Cameroonian communities’ rights are recognized and protected in laws and regulations including the land laws, forestry law, the framework law on environmental management, and the mining code. Communities also claim customary land rights as property rights. The government of Cameroon has demonstrated its interest and openness to clarify and strengthen local land rights. Land fees and annual forestry royalties are shared among communities whose customary lands have been leased as concessions. However, the limit of communities’ land is still an unsolved issue in Cameroon, and the lack of mapped boundaries contributes to the escalation of conflicts.
The partners and participants saw an urgent need to develop a common approach to identifying the tenure and resource rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities that could be supported and adopted by both landholders and government. Increasing investments in agriculture, forest, and extractive industries were threatening the rights of Indigenous People and local communities in Cameroon and increasing conflict in rural areas. The lack of an agreed approach to addressing land tenure uncertainties was a major constraint to communities in their efforts to secure their land and tenure rights, to government in the development of national and local development and land use plans and to investors. The government’s own mapping authority, the National Institute of Cartography (INC), did not recognize community maps developed by Indigenous People and local communities. Community maps were not easily accessible to decision-makers, nor were they considered credible by public administrations. Government administrations responsible for making decisions about lands and resources frequently allocated concessions without consulting and coordinating with each other, let alone communities, leading to overlapping rights among industries and communities, and resulting in widespread and rising conflicts over land and resources with consequent losses on investments.
While many organizations in Cameroon had been engaged in participatory community mapping for decades, collaboration was limited. They applied different methodologies, addressed different interests, and achieved different outcomes. As a result community maps often told different and sometimes conflicting stories. Communities were rarely assisted to use their maps to secure their customary land and rights in the long term beyond a first campaign to defend rights against immediate threats.
The sense of urgency was also based on opportunities and risks for Indigenous People and local communities associated with Cameroon’s then new Land Use Planning Law of 2011 that is today driving a wave of land-use planning and decision-making about economic development across the country at all levels. The Government tasked Cameroon’s Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development (MINEPAT) with developing a land-use ‘schema’ and zoning plan at the national level, regional land-use schemas, and local or ‘council’ plans. In support of MINEPAT, the National Participatory Development Program (PNDP) was recently charged with developing or updating ‘communal development plans’ for Cameroon’s 360 councils.
The Tenure Facility’s pilot project in Cameroon, completed in 2017, recognized the opportunity to gain formal recognition of the rights of Indigenous People and local communities through the window of land-use and development planning. The joint initiative of the Centre for Environment and Development (CED, Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), Rainforest Foundation United Kingdom (RFUK), and the consulting firm Rainbow Environment Consult developed, tested and worked with government to secure broad support for a standard methodology for participatory community mapping in Cameroon. The methodology layed important groundwork for explicit recognition of local community land and resource use rights and reduction of escalating land and resource conflicts in Cameroon.
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