By Perise Forbi
In recent times, there has been an alarming rate of deforestation in Africa. Specifically in the Congo Basin, which is home to the second largest tropical rainforest after the Amazon, at about 2 million square kilometers, and home to a Savanna Forest of about 3 million square kilometers. The alarming rate of deforestation in this region is due to the economic value of the forest, specifically timber products. A forest is a dense collection of trees covering a relatively large area with undergrowth. The principal component of a forest is a tree (timber) which many look upon as very valuable in economic terms. They are indeed valuable, as timber is indispensable to man’s livelihood. The forest also serves as a habitat for a wide variety of animals (heterogeneous animal species), it controls the climate (mitigates global warming) and regulates stream flow and maintains rainfall of the area. With the advantages that the forest offers to man, there remains a question as to why there is an alarming rate of deforestation and forest degradation. Some of these reasons are population growth/urbanization, unsustainable logging, demand for fuel wood, lack of government policies, plantation agriculture, and traditional farming practices.
Cameroon is part of the Congo Basin which hosts a forest area estimated at about 22 million hectares, of which 14 million are tropical rainforest. The forest of Cameroon has been the destination of many researchers and tourist from the world due to its biodiversity. Deforestation in Cameroon is so serious that individuals have cut down large trees that have been standing for decades for little or no reason at all. In many communities in Cameroon, especially in the southwest region which accounts for more than 20 percent of the forest of Cameroon, many believe the forest is meant to be exploited or cut down to meet their needs. Bush burning and unsustainable logging is very rampant, and many believe forest resources, including the timber and non-timber products, are inexhaustible, and that what they get from the forest is too minimal to make a difference.
Deforestation in Cameroon is due to lack of education especially at rural settlement levels, unsustainable logging, demand for firewood or fuel wood, poor land use and agricultural practices. The Cameroonian economy depends so much on revenue from the forestry sector and this makes it even more difficult for deforestation to be controlled. Also, many individuals have gotten into the business of illegal and unsustainable logging. Each year hundreds of hectares of forest are converted into plantation, which is then cleared for banana, rubber and palm. The demand for these crops are very high, and this has pushed the government and private companies to acquire land to grow these crops. Traditional farming practices and the “cash crop fever” is widely the reason for forest degradation in rural areas. This is due to the fact that the cultivation of cash crops, such as cocoa and coffee, have served as a source of quick money to many rural settlers who have now decided to expand their farms by clearing more of the forest, believing that the bigger their farms, the more money they will get from sales of their crops. Most of these individuals have no knowledge of proper land management techniques.
Deforestation would not be so serious in Cameroon if rural settlers were educated or aware of the importance of the forest, and the consequences of improper use of it in Cameroon.
Young people can create change if they are educated about the forest, but they don’t know enough about it to do anything. This lack of awareness is what has made deforestation even more severe. Many youths and rural settlers lack adequate information regarding global environment issues. Education is vital for deforestation to be mitigated. More and more youths in Cameroon get formal education every year, such as completing high school, and thus many have heard of the negative impact of deforestation. However, they rarely take initiatives like tree planting, campaigns or organizing seminars in their schools to ensure that deforestation is mitigated. We will need to tap into this network of young people if real change will be made in our forests. In this way, educating youths in Cameroon will be a significant factor in the fight against deforestation.