• Home
  • Addressing equity in community forestry: lessons from 20 years of implementation in Cameroon

Addressing equity in community forestry: lessons from 20 years of implementation in Cameroon

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

A community forestry approach was adopted by Cameroon as a strategy to promote the sustainable management of forests, participation by local communities in forest management, and poverty alleviation. However, results have been moderate and community forestry has largely failed in achieving its initial goals. Our work, based on existing literature, uses the three inter-related dimensions of equity: distributive, procedural, and contextual to highlight the main equity challenges encountered in implementing the community forestry approach over the past 20 years in Cameroon. The main constraints to distributive equity identified include: the absence of clear benefit-sharing mechanisms and rents capture by elites, insecure tenure, and limited use rights of forest resources. Regarding the procedural dimension, we observed an exclusion of vulnerable groups, especially women, and a lack of information flow and transparency in decision-making processes. Finally, for contextual equity, the main constraints are unfair laws and regulations that give more advantages to the state and logging companies than to the local population. Moreover, poor community capacities and high transaction costs in the process of obtaining and exploiting community forests are additional constraints to contextual equity. The authors recommend a few measures to improve community forestry contribution to socioeconomic development, equity in benefit sharing, and sustainable management of forest resources. These include the need: (1) to promote transparency in community forests management with fair and gender-based policies that consider socioeconomic differences existing within and between forest communities; (2) to strengthen local community members financial and technical capacities and increase their representation and participation in decision-making structures; and (3) to set up mechanisms that guarantee existing policies are fully implemented.

Access this publication.

  • Home
  • Optimizing carbon stocks of cocoa landscapes can help conserve Africa’s forests

Optimizing carbon stocks of cocoa landscapes can help conserve Africa’s forests

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

A woman holds a cacao bean, which can be processed into butter and cream. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

Cocoa is the primary source of income in southern Cameroon, where it represents 48% of total agricultural land use. In this and other tropical regions, the way cocoa agroforests are managed matters immensely to livelihoods, and also to the climate.

Cocoa agroforests vary widely in terms of tree composition and structure, but, until recently, few studies had been conducted to understand how these differences impact carbon stocks.

Meanwhile, irresponsible land management practices were not only seeing cocoa plantations fail to contribute to countries’ emissions reductions goals, but also cause massive forest degradation in countries such as the Côte D’Ivoire and Ghana, which are alone responsible for two-thirds of the world’s cocoa production.

This ‘cocoa belt’ had been becoming increasingly prone to deforestation and drought, and cocoa landscapes in other high-producing countries in Asia and Latin America had been following suit.

But when chocolate companies began making deforestation-related commitments at the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris, the tide began to change on the industry’s standards and practices. It also then became imperative for scientists to generate knowledge to help the expected changes transform cocoa forest landscapes in the most beneficial ways.

In response, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) institution the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and other partner organizations profiled the carbon stocks of cocoa agroforests in three southern Cameroonian ecological areas (Yaoundé, Mbalmayo and Ebolowa) and identified what types of plants and management systems boost carbon storage best.

“This knowledge is important to implement nationally determined contributions [NDCs] to the global climate agenda and its measures to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation [REDD+] by promoting sustainable cocoa value chains,” says lead author and CIFOR senior scientist Denis Sonwa.

Since COP21, the world’s largest chocolate companies – Mars, Nestle and Ferrero to name a few – have come together in a variety of agreements, from an agreement signed by the Prince of Wales to a sectorial “Frameworks for Action” at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. The goal is to see the industry achieve net-zero deforestation and improve local livelihoods, and this research is a crucial step along the way.

Read also: Baseline for assessing the impact of fairtrade certification on cocoa farmers and cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire

COCOA’S COMRADES

The researchers aimed to answer a string of questions including how carbon stocks of cocoa agroforests varied across ecological zones and management methods, and how carbon storage compared between different types of plants associated with cocoa – and the stocks of some key species, in particular.

“What we found is that agroforests with a high density of high-economic value industrial timber and non-timber forest products stored two to three times the amount captured by other management systems,” explains Sonwa.

