At Cool Earth, we work alongside rainforest communities to help build better health, better education and better livelihoods to create resilient and empowered villages in order to halt rainforest destruction. In 2018, we partnered with the Centre for Community Regeneration and Development in Cameroon (CCREAD-Cameroon) to create the Muanenguba Partnership, and to deliver the Rise For Nature programme in the Muanenguba area. This programme engages forest communities who live in and around buffer zones of Bakossi National Park to reduce unsustainable rainforest exploitation practices and illegal hunting, while seeking to diversify and enhance community livelihoods.

Map of our Muanenguba Partnership area.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the latest threat to households and habitats in the Cameroonian rainforest and has resulted in many community members becoming confined to their houses with no access to food, markets or health support. Sadly, many of the organisations working with the remote communities in Muanenguba have left the area due to the crisis, leaving the communities with very little support. Without access to these basic necessities, the community members are likely to resort to illegal hunting and deforestation in order to expand their farms for sources of food and income.

Cool Earth and CCREAD-Cameroon were quick to respond to the socio-economic insecurity faced by these communities and complemented their rainforest protection and restoration efforts by providing emergency support to the communities.

In the first phase of response, we distributed 5,000 face masks and 5,000 bottles of hand sanitizers to the community members. We were also able to provide food packages to 556 households, each of which indicated having at least three children under the age of ten living with them, which meant the support was able to prevent approximately 1,299 children from becoming at risk of malnutrition. This helped to prevent the spread of the virus amongst the communities, as well as reduce the risk of illegal hunting and the rate at which households were mounting pressure on the forest due to fear of food shortages during the COVID-19 crisis. As community member Agwei Celine explained to our on the ground team:

“There is no place to buy something even if you had the money. Our children were forced to start using the dogs to go after animals in the bush for food […] but we are now receiving all kinds of food, materials and things that will help us to not catch any coro [COVID-19].”

CCREAD-Cameroon’s on the ground team distributing food packages during our first round of response.

After learning from the demand for the first round of aid, CCREAD-Cameroon was able to better organize the distribution ground and provide services to a greater number of people than during the first phase of response. This time we were able to provide food packages to 834 households, each of which indicated having at least four children under the age of ten. We also delivered an additional 600 face masks, as well as buckets for handwashing and packs of reusable sanitary pads to women, which are expected to help with menstrual hygiene management for the next six months.

In the Muanenguba area, malaria is a problem that can further complicate the communities’ situation during heath crises. Therefore, in our second phase of aid we sought to provide emergency health support by administering free malaria testing and instant treatment from qualified nurses. Additionally, we offered family planning education and contraceptives, in particular to families who were already struggling financially due to the number of children they were supporting. This additional support that CCREAD-Cameroon has been able to provide throughout the pandemic has been crucial in limiting the impact of the crisis on the communities and the environment.

Nurses administering free malaria testing, which was given to 300 children.

In addition to the five communities we have been working with, Cool Earth and CCREAD-Cameroon are now about to embark on a further three years of partnership working with twenty new communities. We will be focusing on solar energy, sustainable agriculture and regenerating old farm plots in order to reduce farm expansion and limit unsustainable human pressure on the rainforest. We will also be introducing community mapping, a participatory exercise carried out with Geographic Information System experts and led by the community, to identify community boundaries and demarcations. This will strengthen community members’ capacity to protect and manage their land sustainably and to turn away threats. Furthermore, we will be concentrating on more sustainable livelihood projects such as beekeeping and honey production in order to limit the need for local people to resort to deforestation as a source of income.

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