Forests

Trees, mushrooms, and zero-logging: How communities are protecting forests

Communities in Africa are taking action to protect their forests.

Communities in Africa are taking action to protect their forests. Image: Pexels/Nandhu Kumar

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Forests

  • Communities in Africa are finding creative ways to protect their forests.
  • Communities in Gabon and Kenya are organizing to prevent logging.
  • In Cameroon, a local council is working to restore a degraded forest by planting moabi and sapelli trees .
  • Farmers in Tanzania are using mushroom cultivation to create a sustainable source of income that does not require them to clear the forest.

Gabon community forest marks ten years of zero logging

There is no logging in the forest managed by residents of Ebieng-Edzua, in northeastern Gabon. For the past decade, this village has been the only one in the country to choose to preserve its community forest by exploiting only non-timber products, including medicinal plants and sustainable hunting.

Located in Gabon’s Ogooué-Ivindo province, the rural community of Ebieng-Edzua formally took over management of a 1,256-hectare block of in October 2013, the first community-managed forest in Gabon.

The villagers decided to end timber exploitation for several reasons, according to community leader Eli Nlo Hubert. “First of all, logging not only destroys the forest and sacred sites within it, it also undermines animal resources, destroys the undergrowth and provokes conflicts of interest between community members. So we decided not to go down that road.”

Over the past 10 years, the community has developed real expertise in the valorization of non-timber forest products. Villagers practice agroforestry, harvest high quality honey from hives in the forest, tend stands of the medicinal herb iboga (which has recently attracted international attention for its use treating trauma and addictions), and gather wild fruit including wild mango (Irvingia gabonesis), the nuts of which are processed to produce odika, a tasty paste (sometimes referred to as “indigenous chocolate”) that features prominently in Gabonese cuisine.

It presents a sharp contrast to other community-managed forests in Gabon, where timber is regarded as the only source of income the forest provides. Many community forests are experiencing degradation caused directly by logging, reporting elevated levels of conflict with wildlife including elephants taking advantage of newly-opened logging roads to gain swift access to farmland and villages themselves.

In many cases, communities are also reporting that the bulk of revenue from timber sales goes to operating costs.

Two men planting trees in the Yokadouma Council Forest, Cameroon.
Two men planting trees in the Yokadouma Council Forest, Cameroon. Image: WWF

Forest restoration underway in Cameroon’s East region

A local council is planting moabi and sapelli trees on 32 hectares of degraded forest in Cameroon’s East region. The reforestation project by the Yokadouma Council is part of WWF-backed project to restore sections of this community-managed forest that has been badly degraded by logging.

“Each year, the Yokadouma council and its partners log 1,000 hectares of council forest, and there have been [only] limited efforts at regeneration,” Alphonse Ngniado Wouala, WWF forest and climate coordinator for Cameroon, said.

Yokadouma and the neighbouring Ngoyla forest cover a total of 109,256 hectares. They have been selected for a pilot project aiming to improve forest management in this portion of the Trinational Dja-Odzala-Minkébé landscape. TRIDOM, named for the three large protected areas it encompasses, is 178,000 square kilometers of forest extending across the borders of Cameroon, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo.

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Ngniado told Mongabay that WWF initiated a three-year collaboration with the Yokadouma council in 2021. The council planted 1,000 trees to fulfill their management plan, predominantly species like moabi (Baillonella toxisperma) and sapelli (Entandrophragma cylindricum), both prized for their timber. Moabi is also valued by locals for medicinal purposes and its fruit. Sapelli provides habitat for an edible caterpillar (Imbrasia oyemensis) that is a delicacy in regions where the species grows.

WWF assessed which areas of the forest had been logged, and held meetings with council staff and members of the community to explain principles of sustainable logging and regeneration. They also created a nursery to grow saplings for reforestation as well as fruit trees that community members want to cultivate on their farms. After six months, council staff began re-planting deforested areas of the forest, returning to replace young trees that withered.