A dish of cacao beans awaits processing in Cameroon. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

Plantations with a high density of banana plants and oil palm trees came next, and those with cocoa tree densities of 70% or higher came in last. Specifically, the above-ground parts of plants in these varied types of cocoa agroforests stored 147 Mg of carbon per hectare, 49 Mg and 39 Mg, respectively.

Researchers also found that above-ground parts of the other plants accounted for 70% of the carbon storage, while cocoa trees accounted for only 5%.

Across all three ecological zones, high-value timber accounts for 29.7% of the total carbon stored above ground, at 49.9 Mg per hectare; edible species for 15%; and medicinal plants for 6%.

Read also: Unpacking ‘sustainable’ cocoa: do sustainability standards, development projects and policies address producer concerns in Indonesia, Cameroon and Peru?

RICH PICKINGS

Another conclusion of the study is that “the top ten species generally stored more than 50% of carbon held by associated plants,” with Terminalia superba – a tall deciduous tree native to the African tropics – among the species with a higher storage (14 Mg per hectare).

These results “suggest that associated plants not only contribute to shade, but also increase the capacity of farms to store carbon,” notes the study. And the benefits of such plants go well beyond that. Indeed, the higher ecocapacity of cocoa agroforests lead to increases in plant litter fall, soil litter and rainfall, thus upgrading both the agronomic and environmental potential of the landscape. Meanwhile, a plantation solely growing cocoa does threaten overall agro-ecological sustainability.

Sonwa points out that non-cocoa plants provide a structure similar to that of forests, and that their products and services appear as cobenefits of cocoa agroforestry in addition to carbon storage. Timber, non-wood forest products such as fruit, and medicinal plants may all contribute to local livelihoods and to biodiversity conservation.

“Simultaneously obtaining several products and services from the same plantation increases the resilience of farmers,” he says. “That is particularly important as the pressure on natural resources increases.”

Read also: Greater inclusion of women is needed to optimally intensify cocoa value chains, researchers find

BEYOND THE BEANS

In the last few decades, the main goal of cocoa agroforests was to produce cocoa beans, but demographic growth, climate change and loss of forests are changing this approach.

For the researchers, the multiple functions of cocoa agroforests should be at the center of efforts to fight global warming and achieve better outcomes for people and the planet. “This is why our findings are useful to scientists, and also to decision-makers, farmers and the private sector,” says Sonwa.

The findings of the paper can, for example, be useful to certification schemes that want to improve the environmental footprint of the cocoa sector. They also offer key insights to cocoa agroforest managers, particularly given the current context where zero deforestation targets are at the center of many company agendas.

In Sub-Saharan Africa where most of the world’s cocoa originates, the paper is certainly useful in structuring efforts to free the cocoa value chain from deforestation. But going beyond that, in central Africa and the Congo Basin, it sheds light by offering productive agroforestry options that conserve remaining natural forests while providing livelihoods.

“We have examined cocoa agroforests from an ecological perspective, so the next step would be to look at economic and production aspects,” says Sonwa. “For example, does storing more carbon in associated plants affect cocoa production — and how?”

The findings make clear that sustainable cocoa agroforest management in Sub-Saharan African forest landscapes can reconcile cocoa bean production with climate change responses, and big global initiatives, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

But, it also makes clear how much there is left to learn about chocolate.

By Gloria Pallares, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Denis Sonwa at [email protected].


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP) and Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD).

  • Home
  • Optimizing carbon stocks of cocoa landscapes can help conserve Africa’s forests

Optimizing carbon stocks of cocoa landscapes can help conserve Africa’s forests

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

A woman holds a cacao bean, which can be processed into butter and cream. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

Cocoa is the primary source of income in southern Cameroon, where it represents 48% of total agricultural land use. In this and other tropical regions, the way cocoa agroforests are managed matters immensely to livelihoods, and also to the climate.

Cocoa agroforests vary widely in terms of tree composition and structure, but, until recently, few studies had been conducted to understand how these differences impact carbon stocks.

