By Lauriane Cayet-Boisrobert
with support from Ruthe Schoder-Erhi
Mount Bamboutos is part of the 'Western Cameroon Highlands' volcanic line. It is just north of the Equator at the border region between Nigeria and Cameroon. It is an area of global biodiversity importance that includes the endangered Cross River gorilla.
Though today, a highly productive landscape for its people (with the use of external nutrients through fertilizers and even the use of pesticides), what will Mount Bamboutos be like in 10 or 20 years' time under the current trend of increasing population, farming and forest loss?
The "Mount Bamboutos Initiative" (MBI), a project of International Tree Foundation (ITF) with Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF), aims to support a more sustainable path in Mount Bamboutos over the next 15 years through reforestation. It will connect altogether community forests, riparian forests, sacred forests, protected areas, and agroforestry systems.
The area holds the possibility to plant 3 million trees across 150km(2) or the size of Denver airport in Colorado (USA), under the following land use categories:
Treesisters has been partnering with ITF on MBI since 1st April, 2018 in the southwest portion of Mount Bamboutos. The partnership aims to plant 600,000 trees over three years and 3,000 hectares ( equivalent to 4,000 soccer fields). The project will involve and benefit 1,000 households drawn from 3 villages.
Mount Bamboutos Initiative from the local news.
Mount Bamboutos is a volcanic massif located in western Cameroon. It is a very rugged and varied landscape with several high peaks, steep slopes and deep valleys. One of its peaks is the 3rd highest in Cameroon jutting up to 2,740 meters. An extinct caldera of sub-elliptical shape (16x8 km) sits at the heart of the massif with rock blocks covering its floor.
Mount Bamboutos massif spans three administrative regions of Cameroon (southwest, west and northwest), 5 divisions (Bamboutos, Menoua, Mezam, Momo and Lebialem) and 8 subdivisions. It is mainly inhabited by the Bamileke tribe. Southwest and northwest are primarily English speaking and western Bamboutos is primarily French speaking. (Photo to left: Mount Bamboutos mountain tooth ©ERuDeF.)
Forests of Mount Bamboutos include both tropical wet montane forests above 1,700m of altitude also called cloud forest, as well as tropical sub-montane forests in the lower slopes of the mountain range from 1,100 to 1,750 meters.
Climate and Soil
It is a place of high annual rainfall (2,000 to 3,000 mm) and humidity. The climate is characterised by the alternation between a wet and a dry season of variable intensity. At Dschang, a city at 1,380m high, the temperature is mild throughout the year with an average temperature of 18.9°C, with the highest monthly mean of 23.4°C between March and April and the lowest (14.3°C) in December (2).
Mount Bamboutos' forests sit on soils with andic characteristics (3), which means they hold considerable soil fertility but great vulnerability to land degradation. Tree removal and today's agricultural approach is certainly not the most appropriate. Heavy rainfall and steep slopes lead to significant soil erosion and landslides.
(Images courtesy © EruDef)
History of the Mount Bamboutos forests
A map of the Mount Bamboutos' massif created in 1957 by the French Geographic Institute (IGN) (4) shows that land cover at the highest altitudes included primarily tree savannas and shrubby savannas, as well as grasslands. Forests were only found in the valleys and along streams as forest galleries, as well as on very steep slopes. On the flat elevations, trees were found associated with horticulture and crops, surrounded by grasslands/pasturelands and steppes, certainly for livestock grazing.
In the 1970s, the populations living at the densely populated piedmont (5), a gentle slope leading from the base of the mountain to a region of flat land, were suffering from declining crop yields and lack of jobs. They started to expand upwards. Settlers found there the necessary water, cool temperature, and highly fertile volcanic soils to grow marketable vegetables.
More people means firewood harvesting, livestock grazing, as well as more shifting cultivation and agriculture lands.
As a consequence, the massif's piedmont and slopes support today a polyculture of coffee and food crops (6), and is a densely populated area. 4,000 people even settled inside the caldera itself to grow potatoes, cabbages, leeks, carrots and maize (7). Farmers of the southern flank of Mount Bamboutos raise pigs, goats and hens. (Photo to right: Mount Bamboutos Caldera.)
In the northwestern and western portions of the mountain, forests are much degraded and mostly found in deep valleys and along streams (8). Only southwest of Mount Bamboutos where TreeSisters is involved, remains as the most forested portion of Mount Bamboutos.
