SEATTLE — The community of Kadey on the eastern border of Cameroon is employing new technology to protect its forests. This rural area is a frequent target for illegal loggers, and the residents depend on natural resources from the forest for their livelihoods. Illegal deforestation not only hurts the community, it also has a negative impact on the climate.
In response to illegal logging, the Cameroonian government partnered with FODER (Forest and Rural Development), the Department of International Development (DFID), The Waterloo Foundation and The Rainforest Fund to deploy a program called ForestLink. The ForestLink system allows volunteers to photograph illegally cut trees with smartphones and upload the photos to authorities.
A lack of mobile or internet connectivity is no match for ForestLink, as it is satellite-based. The images are geo-tagged, so authorities are able to pinpoint the illegal activity. After the users, dubbed Forest Defenders, upload the photos, they are able to then make toll-free phone calls to authorities, the forest ministry and the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
Newly recruited Forest Defender Bertrand Eyoum knows the stakes are high. International human rights organization Global Witness reported that 185 people tasked with defending forests, land or rivers were murdered in 2015. To date, this is the highest annual death toll recorded for people defending natural resources.
Eyoum has faith in his training and the technology, though. “We have been trained not only to monitor illegal and corrupt activities in our forest but also to train others to better fight illegal logging,” he said. Thus far, more than 100 volunteers have been trained as Forest Defenders. Fortunately, Eyoum and his fellow volunteer Forest Defenders are not alone in the fight. Elite soldiers have been deployed to targeted areas to protect the volunteers.
Residents in communities affected by illegal logging are not alone in the fight to protect their resources and livelihoods. While the Forest Defenders fight on the front lines, the government is also stepping up enforcement. In early 2016, the Cameroonian government suspended the licenses of four logging companies and collected more than $88,000 in fines for illegal forestry activities.
Officials remained steadfast in their pursuit of illegal loggers. In November 2016, the government discovered that 23 logging companies and two community interest groups were guilty of unauthorized logging, failure to comply with contractual obligations and technical operating standards and fraudulent use of documents. The offenders were hit with a six-month suspension.
With the backing of the government, the Forest Defenders can be confident they are an important force in the battle against illegal logging. Anicet Ngomin, an official with the forest and wildlife ministry, confirms this: “Empowered people, capable of taking action and contributing to the protection of their forest resources, will certainly help in the fight against forest resource depletion.”
– Gisele Dunn