Meanwhile, irresponsible land management practices were not only seeing cocoa plantations fail to contribute to countries’ emissions reductions goals, but also cause massive forest degradation in countries such as the Côte D’Ivoire and Ghana, which are alone responsible for two-thirds of the world’s cocoa production.

This ‘cocoa belt’ had been becoming increasingly prone to deforestation and drought, and cocoa landscapes in other high-producing countries in Asia and Latin America had been following suit.

But when chocolate companies began making deforestation-related commitments at the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris, the tide began to change on the industry’s standards and practices. It also then became imperative for scientists to generate knowledge to help the expected changes transform cocoa forest landscapes in the most beneficial ways.

In response, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) institution the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and other partner organizations profiled the carbon stocks of cocoa agroforests in three southern Cameroonian ecological areas (Yaoundé, Mbalmayo and Ebolowa) and identified what types of plants and management systems boost carbon storage best.

“This knowledge is important to implement nationally determined contributions [NDCs] to the global climate agenda and its measures to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation [REDD+] by promoting sustainable cocoa value chains,” says lead author and CIFOR senior scientist Denis Sonwa.

Since COP21, the world’s largest chocolate companies – Mars, Nestle and Ferrero to name a few – have come together in a variety of agreements, from an agreement signed by the Prince of Wales to a sectorial “Frameworks for Action” at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. The goal is to see the industry achieve net-zero deforestation and improve local livelihoods, and this research is a crucial step along the way.

Read also: Baseline for assessing the impact of fairtrade certification on cocoa farmers and cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire

COCOA’S COMRADES

The researchers aimed to answer a string of questions including how carbon stocks of cocoa agroforests varied across ecological zones and management methods, and how carbon storage compared between different types of plants associated with cocoa – and the stocks of some key species, in particular.

“What we found is that agroforests with a high density of high-economic value industrial timber and non-timber forest products stored two to three times the amount captured by other management systems,” explains Sonwa.

A dish of cacao beans awaits processing in Cameroon. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

Plantations with a high density of banana plants and oil palm trees came next, and those with cocoa tree densities of 70% or higher came in last. Specifically, the above-ground parts of plants in these varied types of cocoa agroforests stored 147 Mg of carbon per hectare, 49 Mg and 39 Mg, respectively.

Researchers also found that above-ground parts of the other plants accounted for 70% of the carbon storage, while cocoa trees accounted for only 5%.

Across all three ecological zones, high-value timber accounts for 29.7% of the total carbon stored above ground, at 49.9 Mg per hectare; edible species for 15%; and medicinal plants for 6%.

Read also: Unpacking ‘sustainable’ cocoa: do sustainability standards, development projects and policies address producer concerns in Indonesia, Cameroon and Peru?

RICH PICKINGS

Another conclusion of the study is that “the top ten species generally stored more than 50% of carbon held by associated plants,” with Terminalia superba – a tall deciduous tree native to the African tropics – among the species with a higher storage (14 Mg per hectare).

These results “suggest that associated plants not only contribute to shade, but also increase the capacity of farms to store carbon,” notes the study. And the benefits of such plants go well beyond that. Indeed, the higher ecocapacity of cocoa agroforests lead to increases in plant litter fall, soil litter and rainfall, thus upgrading both the agronomic and environmental potential of the landscape. Meanwhile, a plantation solely growing cocoa does threaten overall agro-ecological sustainability.

Sonwa points out that non-cocoa plants provide a structure similar to that of forests, and that their products and services appear as cobenefits of cocoa agroforestry in addition to carbon storage. Timber, non-wood forest products such as fruit, and medicinal plants may all contribute to local livelihoods and to biodiversity conservation.

“Simultaneously obtaining several products and services from the same plantation increases the resilience of farmers,” he says. “That is particularly important as the pressure on natural resources increases.”

Read also: Greater inclusion of women is needed to optimally intensify cocoa value chains, researchers find

BEYOND THE BEANS

In the last few decades, the main goal of cocoa agroforests was to produce cocoa beans, but demographic growth, climate change and loss of forests are changing this approach.

For the researchers, the multiple functions of cocoa agroforests should be at the center of efforts to fight global warming and achieve better outcomes for people and the planet. “This is why our findings are useful to scientists, and also to decision-makers, farmers and the private sector,” says Sonwa.