The caldera floor is quite deforested, and that was probably true even in the 1980s as shown by a study that assessed forest loss by 5.8% between 1980 and 2016 (9).
The very small 'Mount Bamboutos Forest Reserve' of just 215 hectares created in 1900 by the Germans ‒reconfirmed successively by the French in 1947 and by the Government of Cameroon in 1972, has since been wiped out. In 1957, forest no longer existed in the reserve, it was already covered in tree savannas and shrubby savannas as shown by the map created by IGN.
At the piedmont, trees still form parts of the farming systems, but this is not the case on the horticulture farms located up the mountain where space is limited. Historically, the upper parts of the mountain have been used for grazing by the pastoralist community. Additionally, horticulture requires irrigation and can only take place near a stream.
The forests of Mount Bamboutos have also suffered from overexploitation. African stinkwood (Prunus Africanus) was completely decimated by early 1990s due to overexploitation by the French pharmaceutical company Plantecam Medicam and the local people, for its bark known to treat prostate cancer in men.
Land cover/land use change in the MBI project area. Map produced by ERuDeF.
Note: CTE refers to the large private commercial tea plantation. Sparse vegetation actually refers to the remaining areas of partial forest cover.
Plant, Tree Variety and Wildlife
In spite of the catastrophic loss of montane forest, loss of exclusive birds ‒as it was described as the richest biodiversity hotspots for birds in all of west and central Africa, Mount Bamboutos still harbours incredible biodiversity, especially in its southwestern portion where TreeSisters is involved. This is no longer true for the slopes of the mountain in West and Northwest Mount Bamboutos.
Mount Bamboutos forms part of the Cameroon Highlands ecoregion (10), one of the world's 200 ecoregions of primary importance. A survey conducted in 2010/2011 found that 100 plant species belonging to 82 genera were identified at sub-montane and montane altitudes, with the genera Cola and Psychotria being the most represented (11). Some plant species are under the IUCN's Red List such as Ternstroemia spp and Allanblackia gabonensis. (To the left: Cross River gorilla ©Arend de Haas.)
Southwest of Mount Bamboutos still harbor a high diversity of mammals, including the endangered forest elephant, the endangered Preuss' guenon (Cercopithecus preussi), the critically endangered Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli), and the most endangered Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti).
Only 300 individuals of Cross River Gorillas remain in the wild, scattered across 11 isolated, tiny remaining sub-populations found in the remaining montane forests. Unable to adapt and cope with diseases and vulnerable to inbreeding, their reproduction is difficult. They are labeled as critically endangered (12). Three protected areas were created in the past 10 years for the conservation of Cross River Gorilla, within which one sits in our project area namely the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary sits.
Mount Bamboutos still harbours today birds that are endemic to Cameroon such as the Bannerman's Turaco (Tauraco bannermani) which is critically endangered, the endangered Banded Wattle-eye or Bamenda Pririt (Platysteira laticindra) which is only known in Mount Bamboutos and nowhere else on Earth. But for how long in small isolated fragments of forest below unsustainable population levels?
Mount Bamboutos is the 2nd most important water tower in the country but it is already losing its function as a water catchment. Streams are drying up in the dry season (13). In fact, horticulturalists need to tap into streams to irrigate their crops in the dry season and watershed does not recharge sufficiently during the rainy season due to ever shrinking forest cover.
Water extraction is having an impact on 81,257 people living downstream (14). It puts at risk the functioning of the country's two major hydroelectric plants fed by streams generated by Mount Bamboutos water catchment. Moreover, communities are fighting and pastoralists are blaming the horticulturalists. (To the right: Mount Bamboutos' transition zone from the lower woody slopes of Mount Bamboutos, to the upper, more grassy slopes. Photo by EruDef)
One of the big problems is that irrigated horticulture is being practiced on the upper slopes of the mountain, so water extraction is taking place at the very top of the catchments. And that is often where the springs emerge ...
"It seems that what has been most important was to build pipes for water distribution but no one has ever thought before of where that water was coming from ..." Louis Nkembi, ERuDeF's CEO.
Without tree cover, soils are drying out fast during the dry season. Cultivated soils on the slopes are exposed to erosion. Frequent hazards of meteorological origin coupled with the geological and geographical context of the mountain ranges do cause landslides and rock falls11. This is exacerbated by bushfires set up by local people and deforestation. (Photo on right: This image shows the scar left after July 2003 landslide in the Mount Bamboutos' caldera, Maga. It killed 15 people. (11) ).
