A Forest For The Trees


Men looking at a tree

Tropical forests are the lifeblood of many communities around the world. Rich in biodiversity, the forests can support hunting, fishing, subsistence farming, logging and industries like rubber tree tapping — if they are managed sustainably. If they are not, the environment is at risk and so too is the economic and social future of the people that depend on these forests.

Enter Cuso International and the Model Forest approach to managing natural resources — a Canadian idea that has taken root in 30 countries, including Cameroon.Farmers inspecting trees

In the Campo Ma’an forest in Cameroon, Cuso International has partnered with the International Model Forest Network, the African Model Forest Network, governments, community groups, local businesses and more to help the community develop and implement a sustainable plan.

As Cuso International volunteer Jean-Marie Johnston explains, “The goal of the Model Forest project is to help improve people’s living conditions and level of income.”

With a focus on long-term economic growth, one solution Jean-Marie and the group are exploring is to replant fruit trees. The replenishable fruit can feed people in the community, and herbs from the trees can be used as medicines. As well, these products can be sold at market — creating sustainable livelihoods. Other promising opportunities include developing an ecotourism business and marketing locally made crafts.

At the heart of the Model Forest approach is environmental sustainability. It’s an idea that is fairly new to many people in developing countries, but one that is gaining ground. In the Campo Ma’an region, for example, the priority used to be to cut down as much wood as possible to sell. Now the community realizes that this is not a sustainable approach and is open to finding new and lasting ways to generate revenue.

Getting a consensus from everyone who depends on the forest for their livelihood can be challenging, but the people here are making it happen. Says Jean-Marie, “They’re motivated to work together because they have a common goal: creating a sustainable future for their children and grandchildren.”