The findings of the paper can, for example, be useful to certification schemes that want to improve the environmental footprint of the cocoa sector. They also offer key insights to cocoa agroforest managers, particularly given the current context where zero deforestation targets are at the center of many company agendas.

In Sub-Saharan Africa where most of the world’s cocoa originates, the paper is certainly useful in structuring efforts to free the cocoa value chain from deforestation. But going beyond that, in central Africa and the Congo Basin, it sheds light by offering productive agroforestry options that conserve remaining natural forests while providing livelihoods.

“We have examined cocoa agroforests from an ecological perspective, so the next step would be to look at economic and production aspects,” says Sonwa. “For example, does storing more carbon in associated plants affect cocoa production — and how?”

The findings make clear that sustainable cocoa agroforest management in Sub-Saharan African forest landscapes can reconcile cocoa bean production with climate change responses, and big global initiatives, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

But, it also makes clear how much there is left to learn about chocolate.

By Gloria Pallares, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Denis Sonwa at [email protected].


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP) and Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD).

  • Home
  • Profiling Carbon Storage/Stocks of Cocoa Agroforests in the Forest Landscape of Southern Cameroon

Profiling Carbon Storage/Stocks of Cocoa Agroforests in the Forest Landscape of Southern Cameroon

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Despite evidence that cocoa agroforests are composed of different types of associated plants leading to varieties of structures, few studies have been done to assess the implications of these variations on carbon stocks. The current studies profile the carbon storage of cocoa agroforests in Southern Cameroon by: (1) evaluating the carbon stocks of cocoa agroforests in different ecological zones (Yaoundé, Mbalmayo, and Ebolowa), (2) evaluating the carbon stocks of cocoa agroforests under different management methods, (3) evaluating the contribution of some plant species to carbon sequestration inside cocoa agroforests, and (4) identifying the carbon stocks of some important species. Inside the cocoa agroforests of Southern Cameroon, associated plants store around 70% of the carbon. Cocoa agroforests with timber and NWFP (Non-Wood Forest Products) store more than twice what is found in systems rich with Musa and oil palm. In these systems, timber and NWFP store more than 2.5 times what is found in cocoa systems with high densities of cocoa, and such systems with timber and NWFP store more than 3.3 times the carbon of unshaded cocoa orchards.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-7650-3_30

  • Home
  • Unpacking 'sustainable' cocoa: do sustainability standards, development projects and policies address producer concerns in Indonesia, Cameroon and Peru?

Unpacking ‘sustainable’ cocoa: do sustainability standards, development projects and policies address producer concerns in Indonesia, Cameroon and Peru?

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Sustainable cocoa has attracted considerable attention. However, stakeholders in cocoa development may differ in their understanding of sustainable cocoa, their interests and actions taken in advancing sustainable cocoa. This article analyses cocoa sustainability at nested scales and analyses to what extent sustainability standards, policies and development projects address sustainability concerns and contribute to ecosystem services. The analysis is based on literature reviews and key informant interviews in Sulawesi (Indonesia), Ucayali (Peru) and Centre Region (Cameroon). Producers in all three countries shared concerns of price volatility, weak farmer organizations and dependence on few buyers. Producers in Sulawesi and Centre Region compensated low returns to cocoa production by diversification of cocoa systems. Public and private development actors were concerned with low production volumes. Research has so far focused on biodiversity loss, which differed depending on the cocoa sector’s age in a country. Policies and development programs in all countries have focused on cocoa sector expansion and productivity increases, irrespective of smallholder needs for economically viable farming systems and existing market structures resulting in little bargaining power to farmers. Sustainability standards have spread unevenly and have converged in compliance criteria over time, although initially differing in focus. Recently added business and development criteria of sustainability standards can potentially address farmers’ concerns. Competing interests and interdependencies between different actors’ responses to concerns have so far not been openly acknowledged by public and private sector actors.