Simeon Ngonono, Yokadouma Council’s director of reforestation, said the the council has carried out two reforestation efforts in the past ten years but poor forest managment has hampered progress. He says that sustaining the latest reforestation project will be a challenge. “This [council] is a structure that is governed by politics, and management is entirely dependent on who takes over,” he told Mongabay. “If the individual does not appreciate the value of forest management, concentration will solely be on the collection of forest royalties.”

Ngonono also said that because many people in Yokadouma believe the forest will regenerate itself, they are unlikely to continue replanting trees and respecting the management plans that have been drawn up once support from WWF ends.

Mushroom grower Magdalena Gwasuma.
Mushroom grower Magdalena Gwasuma. Image: Philbert Kagaruki/Sokoine University of Agriculture

Mushroom profits protect Tanzania forests

Farmers living near the Kilombero Nature Forest Reserve in Tanzania’s eastern Morogoro region are growing mushrooms to earn additional income and protect forests. The mushrooms find a ready market with buyers in the capital, Dar es Salaam, 192 kilometers away.

Researchers from Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture say many locals illegally cut down trees in the reserve for timber and charcoal to sell. Valerian Silayo, a food processing and agro-forestry professor at Sokoine, says the mushroom-growing project he is managing can replace income from illegal tree-felling.“When farmers grow mushrooms, they can earn additional income and reduce their reliance to forest resources,” he said.

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Silayo and his colleagues are supporting a group of 150 Kilombero mushroom growers with training on growing and processing mushrooms, as well as helping them access capital to expand their operations. Demand for oyster mushrooms both for export and for local restaurants has been steadily rising in Tanzania, providing a new and lucrative market for the farmers. Kilombero’s new fungi farmers can produce harvests throughout the year. A kilogram of mushrooms fetches around 7,000 Tanzanian shillings (approximately $3), in Dar, Silayo said.

He told Mongabay that farmers are slowly mastering unfamiliar techniques to maintain suitable growing conditions and maximise mushroom yields and quality. But, he said, farmers still lack vital infrastructure. “Mushrooms are highly perishable and require specific storage conditions to maintain freshness and extend shelf life, however many farmers lack proper storage facilities which result in spoilage.”

There are ten kaya forests scattered across 200 km of Kenya’s coastline, the site of fortified villages belonging to the Mijikenda from the 17th century until the 1940s. Recently these forest have come under pressure from commercial timber and charcoal production.
There are ten kaya forests scattered across 200 km of Kenya’s coastline, the site of fortified villages belonging to the Mijikenda from the 17th century until the 1940s. Recently these forest have come under pressure from commercial timber and charcoal production. Image: Ninara via Flickr

Elders lead Kenyan community’s defense of sacred forests

Elders in the Mijikenda community of Dakatcha, in Kenya’s Coast province, are leading the defense of sacred forests. Dakatcha’s forest is the site of one of ten ancient fortified villages known as kayas. Though the kayas were all abandoned by the 1940s, the surrounding forests have been protected by locals as important cultural sites. But in recent years, locals and commercial traders from elsewhere have targeted these mature forests for timber, firewood and charcoal.

Kaya forests cover over 2,000 square kilometers along the Kenyan coast. They provide habitat for 13 endangered bird and mammal species, some of which are found nowhere else. Dakatcha’s forest is the northernmost miombo forest in Africa, a breeding site for the endangered Kilifi (Clarke’s) weaver and a dozen other threatened bird and mammal species.

Dakatcha’s elders say the area’s five kaya forests must be protected because they are the source of rain, good weather and blessings for the community. Patrick Changawa is an elder and the chairman of a community conservation group that is working with Nature Kenya. “We must find a solution to protect this forest before we lose it. Losing this forest means losing our culture which has been preserved here for many decades,” he told Mongabay.

The community’s traditional elders recently set up local conservation groups for each of the five kaya forests. These groups are explaining principles of forest conservation to locals and encouraging them to curb deforestation. The groups have also introduced alternative livelihood projects, including beekeeping and new agricultural techniques in an attempt to raise incomes.

“As the community and a group of elders, we’re doing what we can to save this endangered ecosystem by doing reforestation, educating locals on the importance of the forest and how we can benefit from it,” Changawa said.

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