Population and Health Risks
Today, high yields horticulture are supported by costly and polluting external chemical inputs. Community members use significant quantities of agricultural chemicals on horticultural crops. Fungicides are applied on potatoes using knapsack sprayers, with little or no personal protection. Chemicals are sprayed right at the top of the catchments, causing water pollution downwards. There is a widespread concern amongst the community about the potential health risks resulting from contamination of water sources with chemicals. There are reports of high cancer rates in the area. Unfortunately, the shrinking and degraded forests are no longer acting as good filtering systems.
It seems horticulture the way it is practiced today is not sustainable and probably not the most appropriate land use on the upper slopes of Mount Bamboutos. And Eucalyptus trees that are being planted at the lower slopes are probably not the most indicated species of trees in a context of decreasing of groundwater level, in addition to inducing soil degradation and decrease of biodiversity.
While remaining forests will be set aside for conservation, new ones will be planted along streams and around springs, on degraded farms, in sacred forests and in existing or future community forests. The project also aims to regreening farmlands with 'agroforestry trees'.
Reforestation will take place as the result of a participatory land use planning (15) process which is likely to control the expansion of horticulture activity on the top of the mountain range, and especially near the streams and springs.
Some of the farmers will move away from monoculture crop farming and animal husbandry to switch to tree-based farming and other activities, and possibly other more sustainable farming practices.
(Photo to the right: Degraded landscape at Mount Bamboutos to be restored ©ERuDeF.)
Who is involved?
The initiative puts local people at the center of the project. They are the most suitable people to take care of Mount Bamboutos' trees and forests. Personal ownership is necessary for the project's success. It is also in alignment with Cameroon's decision to devolve some of the forest management to the local communities.
"Working with communities and local leaders is a key starting point for the MBI, to bring the mountain under more sustainable management." Paul Laird, ITF.
Prior to the project start, ERuDef met with the local leaders of the 3 clusters of villages, namely Bamumbu, Fossimondi and Fosi-M'muockmbie - Bamumbu being the largest cluster in the southwestern region of Mount Bamboutos. Then, the community leaders walked to surrounding 16 villages for community awareness and consultation. (Photo to the left: Participants during a training workshop on agroforestry, contour farming, etc. in M'muockmbie in November 2018)
"The local people have clearly said that water quality and access is their primary concern" International Tree Foundation.
The project will also help farmers reduce their reliance on external inputs. The trees that will be planted within farming systems will help minimise nutrient losses and maximise internal cycling of nutrients. Farmers will be encouraged to adopt low inputs practices or methods; for example through the use of nitrogen-fixing species which improve soil health and fertility, or planting the right kind of crop and tree diversity to enhance pest and disease control. (Photo on left: Seed bank development officer collecting Raphia seedlings for potting in the southwest nurseries ©ERuDeF.)
It will also contribute to soil conservation and landslides. Training farmers on methods appropriate to steep slopes will help farmers reduce devastating soil erosion and landslides. For instance, lines of trees can be planted across the slope, along the terrace edges that follow the land's elevation contour lines.
Method & trees
The project is planting 60% of trees for reforestation purposes. The other 40% are agroforestry trees planted on farms. The project will artificially plant tree seedlings, grafted trees, and wildlings (16), etc. of a wide spectrum of species adapted up to 1,900m elevation. (Photo on right: Red kola/cola seeds to be nursed ©ERuDeF.)
Over 10 exclusively native species of trees will be planted for reforestation, in the "to-be-created" biodiversity reserve and sacred forests, community forests and along streams. Some of them are only found in the Cameroon Highlands ecoregion while some of them have a wider distribution and are present all over Africa. A non-exhaustive list of the reforestation species include:
Most of the seeds for agroforestry trees, will be directly collected by ERuDEF. A few will be purchased by ERuDeF then distributed to farmers. Over 7 species of agroforestry trees will be planted, with at least 70% native species. Non-native species include Malus domestica (apples) and Persea Africana (Avocado). Agroforestry trees will be planted on private lands, interspersed with settlements and agriculture, but also within community forests and inside the boundaries of proposed protected area (17).
How is it organized?
