January 7, 2016

The Cameroon Pilot: Model Forests as a Vehicle of Sustainable Development in Africa

Mariteuw Chimère Diaw, African Model Forest Network

Having multiple goals for a Sustainable World means our management plans must generate multiple outcomes.

Looking across the multiple Sustainable Development Goals and their targets, it is clear that many of the objectives outlined by the Post-Development Agenda are connected to each other. For example, you cannot effectively eradicate extreme poverty without improving access to basic needs (food, resources, health, and civil participation) for communities under the global poverty line.


The Sustainable Development Goals are all connected — to address poverty, policy must also address interrelated factors like climate change, food production, and economic systems.

Generally, Africa is still in the nascent stages of industrialization, meaning that for many families in the continent, subsistence off of the land is a means for survival as much as it is an opportunity for economic and social mobility. With 60% of the world’s remaining arable land and a high population of smallholder farming communities, agriculture is a sensible entry-point for impact investments and development projects (driven by the Post-2015 Agenda) in Africa.

The key for development, under this new paradigm, is to generate outcomes that do more than simply lower a statistical category (i.e., the amount of people living under extreme poverty). The challenge is to not only apply a topical treatment, but to create an underlying system that can prevent future breakouts of extreme poverty.

Integrated approaches for laying the groundwork for sustainability

Extreme poverty can be attributed to a number of factors, which, in combination, create a system that drives economic marginalization of communities already living on the margins of society. In many parts of the Least Developed Countries and Developing Countries, marginalized populations are also adjacent to or within areas of high ecological value, and depend on the resources found here. Thus, recognizing the connection between the viability of ecological and social systems is key to implementing Sustainable Development Goals.

If poverty is systemic, then our response to it should be systemic, too. In a previous post, I discussed the landscape approach as an ideal vehicle for achieving multiple objectives (climate change resilience, food security, nature conservation, health & nutrition). The landscape approach prescribes the use of multi-stakeholder platforms for defining key natural resources and for developing a shared vision for the management of these resources. The specific style of management is then determined based on the common vision devised by the platform.


The landscape approach advocates for the use of multi-stakeholder platforms, where diverse groups of stakeholders can develop a shared vision for activities within a landscape.

EcoAgriculture Partners identified 80 types of landscape approaches. Among them are Model Forests, a landscape approach with a successful track record in Latin America, Canada, Africa, Asia and Europe. Under this system, a multi-stakeholder platform addresses resource management and development priorities, as determined by members of the group, within a geographic boundary defined by a large web of inter-connected activities and land uses, which includes forests, agriculture, and related watersheds.

The Cameroon experience with an integrated development model

In 2005, Cameroon became the first African country to pilot this approach. The two pilot Model Forests, Campo Ma’an and Dja et Mpomo, enjoyed avid support from higher-level of governance. Additionally, the Model Forests were backed by alliances of local government representatives, NGOs, community organizations, indigenous groups, and private enterprises.

Despite suffering from bouts of insufficient funding, the Cameroon pilot successfully achieved two “must-haves” for transforming a rural landscape:

  1. The pilots created jobs by encouraging innovations in economic models and pioneering enterprises.
  2. Each Model Forest established governance structures to encourage collaboration between diverse groups of stakeholders.

With network support, communities within each pilot created an enabling environment for multi-stakeholder engagement and action.

Through the multi-stakeholder platforms, the Model Forests formed a unifying identity and raison d’être to coordinate beneficial activities in each landscape. Trainings in business strategies and programs to build local businesses led to the creation of markets for sustainably-sourced products. Among the innovative ventures were the manufacture of high-value pens made from exotic wood scraps (otherwise left to decay) and female-run businesses for the sale of products made out of African wild plants. Furthermore, when the opportunity to jump at a $2 million investment project in 2013 came along, the Model Forests had the marketability and legitimacy to pursue the opportunity.

The investment came with a plan for 13 months of stringent targets. To motivate the necessary behavioural changes in land use practices, the Model Forests used African Model Forest Network guidelines. Applying AMFN economic models, educational principles (such as farmer schools, involvement of Local Expert Facilitators), and strategies for partnerships with State agencies allowed the Model Forests to compel over 2,000 farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices.


Cameroon’s two pilot Model Forests demonstrated the potential of community-driven approaches to landscape management for reviving ecosystems and economies in Africa.

Innovations included using mycorrhizal biofertilizers to increase yields, the planting of wild species to diversify crops in farmlands, and small processing plants to add value to natural products. Not only were these innovations applied by both male and female farmers, but it also helped to create production lands that are more resilient to the impacts of climate change and do not perpetuate degradation of the soil or adjacent ecosystems.

Scaling up the use and benefits of multi-stakeholder platforms in Africa

Model Forests create the potential for a more sustainable approach to development by bringing together diverse groups of people to make collective decisions. But building multi-stakeholder platforms is just the starting point. To take root in African post-2015 contexts, policies must bring about both economic change and prosperity.

Thus, policy should be guided by and support innovations in conservation and business activities. Many “green” businesses that operate in this conservation-entrepreneurship nexus are blossoming across Africa. Social enterprises, like those created in Cameroon’s Model Forests, are the kernel of an alternative growth model that positions local people as actors and benefactors of economic and conservation activities.


Moving Africa toward sustainable development through landscape partnerships

African Model Forest Network Youtube channel

Chimere Diaw is the Director General of the African Model Forest Network and serves on the Board of Directors for EcoAgriculture Partners. He works closely with landscape practitioners in Cameroon as the facilitator of the Forest Governance Learning Group, coordinated by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). Diaw provided the photos featured here.

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Learn more about how the landscape approach can catalyze social transformations here.

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