The arrival of timber firm Sofhony with many promises to forest communities of Djoameodjoh and Biba II in eastern Cameroon a few years ago, brought hope to Ndovan Pial Felix and his family.
Life had always been a struggle for residents of Biba II Village on the periphery of the Dja reserve that has more than 1,500 plant species.
The logging company promised to improve livelihoods, and according to Felix, it was like turning darkness into daylight.
“We were promised roads, schools, hospitals,” Felix says.
However, the communities are poorer than before.
Residents of Cameroon’s dense equatorial forest bemoan the fact that timber firms have reneged on promises made.
Traditional rulers blame the government for failing to include them when it negotiates with investors.
“Local authorities and forest communities have little or no knowledge of the talks,” said Paul Gbalene, a ruler of Djoameodjoh, a forest community of Baka pygmies and Bantus.
The sentiments are echoed by Robinson Tanyi, the president of the Federation of Community Forests in Cameroon.
“Communities need to be properly sensitized on sustainable management of the forest and natural resources,” Tanyi says.
There has been a proliferation of complaints of massive exploitation and disrespect of the rights of forest communities in the Central African nation.
Cameroon has the second largest forest belt in the Congo Basin, with 22 million hectares of cover.
CONFLICT WITH LOCALS
In Lomie, where Sofhony has a presence, the conflict with locals is evident.
After securing two “sales of standing volume” exploitation permits known in French as Ventes de Coupe in 2013, the Chinese firm reached a deal with Djoameodjoh and Biba II communities to pay $2.5 per cubic metre of wood exploited, Gbalene explains.
The company was to open and maintain the community’s road.
“You have seen for yourself. Is that a road?” he asks.
The Djoameodjoh community expected $26,000 for wood harvested but Sofhony instead gave the local public treasury 800 roofing zinc sheets valued at $6,500.
Local authorities deny claims of exploitation by the communities.
Experts recommend the strengthening of the forest governance laws for transparency.