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Cameroon's Forests Offer More than Timber


Today, as part of this week’s series on agriculture in Africa, we go to Cameroon to learn about non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and efforts to sustain them through domestication.

Eric Wirsy is an extension officer at the Limbe Botanic Gardens, in the Southwest Province of Cameroon. He described NTFPs to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Angel Tabe: “Non-Timber Forest Products are forest vegetables, animals, mushrooms, medicinal plants, a variety…that do not constitute the timber used in construction work.”

Wirsy says lumber companies focus only on commercial timber exploitation, leaving the impression that forests are solely for that. So NTFPs are significant, serving as a life wire and sustaining entire lives among local populations who get their food and medicines from where these products grow most naturally. “For the local population, the forest is not just the timber, because their livelihood depends on the vegetables like the eru, which has a very high and social economic value in Cameroon…then small animals like snails, cane rats…high sources of protein for them...medicinal plants like Prunus Africana and a host of others. Some of them are exported.” But some NTFPs are disappearing due to overuse; hence the efforts to cultivate them. Examples are the Gnetum, commonly known as eru, and forest snails. “A survey identified some [NTFPs] that are disappearing in southwestern Cameroon like eru…. So we initiated domestication and small-holder farmers are cultivating [it], in their backyards.”

Wirsy tells of local interest in the domestication of NTFPs but cites major setbacks. “There is a lot of enthusiasm…. Funding is the problem. With finances, we are able to keep staff who can do the research work, get people who are committed…and the process can continue from there…. One of the biggest challenges of the botanic gardens is its transformation to a semi-autonomous institution. “Without this transformation, he adds, the institution cannot benefit from funds from foreign donors. Asked what could possibly be holding up this positive transition, Wirsy simply says, “It’s a political problem, above me.”

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