Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cameroon develops mapping tools for land use planning

 By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame
A project to design and test  mapping tools to improve the transparency of spatial planning in Cameroon has been launched in the Southwest region of Cameroon. The launching took place, April 21, 2015 in Buea.
According to experts,the mapping tool, once developed, would ensure that the final land-use map drafted by community members will include all information relevant to land use planning, including the resources found on their land, and how the communities use them. This will be a useful bargaining instrument for the communities whenever they interact with the government and investors. The land-use map will also act as insurance against land use abuse and deprivation of indigenes of much-needed resources.

“We are looking forward to the full awareness and involvement of the local population in this project of a mapping tool for land-use plan. All the needs and interests of the population in a community should be represented in the map. It is, therefore, the responsibility of everyone to get involved in the business of land use mapping,” said Prof. Bertin Soh Fotsing, Director of Cartography at MINEPAT.
James Acworth team leader introducing concept of mapping tools at MINEPAT workshop
A detailed mapping tool for land use planning has not only the flexibility of providing opportunities for mutual discussions between government, communities and investors on how to use land and resources, but would also be placed on the internet so that everybody can see it.

“Already lots of mapping tools are on the internet, which show protected areas, forest concessions, agricultural concessions, council forests and community forests, yet they do not show customary ownership of land and how the local people use their own land for farming, or how they use their forests.

“A suitable land use plan can balance the many interests in land; meeting domestic food needs, production of commercial commodities, reserving forests for community use, protection of the local environment (watersheds, soils, wildlife) and biodiversity,” said James Acworth, LTS Team Leader.
In a cautionary remark, Acworth said, “We want to meet the local authorities to understand their interests; what sort of decisions they want to make and to build synergies with other stakeholders - we want the local population to understand our intention to develop mapping tools and not become suspicious.”

The decisions to be taken in a local land use plan could include proposals to allocate and possibly secure land for agreed future uses such as community land for agriculture, forest for community interests, forest concessions, small-holders, protected areas and wildlife corridors, and micro-zoning around settlements to protect environmentally sensitive sites,” said Mr. Acworth.

 He adds, “Land use planning can guide private investments on where to invest. It can also help clarify who should be given access to land. The land use mapping tool could also help prioritise public investment like Infrastructure (roads, bridges, markets) and services for rural development such as social, health, education, etc.

Nguti in the Southwest Region was chosen because it has a long experience of land use planning; they are regarded as experts in negotiating land use with one council forest and three community forests. The subdivision also has experience in negotiating with the private sector (Herakles Farms), and government ministries such as the Ministry of Wildlife and Forestry (MINFOF) and NGOs (WCS, WWF) about boundaries of protected areas.

The urgent need to help local communities living in forest areas develop mapping tools for land use planning arises from an upsurge in huge concessions being granted to agro-industries, mining and the investment in large infrastructure projects that will transform the rural landscape.

“The lack of integrated planning among different ministries has resulted in the allocation of overlapping concessions and jurisdictions, often on land that is used and otherwise claimed by local communities,” said Harrison Ajebe Nnoko Ngaaje, CEO of AJESH NGO that helped organise and facilitate the workshop.

“This trend is also very noticeable in Nguti Council, where a number of projects are either underway or planned, which place forest-dependent communities under unprecedented pressure and pose serious challenges to their rights to forest lands and resources now, and in the future. These pressures are mainly related to forest exploitation, conservation, the agro-industries and infrastructure construction,” Nnoko said.

The AJESH CEO hopes that within one year, participatory mapping in at least 36 communities will have been done with forest communities’ land tenure and governance systems documented. This would ensure support for local communities and their representatives to defend their rights to lands and resources. This participatory mapping work is being done in collaboration with FODER (Forêts et Développement Rural), a national NGO based in Yaounde.

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