Moreover, Louis Nkembi, ERuDeF's CEO has built an impressive constellation of people and strong organisations to help make the aims of MBI a reality over the coming 15 years, including:
MBI is funded by several donors which fund under their own specificity. Trees for the Future (TFF) focus on 'forest gardens' – agroforestry and household tree nurseries. IUCN Cameroon, who is involved in most of the area earmarked for TreeSisters, supports small-scale interventions with several partners across a wide area. Darwin Initiative are funding work in west and northwest, and some aspects of the mountain-wide participatory land use planning. (Photo on right: Part of seedlings at M'muockmbie nursery ©ERuDeF.)
The place of women
ITF and ERuDeF will ensure the followings:
"In Cameroon, women have traditionally been considered as dependent on their men for economic survival. Most of the income generated in the area is controlled by the men, even though women may be doing most of the work." Provided by ITF.
ERuDeF's Centre for the Advancement of Women Initiatives will ensure that women and gender considerations are included and become accepted into all the aspects of the project. One of the goals is that women-led associations and enterprises will be integrated into the governance structures which are being developed in the initiative. ITF and ERuDef are also helping set up a platform to help well-organised women build their businesses and find the financial support they need. (Map on left: Map of the MBI project area with the different founders involved. TreeSisters funds reforestation in the southwest section of Mount Bamboutos only. Map produced by ERuDeF.)
The insecurity impacted the communities and project in several ways:
"We are very proud that the team on the ground has been able to launch and initiate the programme and move practical activities forward with local communities despite the challenges of the ongoing crisis in Cameroon." Paul Laird, ITF.
To the Left: Priority sites in Bamumbu. Map produced by ERuDeF. In Bamumbu, trees will be planted in Community Forests, sacred forests and along streams and springs (riverine), as well as to restore degraded farms.
To the Right: Project tree nurseries. The map only shows MBI's tree nurseries. TreeSisters' 6 established tree nurseries are visible in Bamumbu, Fossimondi and Fosi-M'muockmbie.
If you would like to support this project and our other planting projects around the world, please join Treesisters as a monthly member. Every contribution makes a difference.
(1) A forest are managed by communities who occupy the land and depend on for their living.
(2) Open Archive Toulouse Archive Ouverte (OATAO). Available here.
(3)Tematio, P et al. 2004. Soils and their distribution on Bambouto volcanic mountain, West Cameroon highland, Central Africa. Journal of African Earth Sciences. 39: 447-457. Available here.
(4) At the time it was given to France and Britain to rule Cameroon.
(5) In 1992, the population density at the piedmonds was 150-300 people/km2
(6) Ngoufo, R. 1992. The Bamboutos Mountains: Environment and Rural Land Use in West Cameroon. Mountain Research and Development. 12(4): 349-356. doi:10.2307/3673685. Available here.
(7) Zangmo Tefogoum, G., Nkouathio, D.G., Kagou Dongmo, A., Wandji, P., Gountie Dedzo, M., Tchoua, F. M. 2012. Mount Bambouto caldera (Cameroon Volcanic Line): formation, structure and environmental impact. Bulletin: 1. 14 - 20. Available here.
(8) Ngoufo, R. 1992. The Bamboutos Mountains: Environment and Rural Land Use in West Cameroon. Mountain Research and Development. Vol. 12 (4): 349-356. Available here.
(9) Toh, F. A. et al. 2018. The Socio-Economic Impact of Land Use and Land Cover Change on the Inhabitants of Mount Bambouto Caldera of the Western Highlands of Cameroon. Advances in Remote Sensing. 07: 25-45. Available here.
(11) Fonge, B. A. et al. 2013. Diversity, Distribution, and Abundance of Plants in Lewoh-Lebang in the Lebialem Highlands of Southwestern Cameroon. International Journal of Biodiversity. Article ID 642579, 13 pages. Available here.
(12) By IUCN. Source here.
(13) From International Tree Foundation here.
(14) Number taken from here.
(15) From the ROAM exercise.
(16) Seedlings grown in natural conditions.
(17) In Cameroon, protected areas may be a mix of forest area and agriculture area.
(18) A government-mandated structure reactivated and animated by ERuDeF and is responsible for the village's forest management.
(19) A Fon is a king of a region of Cameroon.
(20) A native species of palm tree (west and central Africa). Abundant along cross river. Stems are used for building mats. Nuts used to produce wine. Not a palm oil tree.