Community Resettlement within the Context of Conservation and Development Projects : Implications on Livelihood Chances Among Rural inhabitants of Ikondokondo village in South West Cameroon

Sammanfattning: In Cameroon the politics of forest resource governance stands asunder with the positive value of human activity within forest systems. This is partly due to the erroneous perception amongst policymakers and project planners that local peoples’ involvement in forest systems can only be detrimental. Consequently, building on this simplistic view, Cameroon government’s actions and forest conservation policies, until lately, tended to subscribe to a form of hyper-conservationism that required the complete exclusion of local peoples from so-called ‘national parks’ and ‘conserved’ forest systems. Increasingly, as emerging research continues to strongly indicate that forest growth and regeneration are to a considerable extent, linked to everyday human activity, and the direct environmental acumen of indigenous local peoples, the rational basis of exclusionary conservationism has come under serious scrutiny. Consequently, there is a growing consensus forming around the need to comprehensively interrogate the validity of the ‘received wisdoms’ that true forest conservation requires delinking human intervention from forest ecology.Building extensively on a wealth of secondary and primary data, this study interrogates the processes that led to the establishment of Korup National Park in Southwestern Cameroon. It highlights the extent to which top-down conceptualization, planning and implementation of community resettlement initiatives in the Korup National Park have negatively affected the livelihood chances and socio-economic statuses of local forest dwellers in Ikondokondo area of Southwestern Cameroon. Through a poorly conceived and orchestrated resettlement scheme, the government of Cameroon set about forcefully dislocating local peoples and communities from their livelihood sources. The displaced indigenes of Ikondokondo depended entirely on forest for food, shelter, fuel and medicine, and the marketing of non-timber forest resources provided extra cash, which served as valuable ‘economic cushions’ against financial hardships. Yet, as primary data indicates, the forest served far more than a mere economic breadbasket. The Korup forest in its entirety served as a spiritual sanctuary of priceless anthropo-religious value at the heart of the Ikondokondo belief system, and local peoples strengthened forest conservation and regeneration by establishing strict culturally sanctioned regulations against deforestation. In fact, local peoples rebuilt the Korup forest and strengthened its flora diversity by planting fruit trees such as bush mango and pear, as well as cash crops such as cocoa and coffee. Consequently, the resettlement of local peoples within the context of the Korup project should be seen as a tragic process resulting in significant disruptions in a ‘naturally negotiated’ balance between conservation and human development.This thesis argues for the need to revisit the orthodoxy of the received wisdom surrounding forest conservation in Cameroon. It submits that the agency led top-down approach to nature conservation actually harms than helps the forest ecosystem, alienates local peoples, and disrupts a delicately established balance between local human development and forest conservation and regeneration. The field data in the study corroborates a growing profile of research finding indicating that human activity strengthens than weakens forest ecosystems. The Ikondokondo people have much more to worry about than the loss of their homes and their ancestral systems. False compensation promises by government officials are yet to be met, basic amenities such as portable drinking water and health facilities are yet to be provided in the resettlement areas decades after their initial resettlement, and local peoples have completely lost faith in the government of Cameroon. Hence, in other for nature conservation programmes to be effective, there is urgent need to; strengthen commitment to put forest people at the centre of such policies, build effectively on the importance of local knowledge in forest resources management, and in the case of resettlement, establish fair and sufficient compensation mechanisms for resettled populations. 

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