one or more of the following three attributes: The land supports plants, known as hydrophytes, which are adapted to wet soil conditions; the base land is predominantly un-drained hydric soil; and the base is non-soil and is saturated with water or covered by shallow water at some time during the growing season of every year. Water in a wetland can be static, flowing, tidal, brackish, fresh or salt.Swamps ,estuaries, lagoons, marshes, peatlands, lakes ,sea grass beds in coastal areas, hydro-dams, seasonal flood plains in river basins are all part of the definition.Wetlands are generally highly productive ecosystems providing many important benefits.These benefits,sometimes described as 'goods and services' may be wetland functions (e.g ground water recharge,flood control),uses of wetlands (water or its products =wetland values ( e.g wood collection, research site,harvesting of food crops).Wetlands also have attributes or non-use values (e.g aesthetic component of the landscape,religious/cultural significance like for circumcision or rituals).

Some of the important wetland sites in Cameroon are found in the NORTH: Cameroon part of Lake Chad, Waza-Logone flood plain, Dams (Lagdo, Songloulou, Maga, Mape etc); COAST/LITTORAL ZONE: Limbe and Wouri estuaries, Bakassi and Rio del Rey creeks, Marine waters up to 6m deep along the Gulf of Guinea;this contains the last remnants of the highly endangered sea turtles and mangrove forests; WESTERN HIGHLANDS: Ndop flood plain inland fresh water wetlands, Bamendnji Dam, Menchum river basin, Mboh and Sanctou flood plains, Crater lakes: Oku, Awing, Wum, Barombi, well known for their aesthetic and cultural values. If you throw a stone into Lake Awing for example, you will find the roof of your house taken off mysteriously; SOUTH: Rivers e.g. Mfoundi used for water supply, Forest swamps in Bertoua and Kribi; URBAN ZONES: Municipal lakes like Obili, Biyem Assi,and Yaounde cental lake used chiefly in the discharge of industrial and household wastes ;some of these lakes have been earmarked for restoration . etc It is important to note that Cameroon forms part of the watershed for the Inner Delta of the Niger River; a large and strategic flood plain in North West Africa which serves as a stop-over and a wintering area for European and Asian birds.

The purpose of this article is to show how sustainable wetlands management in some the zones can aid to alleviate poverty within the communities concerned. For convenience, focus will be on the Ndop inland fresh water wetlands in the western highlands and the Waza-Logone/Lagdo dam wetlands in the North of Cameroon:

Ndop Inland Fresh Water Wetland:

It is mainly constituted of seasonal riverine floodplains, marshes, and an artificial lake. The flood plain consist of seasonal flooded grasslands and riparian forest. It covers an area of about 4000 sq km and about 200000 people live and depend on the fragile wetland ecosystem in this region for their livelihood.

Wetland functions;
Breeding ground for fish, birds, edible amphibians, Flood control (protection of crops, houses and infrastructure from being destroyed, regulation of river flows for energy generation from river Sanaga, Input into food chains or web like providing worms and fish for birds, sediment trapping for crop production and utilisation, ground water recharge during the rainy season and discharge during the dry season, erosion control like protection of river banks by wetland vegetation, recreation and landscape for eco-tourism ventures (Forpah,2003)

Direct Values
Water for consumption and irrigation, fish that can be dry or fresh,trees are used for fuel wood and electric poles; grasses are used for grazing, production of thatch roofs and also for manure. Sand is exploited as building materials. Most of the herbs are medicinal, palm trees are used in producing wine, oil, hats, brooms, palm kernel/oil, bags. Wild animals are used as game meat, Clay soils for bricks and pots making,;wild foods are extensively consumed, Food crops (like rice, corn, ground nut, cassava, cocoyams, beans, potatoes are the chief sources of food and income), vegetables like cabbages, leeks, tomatoes and onion are also a major source of food and income (Forpah, 2003)

Option Values or potentials
These include; ecotourism activities especially around the Dam, palm wine/raffia palm wine industries, acquaculture, crafts industry and animal husbandry.