  • Home
  • Playing for keeps: How a simple board game could lead to more sustainable oil palm

Playing for keeps: How a simple board game could lead to more sustainable oil palm

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Once reserved for military war games, the Companion Modeling approach has been developed and expanded over the past two decades to include the complex issues of renewable resources and environmental management. The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) is part of a consortium of international institutions led by the Swiss-based University, ETH Zurich, that is using ComMod to help chart a path toward more sustainable palm oil as part of a six-year project called OPAL, Oil Palm Adaptive Landscapes, being carried out in Cameroon, Colombia and Indonesia – some of the world’s biggest palm oil producers.

Originally published by CIFOR.

This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

  • Home
  • Creating an appropriate tenure foundation for REDD+: The record to date and prospects for the future

Creating an appropriate tenure foundation for REDD+: The record to date and prospects for the future

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Attention to tenure is a fundamental step in preparation for REDD+ implementation. Unclear and conflicting tenure has been the main challenge faced by the proponents of subnational REDD+ initiatives, and accordingly, they have expended much effort to remedy the problem. This article assesses how well REDD+ has performed in laying an appropriate tenure foundation. Field research was carried out in two phases (2010-2012 and 2013-2014) in five countries (Brazil, Peru, Cameroon, Tanzania, Indonesia) at 21 subnational initiatives, 141 villages (half targeted for REDD+ interventions), and 3,754 households. Three questions are posed: 1) What was the effect of REDD+ on perceived tenure insecurity of village residents?; 2) What are the main reasons for change in the level of tenure insecurity and security from Phase 1 to Phase 2 perceived by village residents in control and intervention villages?; and 3) How do intervention village residents evaluate the impact of tenure-related interventions on community well-being? Among the notable findings are that: 1) tenure insecurity decreases slightly across the whole sample of villages, but we only find that REDD+ significantly reduces tenure insecurity in Cameroon, while actually increasing insecurity of smallholder agricultural land tenure in Brazil at the household level; 2) among the main reported reasons for increasing tenure insecurity (where it occurs) are problems with outside companies, lack of title, and competition from neighboring villagers; and 3) views on the effect of REDD+ tenure-related interventions on community well-being lean towards the positive, including for interventions that restrain access to forest. Thus, while there is little evidence that REDD+ interventions have worsened smallholder tenure insecurity (as feared by critics), there is also little evidence that the proponents’ efforts to address tenure insecurity have produced results. Work on tenure remains an urgent priority for safeguarding local livelihoods as well as for reducing deforestation. This will require increased attention to participatory engagement, improved reward systems, tenure policy reform, integration of national and local efforts, and “business-as-usual” interests.

  • Home
  • What does restoring the world’s forests mean for women’s rights?

What does restoring the world’s forests mean for women’s rights?

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Around the world, millions of hectares of land are being reforested as part of global efforts to combat climate change, restore ecological integrity and improve human well-being.

But it’s not just a matter of planting trees on empty lands. As in any landscape, the areas where restoration efforts are taking place are overlaid with uses, histories and political dynamics – including different rights and responsibilities for men and women. Researchers are just beginning to look at the implications of Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) for gender equality.

The movement presents both challenges and opportunities for improving women’s rights, says Markus Ihalainen, a research officer at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the lead center of the CGIAR Research Program on Forest, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), with women’s access to land as a major issue.

“In a lot of countries you already have good policies, guaranteeing women’s rights to land,” he says. “But then you find on the ground both a lack in implementation and a lack of awareness of those rights, and often social pressure that hinders women from claiming the land rights they hold legally.”

At the same time, FLR offers opportunities for women to be better included in land-use decisions and to participate in planting and restoration work, with potential benefits for their overall well-being.

Watch: Restoring landscapes, respecting rights

Research from Mali shows there are opportunities to leverage synergies between restoration and women’s well-being, and that restoration options involving certain indigenous species, as opposed to fast-growing timber species, can enhance women’s adaptive capacities,” Ihalainen says.

“But unlocking this potential often requires identifying, negotiating and reconciling trade-offs between different restoration goals. That is why it is so important to conduct a thorough gender analysis and involve women as stakeholders in the process,” he adds.

In a conversation with Forests News, Ihalainen shared more about the ongoing research on gender and restoration, and how it’s being put into practice around the world.

