Standard methodology for participatory mapping lays foundation for explicit recognition of community rights to land and forests in Cameroon
Customary land rights are the rules and procedures, usually unwritten, through which rural communities regulate land relations among their members, and with neighbouring and associated communities. In this way, millions of rural Cameroonians manage land and rights according to custom. Customary land rights include the collective rights of communities to their natural heritage and the private rights of community members to use their agricultural and residential parcels. They vary from one region to another, from one ethnic group to another, and also in time, as they are influenced by economic, social, and political changes. Community land rights in Cameroon have constantly evolved and adapted to the different periods and socio-political, economic and historical contexts that the country has experienced and still experiences today. But unlike the many countries that have recognized and legally secured customary land rights, Cameroon has experienced a gradual decline in land and forest tenure security since colonial times, when the notion of individual land rights was introduced.
Today, community land and forest tenure rights in Cameroon are deeply insecure for Indigenous People and local communities. The problem arises from Cameroon’s colonial past. Colonists imposed their norms upon the traditional system of customary land rights, creating a hybrid system. Over time, indigenous and local communities have gone from having customary rights to the land and resources they depend on to being squatters on their own land⏤or dispossessed. Cameroon recognizes customary land rights rights in its forest and mining laws, but land tenure and the limits of community lands remain unclear. Conflict is escalating, fuelled by investment in agricultural, forest and mining industries. The Government recognizes the high social cost of conflict and the risk insecure land tenure poses to peace and security, and says it wants to clarify and strengthen local land rights.
In this new political context, three civil society organizations launch an initiative with Tenure Facility support to advance the land tenure security of local communities and indigenous peoples in Cameroon, building upon existing laws. They aim to use participatory community mapping as an essential first step and springboard to legal recognition. They are the Centre for Environment and Development (CED), Forest Peoples Program (FPP), and Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK), along with Rainbow Environment Consult, the Tenure Facility’s implementing partner.
Who are the Indigenous Peoples of Cameroon?
According to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), some of Cameroon’s rural communities identify themselves as indigenous. They include hunter-gathers (Pygmies), Mbororo pastoralists, and the Kirdi mountain communities. The Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon uses the terms indigenous and minorities in its preamble; however, it is not clear to whom this refers. Nevertheless, with developments in international law, civil society and the government increasingly use the term indigenous to refer to these three groups.