Non-use values
The Ndop is remarked for its beautiful landscape made of hills and valleys, which are flanked at the downstream by an extensive flood plain that incorporates the Bamendnji Dam. Research activities around the area are also very significant.

Ndop is the breadbasket in the Bamenda Region (Cho, 2003). More than 70% of the population depend on the fresh water resources for their livelihood and this is contributing significantly to alleviating poverty among the communities.

In the past, when the Bamendnji Dam was not yet built,livestock grazers chiefly exploited the Ndop plain especially during the dry season. When the Dam was built, fishing and rice cultivation intensified in the area and this resulted in serious farmer grazer conflicts. Today because of sensitisation there is a kind of understanding between farmers and grazer (mostly the fulanis), where by, they are allowed to bring in their cattles in the dry season to graze or feed on rice husks cleared and kept at strategic areas in the farms by farmers.

Fishermen on their part are gradually seeing the need to use fishing mesh (baskets) with large holes so as to reduce the rate of juvenile fish catches.

With the extinction of the "Water dog" which resembles an Otter Shrew, a traditional conservation method has been implemented by the traditional authoritities; Any hunter who shoots a water dog and miss or does not kill it, is bound to die mysteriously says the law. And only the Chief or Fon of the village eats a water dog when shot or killed. This law scares hunters and this has caused a significant increased the population of the water dogs significantly.

The Waza-Logone /Lagdo dam Wetlands:

The Waza-logone flood plain has an area of 6000sq km and is inundated annually by the river Logone and Chari.Flooding depth could be about 1.2m and duration of about 3 months on the average. The main activities of this area includes, the growing of millet (the local staple crop), fishing by Mousgoun and Kotoko people, grazing (mostly done by the Arabs choa communities), large irrigation rice schemes, and vegetable gardening (mostly carried out by women in the dry season.

The functions and values of the Waza-logone flood plains are very similar to those of the Ndop flood plain, but in addition this wetland has a higher biodiversity with large herds of girrafe, elephants, lions, migratory birds like the spur -winged goose, crown crane, white pelican, marabout stork, herons, ibis; part of the flood plain is designated as the Waza National Park, which attracts around 6000 tourists per year.

Economic analysis was undertaken of various flooding options; Re-flooding of 90% of the flood plain yielded annual values of US$550000 for fisheries, US$930000 per herding and US$31500 for recession agriculture (DFID, 2000).

Lesson: Even small interventions must be based on a thorough understanding of their ecological setting and the specifics of local resources allocation and use. Such an understanding may also lead to the discovery of surprisingly promising options for economic wetland development (Drijver et; al; 1991).

The LAGDO Reservoir (700sq km) created in 1982 on the Benoue River led to severe ecological and socio-economic changes, especially down stream of the dam. Just like the Bammendji Dam in the western highlands, priority is being given to hydropower generation; water discharges at the Lagdo are kept to a minimum and the river overflows when water releases are being made compulsory by heavy rainfall. Also, large scale irrigation schemes caused environmental damage and massive immigration in the former flood plain, thereby causing human pressure on natural resources.Poor management of water supply and drainage resulted in the spread of organisms that transmit malaria (mosquitoes) and schistosomiasis (fresh water snails) and the subsequent increase in health risks (slootweg; 1993).
Restoring the River Benoue flood plains has been on the agenda of the Cameroon government in collaboration with international organisation like; General Directorate for International Cooperation (DGIS), Haskoning, Dutch Engineers and Architects, Center of Environmental Sciences (CML), all in the Netherlands.

