Taking Stock of Cameroon's Forests
One of the primary goals behind World Nature Conservation Day – celebrated annually on the 28 July – is to save plants, microorganisms and animals that face the threat of extinction. This is done by making scientists and the public aware of the problems and possible solutions to stop the process of extinction.
Human activities during the last century have had a devastating impact on nature’s resources. The ever-expanding population, rapid industrialisation and relentless human overexploitation of resources have led to the cutting down of forest cover to make space for urban development and farming – to the extent of causing unusual weather patterns, destruction of wildlife habitats, extinction of species, and loss of biodiversity. Sadly, this seems to have become the norm.
Forests and tree-based systems are crucial elements in the strategy towards sustainable development for the African continent. They also provide support services for the development of tourism, agriculture, and fisheries which in turn contribute to national and local economies and rural livelihoods.
Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) research fellow Dr Seraphine Mokake is based at the University of Douala in Cameroon. Her passion is for the ecology of tropical forests, specifically in the forest dynamics following selective logging and the carbon stock of the tropical forest in Cameroon. This vision speaks specifically to Sustainable Development Goal #15, which aims to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
“It is imperative that effective and well-implemented governmental and private sector management plans to guarantee the sustainable use of forests, especially after selective logging.” Dr Mokake has a firm belief that the appropriate knowledge about a resource is vital to determine the effects of anthropogenic activities on the forests. “However, knowledge of these resources is scarce in Africa in general and in the Congo basin, which has a high level of biodiversity. Long-term, permanent forest monitoring plots provide baseline information that underlies all planned forest management,” says Dr Mokake.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cameroonians turned to forest products for subsistence – wildlife and plants for food, and natural medications, in a country where few can afford modern medicine. These, together with illegal logging, are prominent anthropogenic activities to blame for deforestation and degradation, which are recognised as contributing factors to the spreading of diseases and climate change.
Dr Mokake has researched, for some time, stand dynamics following selective logging in parts of the Congo Basin that are situated in Cameroon – results of which have provided new baseline data for national and regional management decisions regarding forestry and other practices relevant to climate change mitigation.
Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
Her research was especially successful in investigating the Carbon stock of tropical forests as a mitigative measure against climate change and enrichment planting. She is using forest modelling through forest inventories to get to know the forest composition, structure, and carbon stock, following selective logging. This has led to the contribution of knowledge on the stocks of Carbon in Africa and pointed to exploitable species to be planted on either side of skid trails, around log yards and under the forest canopy. Her results have been integrated by the Cameroonian government organisation National Forestry Development Agency (ANAFOR). Dr Mokake’s work is of great importance in the current revision of the 1994 Cameroon forestry laws, which were previously based on parameters from other countries around the Congo Basin, not on data from Cameroon itself.
Dr Mokake’s research will result in baseline information on the state of the forest pre- and during the COVID era, and site- and species-specific details about Cameroon’s carbon stock will be obtained. The information will be transitioned into a policymaker report to contribute to policy on forest protection and people’s rights.
Heidi Sonnekus | FAR-LeaF Program
The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.