You just released a brief on gender and Forest Landscape Restoration. Can you tell us about that?

FLR is gaining a lot of political momentum, and there’s a lot of focus on it now. But in terms of gender and FLR, the discussion so far has been quite general and quite broad. And so what we have been interested in doing is to really look at what is happening on the ground: What are some of the ways in which FLR is implemented on the ground? What are some of the concrete challenges and opportunities to address gender equality? And really have a grounding discussion about that.

In terms of literature on gender and FLR, it’s still quite thin. Even FLR as a concept, in terms of what it’s become now – there’s quite little solid research on that. So what we wanted to do was to look at the broader literature, including the literature on REDD+ and other initiatives, and to really look at what some of the key entry points are for gender analysis when it comes to FLR.

And so we posed questions such as: What are some of the key risks to women’s rights? What are some of the possible synergies between various restoration goals and gender equality? And also looked at some of the trade-offs, and how they can be reconciled.

A woman carries gnetum in Minwoho, Cameroon. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

And what did you find?

A big issue for gender and FLR is around land tenure. That is, on what land is restoration taking place? In areas where women don’t have land titles they’re not necessarily included as stakeholders in the FLR process at all. Then again, in many countries or in many contexts you have women planting trees, you have women nursing the seedlings, but in 20 years’ time it might be that they’re not able to reap the benefits.

We had a very telling example of this during a recent workshop in Nairobi, where Janet Chihanga from the Komaza Foundation had been working with women on the coast of Kenya to restore and plant trees in degraded lands that weren’t really claimed by anyone.

She found that some eight years later — when it wasn’t even time for harvesting, but just thinning — the men who previously showed no interest in the land which the women had been working on for all this time, suddenly turned up and claimed the land. Because there were trees there.

Read more: Gender integration and gender-responsive research

What does the research suggest for action going forward?

I think what’s really important is to look at what is actually happening on the ground. That is really what needs to inform this discussion. It is a long process and it will require everything from policy to addressing issues to do with the implementation of policy, to changing and transforming norms on the ground.

That will, of course, require the collaboration of a lot of different partners. It won’t necessarily happen overnight, but I think in the short term with restoration initiatives, some of the really critical things will be to implement and ensure that the principles of FPIC — or free, prior and informed consent — are upheld and implemented in a gender-responsive way.

What needs to be done next?

When we look at FLR and gender, because there are so many stakeholders involved, and because there are so many different approaches, it’s very difficult to make a broad statement about what needs to be done.

But I think one of the reasons for me, personally, why I am engaged in this, is because this is really an opportunity to bring these issues up to the forefront of discussions.

Now there is a lot of focus — a lot of political emphasis — on these areas, these lands, that have not necessarily been the priority of a lot of policymakers for a long time. Now there’s more and more emphasis on these areas, and so bringing the issues of rights and gender equality into that discussion is really critical.

And it’s a good opportunity to do that now.

Read more: Gender equality and social inclusion

By Deanna Ramsay and Catriona Croft-Cusworth, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Markus Ihalainen at [email protected].


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by UK aid from the UK government.

  • Home
  • Sustainable development of Cameroon's palm oil

Sustainable development of Cameroon’s palm oil

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Cameroon’s tropical climate provides the perfect conditions for growing oil palm. The high-yield crop is liked by industrial farmers and smallholders, but some are concerned that vast plantations could undermine food security and prevent local families from getting the food they need.

Originally published by CIFOR.

  • Home
  • Altitude Matters: How elevation affects carbon and biodiversity in a warming world

Altitude Matters: How elevation affects carbon and biodiversity in a warming world

Drenched in rain and humidity, the massif is around 1,000 meters high and covered in an ancient forest that ranges from lowland to submontane cloud forest. Photo by: Christelle Gonmadje/CIFOR
Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Environmental conditions vary with altitude, affecting temperature, soil type, rainfall and humidity. Photo credit: Ollivier Girard/Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

By Kate Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Cameroon – In the south of Cameroon where the Congo Basin meets the Atlantic Ocean, there is a range of hills called the Ngovayang Massif.