Lesson: The release of managed floods from reservoirs to restore and maintain downstream ecosystems and their dependent livelihoods is seen as a sustainable development option in such cases and fully in line with the wise use of wetlands promoted by the convention on wetlands (Ramsar, 1971) and OECD (1996) development guidelines
Pilot activities were carried out with local population (fish culture, water management and cultivation of vegetables);the knowledge acquired on the population dynamics of schistosomiasis snails has resulted in a water management plan for the depression. This plan aims at realising the production potential of the area through vegetable cultivation and fish culture -while minimising the risk of vector organism proliferation

Major wetland threat in Cameroon

Some of the biggest threats to wetlands in Cameroon are the lack of awareness on the true values and functions of wetlands at local, regional, and national levels, and the lack of a specific national policy on wetlands. Cameroon has only pledged to ratify the Ramsar convention or wetland convention during the 2000 meeting of the lake Chad Basin Commission (Cho, 2001), but has ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) among others, which commits her to manage her biodiversity including wetland.

Wetland Actors in Cameroon

It is important to remark that institutions /actors like the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MINEF), Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI), Mission d'étude et d'Amenagement de la vallée Surpérieure de la Bénoué (MEAVSB), Garoua, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), Watershed Task Group (WTG), Center for Biodiversity Conservation (CBC), the Environmental Defence and Consumer Interest Forum (EDCIF) and Environmental Engineers SARL are at the fore front of wiping out some of the indifferences in wetland values and functions (see for example on the worlds wetlands day,2004 in Cameroon)

Conclusions and Recommendations

-The government of Cameroon has to hasten up with the ratification of the Ramsar convention on wetlands so that some of the priority wetlands sites can be included in the list of Ramsar sites which will give them international status and recognisance coupled with some benefits.

-There is need to promote the recognition and integration of wetland values and functions in resource management and economic decision making (for example in the elaboration of poverty reduction strategies) with regard to sector policies and programmes such as forestry, agriculture, fisheries, wildlife and sound environmental management. For example, the option of sustainable forest management and poverty alleviation was explicitly expressed in Law No.94/01 of 20th January 1994 to lay down Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries regulations. One of the innovative features of the Law is in Chapter II, section 34,Article 37 that opens up opportunities for the involvement of local communities in forest Management through establishment of community forests, which is a big success in Cameroon.

-Wetlands are capital assets requiring appropriate management if they are to continue to produce sustainable flow of income. Wetlands increasingly need human and financial support to fight non-sustainable human actions (like drainage and conversion to irrigated agriculture, pollution, over exploitation of resources; fish, timber, water etc.)

If wetlands are to retain their vital natural and socio-economic functions,if their potential for nature and men are to be optimally realised, wetland management and restoration has become inevitable. In many cases stakeholders involvement appears to be the key to sustainable management of wetlands. Therefore a multi-use approach (Spore Magazine,2000,No 100 page 3) which balances conservation with development is a viable way of maintaining a broad range of socio-economic benefits whilst allowing hydrological and ecological functions to work as nature intended.

Cho,2001.Mitigation of wetland degradation in Lake Chad Basin. Institute of Spatial planning and Environmental Science,Deventer,the Nethelands.
Cho,2003 .Ndop Wetland ( write up)
DFID,2000.Managed flood Release from Reservoirs;issues and giudance.A sbmission to the world Commission on Dams.
Drijver; 1991.What a small dam can do: local initiatives in the logone flood plain, Cameroon.
Forpah, 2003. Draft Management Plan for the Ndop Inland fresh water wetlands ,Bamenda,Cameroon.
Stootweg, 1993. Restoration of flood plain fuctions at the village level; Benoue Valley ,Cameroon.
Spore Magazine,2000.Article on Still Waters No.100 page 3.

Chi Napoleon Forpah
Wetlands and Water Manager (BSc,MSc)
Coordinator Watershed Task Group (WTG)
Cameroon Representative of African Wetlands Forum (AWF) in the Making.
Tel:237 7515693

The picture attached to this article shows the author (Chi Napoleon Forpah) during a sensitisation campaign in 1992, of students in the Santa area on the functions and values of Lake Awing (at the background) which is a shrine and a source of potable water for the 100000 inhabitants of the Santa area.

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