The 20,000-hectare Kilum-Ijim Forest is the largest remaining area of the Afro-montane rainforest on the African continent. It is the last remaining habitat for the Bannerman’s turaco (Tauracobannermani), a bird listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The region also provides critical habitat for the Newtonia camerunensis (Newtonia camerunensis), a leguminous tree only found in Cameroon that is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. The forest’s particular ecosystem properties have made it the only place in the world where one can find the naturally white and creamy honey referred to as Oku White Honey. It is one of only two products in Cameroon certified as a Geographical Indication Product, recognizing its unique endemic properties.
Bushfires, agricultural encroachment, and unsustainable forest harvesting have significantly degraded and fragmented the Kilum-Ijim Forest. In 2012, seven bushfires destroyed large swaths of Kilum-ljim, and in 2014, more than 1,000 hectares of the forest were destroyed. Women and youth suffer the most from poverty and unemployment in the villages around Kilum-Ijim. Women have been excluded from apiculture and forest-management activities, as these are often dominated by men.
The forests of Mount Oku and the Ijim ridge is a designated Key Biodiversity Area in the wider Guinean Forests of West Africa Biodiversity Hotspot. The Kilum-Ijim area hosts 18 community forests predominantly used and managed by three tribes, the Nso, Oku, and Kom, as well as a Plant Life Sanctuary, protected by the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife near Lake Oku. The area is known for traditional healers, wood carving, and non-timber forest products (NTFPs), such as honey, mushrooms, medicinal plants, and spices. While tribes continue to value the forest, the growing population of nearly 300,000 people among 44 villages within walking distance of forested areas has increased pressures on the ecosystem.
The organization CAMGEW created a project called the HoneyShop in Bamenda to support the sustainable livelihoods of bee farmers in the region. The HoneyShop sells various products such as honey, beeswax, candles, bee suits, bee smokers, honey wine, honey juice, soap, and lotion. The learning facilities at the Honey shop also serve as a demonstration and resource center for the public.
CAMGEW Project leader Wirsiy Emmanuel Binyuy Sevidzem, explains the genesis of the project: “We were trying to look at the major problems that we saw and that was poverty, unemployment, and gender inequality. And also, ignorance of the opportunities that were existing. How do we blend the problems that we are facing in the forest, which is a resource, the poverty which exists, and the unemployment?”
From 2012 to 2020, CAMGEW planted 87,300 bee-loving trees in the Kilum-Ijim forest and developed 3 tree nurseries with about 100,000 trees. CAMGEW has trained more than 1600 bee farmers in honey production and product quality control, as well as beeswax extraction. It donated over 1500 beehives to trained bee farmers. More than 1200 bee farmers have been organized into 5 Oku White Honey cooperatives located around this forest, with women and youths in decision-making positions. As of December 2018, about 1580 women had been trained on business skills and a forest microfinance program was developed where 1325 women received financial assistance in form of loans of about US$ 5500 monthly as alternative sources of livelihood to the forest. Furthermore, more than 2300 women and girls received counseling to help them make decisions and overcome social challenges.
The CAMGEW project’s first objective is to promote the protection and restoration of Kilum-Ijim forest biodiversity. This will be accomplished by developing a tree nursery of 50,000 native forest trees that will protect watersheds, increasing bee forage and biodiversity in 100 hectares of forest; planting 50,000 native forest trees in Kilum forest to protect watersheds, increasing bee forage and biodiversity; and organizing training for 300 forest beekeepers and providing them with 600 beehives to increase honey production in the forest as a way to fight bushfires that destroy the forest.
Its second objective is to build Kilum-Ijim forest nature lovers through forest education in the tree nursery to teach 500 children and 1000 community members in tree care, forest knowledge such as seed collection, types of forest trees, natural forest regeneration, forest challenges, and forest ecological processes. This will be done using brochures, posters, and booklets as well as at the CAMGEW learning center, schools, and socio-cultural groups, and through community radios and newspapers.
Its third objective is to promote agroforestry techniques that conserve the soil and increase food production around Kilum-Ijim forest peripheries as an adaptation to climate change. It will carry out 10 agroforestry training around the Kilum-Ijim forest for 300 community members, especially women and youths; provide 30,000 seedlings and seeds of improved fruits and climbers to trained farmers; and exchange visits and coaching between 300 farmers.