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Cameroon: Protect environment, create employment

LWF reforested 119 hectares and trained a community on renewable energy sources

(LWI) – What once was brown, now is green. In a few years, The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has transformed a region around the Minawao refugee camp in the far North of Cameroon from a dusty desert to a young forest. At the same time, the LWF project improved the relationship between refugees and host community, provided new livelihoods and ensured better protection for women and girls.

Cameroon’s far north region has a very harsh climate with little natural resources. Rivers dry up during the summer months and planting and harvesting is difficult. 95% of the people living in the far north region cook and heat with firewood.

Few resources, local tensions

When Nigerian refugees fleeing Boko Haram arrived in the Minawao region, the pressure on those resources increased. The Minawao refugee camp, with 58,000 inhabitants, is a city of its own. The bush land within a radius of about 18 kilometers had been cut down. When wood became scarce, refugees had to buy it, often with the only thing they had to sell: Food rations they had been given by the UN.

“A number of households were forced to sell a portion of their food ration to buy firewood,” says Philbert Habonimana, LWF country representative in Cameroon. In addition, women were forced to walk long distances in search of firewood which exposed them to the risk of violence and sexual assault,” he adds.

The situation also increased tension between the refugees and their host communities. “Before the Nigerian refugees arrived in Minawao, we had enough firewood and you couldn’t see anyone within 100 meters. But since their arrival, everything has been destroyed. Our environment is treeless for miles,” said Boubakar Ousmary, general secretary of the canton of Gawar, bordering the camp. Haman Adama, head of the canton of Zamay, added that the already problematic deforestation increased with the large camp being set up in the region.

Plant trees, harvest fruit

LWF tackled the problem from two ends. Always working with refugees and hosts, LWF combined protection of the environment with the promotion of renewable energies. Since 2017, LWF has grown trees in nurseries and re-forested a total of 119 hectares. In addition, LWF distributes fruit trees to refugee and host community households, the administration of the camp, schools, mosques and churches.

A group of nursery gardeners, themselves Nigerian refugees, work in a tree nursery in the Minawao camp. Planted across 26 so-called ‘green spaces’, a five-year planting and harvest cycle ensures material to be used as firewood, vines for building of roofs, and a step in alleviating environmental impact in and around Minawao.

Now, four years later, more than 300,000 trees have been planted. The average survival rate of trees in green spaces has been estimated at 90%. These trees provide shade, break the wind and reduce erosion. After two years, people can harvest the first fruit. After three years, the trees are big enough to be pruned for firewood.

To make sure the new forest is not cut down immediately, LWF promotes alternative energy sources. Since 2017, the LWF has set up production of energy-efficient stoves, and two centers for ecological charcoal production. To facilitate their access to organic material, the environment project partnered with the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene provision.

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