Drenched in rain and humidity, the massif is around 1,000 meters high and covered in an ancient forest that ranges from lowland to submontane cloud forest. It is home to gorillas, chimpanzees, panthers, giant pangolins, and porcupines, as well as various rare bird species.

Very little was known about Ngovayang’s plant life until Christelle Gonmadje from the University of Yaounde and the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD) spent five months per year there over the span of her three-year PhD research, listening to gorillas growl and monkeys hoot as she set out 15 one-hectare permanent plots.

Across the Ngovayang Massif, Gonmadje identified 1,491 plant species, including 224 of high conservation value. She found 18 species endemic to this range of hills, which are found nowhere else.

“It is one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world,” she says. “In terms of species richness, it’s very important – perhaps one of the most important sites in Central Africa.”

In collaboration with scientists from a handful of other institutions, including the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Gonmadje also measured the above-ground biomass in the forest and analyzed its variation with altitude.

Drenched in rain and humidity, the massif is around 1,000 meters high and covered in an ancient forest that ranges from lowland to submontane cloud forest. Photo by: Christelle Gonmadje/CIFOR

Above-ground biomass refers to the total quantity of living matter found in the trees (but not in their roots or the soil). Biomass is crucial to helping scientists and policy makers determine how much carbon is stored in a particular forest.

Gonmadje and colleagues found that in Ngovayang, the above-ground biomass decreases at higher altitudes, driven by a change in the kinds of plants found at different heights.

FORESTS CHANGE WITH ALTITUDE

The study is important, says Terry Sunderland, a senior scientist at CIFOR who also worked on the paper. This is because permanent plot studies in tropical forests have tended to focus on the lowlands.

“What Christelle’s research has shown, is that you can’t make huge generalizations about biomass in tropical rainforest without taking into account the contribution of altitude,” he says.

Environmental conditions vary with altitude – temperature, soil type, rainfall, humidity – and this influences what grows there.

“When you walk from the lowland to the high altitude, some species disappear, because they are not adapted to those conditions,” Gonmadje says. “So the bigger tree species disappear, and you have a shift in species composition.”

Fewer big tree species means less biomass and less carbon – at least above ground. A few other studies have found that at higher altitudes, a higher proportion of a tree’s biomass is stored underground.

Having accurate data on how carbon is stored in forests of different kinds is important for countries like Cameroon that hope to benefit from international efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing deforestation, such as REDD+.

Christelle Gonmadje and her team in the field doing research. Photo credit: Christelle Gonmadje/CIFOR

“To be competitive in carbon trading markets or REDD+ initiatives, countries which have tropical forests need to demonstrate that they have reduced their carbon emissions, and that means they need accurate knowledge of the quantity of carbon stock in their forests to start with,” says Gonmadje.

“With this information, policy makers can develop greenhouse gas management and mitigation plans and identify the steps they can take to maintain or increase carbon stocks. You cannot have these benefits if you do not have good, quality data on the biomass and carbon stocks.”

KILLING THE COFFEE

The research also highlights the importance of paying attention to altitude in a warming world.

“As global temperatures change and things get hotter, the altitudinal aspect of tropical ecology is going to play a huge role,” Sunderland says. “What Christelle is showing is basically the importance of plant composition with altitude and how that changes.”

“Coffee, for example, requires a very specific altitudinal and temperature range to grow, and soon it’s going to be too darn hot in the 600 to 1,000-meter range that it is currently grown in, so it’s going to move upward to higher altitudes.”

Many species requiring cooler temperatures will also need to make this shift, he adds. Some, however, won’t be able to adapt and might be lost.

“This will start affecting people everywhere when the price of their coffee goes from the average USD $3 a cup to USD $6. And in the long run, we don’t know which species can adapt, and which will die. It’s going to be a huge problem for many of our agricultural crops. Economically, it’s going to affect us enormously.”


For more information on this topic, please contact Christelle Gonmadje at [email protected] or Terry Sunderland at [email protected]

This research was supported by USAID, CIRAD, French Embassy (SCAC)

Back to top

Sign up to our monthly newsletter

Connect with us