Imagine you are walking in a forest so vast you don’t know if it will ever end. In fact you may never reach the end because you get stuck in a vast swamp, blocked by a roaring river or frightened by a large forest elephant. Just as you feel totally lost you happen upon a person. She is from an indigenous tribe and tells you that to her the forest is like a garden, providing food and materials. She directs you to a road where a logging truck passes. A massive trunk of a tree rumbles past, destined for overseas clients. You hitch a ride and the driver tells you this part of the forest will soon be flooded by a dam in the river. He has heard of plans worth billions of dollars in the forest all the way up to the horizon. “Billions!” he shouts.
You are concerned. But you have ideas, imagination, determination. Friends. You want to act.
The forest is called TRIDOM, with 178,000 km² it is half the size of Germany, covered for 97% with tropical rainforest. It lies at the remote corner of Cameroon, Gabon and Republic of Congo in the vast forest block of the Congo Basin. That makes 3 governments to work with. They expect you to help implement their green economic development agendas while respecting the international environmental treaties they signed. TRIDOM is the biggest stronghold of the critically endangered forest elephant and important for gorillas, chimpanzees and many other wildlife. International conservation NGOs are ready to work with you. They want you to help stop the poaching, protect the habitat and save these species from extinction. TRIDOM is also home to some 300,000 people, including indigenous peoples like the Baka lady you met earlier. They expect you to help improve their lives.
The world seems to be closing in on the forest and its peoples. Companies from all over the world are eying up the forest as their next big investment. An international company is negotiating to convert 55.000 ha of pristine forest into palm oil plantations. Several world class iron ore deposits lie beneath the forest and international mining companies are keen to develop this potential. The dam the driver told you about is real, a huge 600MW hydropower dam is being planned to power the future mines. These big investments dwarf the small footprint of local shifting cultivation and small holder cacao, which have little impact on the forest.
Now for your challenge.
The indigenous peoples have no formal land tenure rights. They are mostly poorly schooled and jobless. Criminal gangs use the best hunters from the communities to track and poach elephants. To kill an elephant they get half a litre of whiskey, 10 packs of cigarettes and 100€. It is extremely dangerous and these hunters risk 3 years imprisonment for poaching a protected species. In the past 10 years, TRIDOM lost 80% of its forest elephants. Poached for their ivory which is smuggled to Asia. An untold drama hidden by the dense forest. The indigenous peoples and the elephants seem the inevitable losers of this tale. Are they really? Or can we act together?
How do we secure land tenure and access rights for indigenous peoples? Increase agricultural yields while lowering environmental damage? Improve access to schooling, healthcare, finance? We need partners who can help improve the rights position of indigenous peoples and their role in society. NGOs like WWF can help to better manage national parks and stop the illegal ivory trade. We need to work with companies that take their responsibility for a more socially inclusive and environmentally sensitive form of development of TRIDOM. Countries across the globe are committing money to save forests in order to reduce global warming. Together we need to convince our governments to provide funds to protect the TRIDOM forests.
This is what integrated landscape management is about. And you can have a role in it too. We need you. Be part of this crowd/movement to change the future for TRIDOM and make this happy TRIDOM tale. Sign up to TRIDOM@wwf.org