Maïmouna Bouba is a refugee from the Central African Republic living in eastern Cameroon. Like 630,000 other people, she fled her home country to escape the civil war that broke out in 2012. For eight years now, she has lived in Gado-Badzéré camp, just 30km from the border town of Garoua-Boulaï.
Every day she needs to prepare meals for her family. Cooking requires firewood, which has to be collected. When Maïmouna first arrived in Cameroon, finding wood was not a problem, as there were plenty of trees available in the bushes surrounding the camp.
But after years of overharvesting, firewood collection has become a major burden for Maïmouna and other refugee women. Sometimes they must walk up to eight kilometres to find the trees they need. On the way, they face many risks, including assault and harassment. It is also a regular cause of conflict with host communities.
When they can’t find the wood they need, women are faced with difficult choices, for example cutting the number of meals, reducing cooking time, or not boiling water. This can significantly impact refugees’ food and nutritional security.
Harvesting firewood is heavy work for women. We must walk far in the fields, sometimes in dirty places. It is particularly hard during the dry season, when it becomes very difficult to find dry wood.
From an environmental point of view, the impact of unchecked wood harvesting is serious. Gado-Badzéré is located in the forest-savannah transition zone of Cameroon, an area particularly vulnerable to degradation. Any disturbances can alter natural ecosystem limits and lead to landscape fragmentation.
Reducing the risks of firewood collection
To address these issues, the European Union is supporting the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and local partners in Cameroon to test an integrated landscape level intervention in Garoua-Boulaï and Gado-Badzéré. This means bringing host communities and refugees together to engage in participatory tree management and jointly plan for sustainability improvements along the wood fuel value chain.
Activities range from restoration to ensure long-term availability of wood, to the promotion of improved cooking stoves to reduce firewood consumption. So far, 12 communities have participated in planting 90,000 seedlings, while 70 women have received training in ceramic stove production – an opportunity for them to earn an additional income.
A key component of the intervention is establishing mechanisms for conflict resolution between different land users. For example, a land management code of conduct is currently under development to reduce clashes between agricultural and pastoral activities and to ensure that cattle do not graze in restored areas.
Bridging the humanitarian-development-environment gap
According to Abdon Awono, the project coordinator in Cameroon, depletion of wood resources is a common situation in many refugee contexts. Sudden population growth increases pressure on forests, often exceeding their capacity.
This initiative in Cameroon therefore offers important clues on how to integrate wood fuel management in emergency responses, and how to close the gap between humanitarian, development, and environment interventions in displacement settings.
The model that we have put in place in Cameroon brings together all relevant stakeholders to jointly engage in a long-term strategy that can ensure sustainable wood fuel supply and mitigate its negative environmental impacts.
The activity is part of CIFOR-ICRAF’s Refugee-Hosting Engagement Landscape, supported by the European Union-funded project Governing Multifunctional Landscapes in sub-Saharan Africa which aims to develop and test options for sustainable wood fuel value chains in Kenya, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon.
Author: Ahtziri Gonzalez