Does policy in Cameroon discourage smallholder tree planting?
Although most national government policies in Cameroon address tree planting and agroforestry, actual legislation designed to follow up the policies mostly contradicts poverty reduction goals, say Divine Foundjem-Tita, Zac Tchoundjeu, Stijn Speelman, Marijke D’Haese, Ann Degrande, Ebenezer Asaah, Guido van Huylenbroeck, Patrick van Damme and Ousseynou Ndoye.
In Indonesia, a 2009 export restriction designed to protect natural rattan stands, resulted in the total collapse of their cultivation. In Nepal, government-imposed levies for Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) caused farmers to lose interest in them. In Cameroon, conservation measures intended to protect some forest products from exploitation, discourage farmers from planting these species on their farms.
Policies work in complex ways and governments may sometimes get more than they bargained for when farmers respond to legislation in unexpected ways. Agroforestry is an important element in poverty reduction and coping with climate change, but its uptake in Cameroon seems to be constrained by factors both internal and external to the household, and related to the policy and legislative environment. This according to a group of scientists, including the Centre’s D. Foundjem-Tita, Z. Tchoundjeu, A. Degrande, E. Asaah and P. van Damme, who examine the impact of these factors in an article published in the November 2012 issue of Small-scale Forestry. The study was also designed to contribute to the process of formulating specific public policies, legislation and regulations to govern the agroforestry sub-sector in Cameroon and other countries.
Using qualitative content analyses, the scientists examined Cameroonian policies and legislation to investigate whether they support or discourage tree planting. They report that despite the social, economic and cultural importance of trees on farms—especially indigenous species—they are poorly integrated in existing government policies. Cameroonian law implies that trees planted on land without a title deed belong to the state. Indigenous fruit species are highly regulated, discouraging farmers from planting them. The country has no mechanisms to identify or separate tree products harvested from the wild from those that could also be found on farmers’ fields, which complicates issues. Trees outside forests may be under the control of forestry or agricultural legislation or a combination of both—or may be totally ignored by either or both, demonstrating the need to revise existing laws and regulations.
Such revisions to policy may well encourage farmers to plant more trees on their farms. Indeed, government support for farmer-managed regeneration of indigenous trees on agricultural land in Niger resulted in the spread of indigenous trees on more than 5 M ha. However, policy and legislative initiatives cannot be enacted without a clear understanding of how existing policies affect farmers’ decisions to plant trees on-farm. At the end of the day, a farmer’s decision to plant trees is based on the highest expected individual benefit at the lowest cost. Direct, incentive-oriented policies such as the provision of high quality planting material and paying for environmental services may encourage farmers to plant trees. As far as revision
of policies goes, the article makes several practical suggestions, including:
- developing specific agroforestry policies, so that agroforestry issues are not embedded in forestry or agriculture portfolios but dealt with separately
- forming an interministerial committee—comprising forest, land tenure, agriculture and climate change specialists among others—so that all sides of the issue are represented
- setting boundaries to define when a product ceases to be a forest product and becomes an agricultural product
- using the terms AgroForestry Tree Products (AFTPs) to distinguish forest products harvested from trees outside forests, and Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) for those products extracted from natural systems
- formulating incentive mechanisms that encourage farmers to plant trees, and to retain and manage indigenous fruit trees that grow naturally in existing farming systems.
Most of the conclusions drawn in this study stem from laws and regulations currently in use in Cameroon. However, there are no studies that provide any empirical evidence about farmers’ awareness and perception of these regulations, and the researchers feel that such a study is warranted. The principal research question in this case would be whether Cameroonian farmers are aware of existing legislation and whether properly enforced regulations would affect their tree-planting decisions. Such information can be useful in guiding policy-makers to prioritise their interventions.