Community based monitoring in Cameroon helps bring illegal loggers to justice

RTM in Cameroon. Photos: FODER/RFUK

Loggers in Cameroon are now under increased scrutiny, as alerts from local forest monitors have started making their way to law enforcement agencies. Several of these alerts – sent through a real-time monitoring system called ForestLink, developed by the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) in partnership with local organisation FODER (Forêts et Développement Rural) – have contributed to legal sanctions against logging companies in the country.

Real-time monitoring – a process whereby local people send alerts using a smartphone and bespoke app – has been a key tool in helping bridge the gap between local forest communities and national law enforcement. FODER has been working with other civil society organisations, helping law enforcement to use this detailed local data to bring formal charges against illegal loggers.

When community forest monitors send alerts of suspected illegal activities, local civil society representatives investigate to verify them. If there is evidence of illegal logging, that’s when the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife is notified through a national reporting system called SNOIE (in English: ‘Standardized System of Independent External Monitoring’).

Cameroon map RTMOf the three reports on illegal logging sent to the Ministry from November to February, all three have since led to formal investigations. These resulted in formal inspections by the government’s Regional Control Brigade – and penalties ranging from fines to the suspension of licenses. In Cameroon’s Littoral Region, for instance, one logging company had its timber seized and has now been found guilty of fraud.

As FODER’s RTM Coordinator, Christiane Zebaze Hellow explains, “SNOIE has changed the way independent forest monitoring is done in Cameroon, and real-time monitoring contributes to [this process]. Now we have nine communities officially involved in the RTM project and which use RTM tools to collect and send data on suspected illegal logging. Five other communities are also involved thanks to the advocacy part of the project.”

Over the years, illegal logging has had serious consequences for many local communities who depend on the forest for their livelihoods. Indeed, between 2001 and 2015, Cameroon lost an estimated 777,000 hectares of forest. With little power to stand up to commercial logging companies directly, community alerts are proving an effective tool for helping government agencies to take action.

“It’s very encouraging to see our ForestLink system feeding into law enforcement operations,” said RFUK’s RTM Coordinator, Élodie Barralon. “We hope this will become an increasingly powerful tool in the fight against illegal logging and deforestation. With more and more data available to enforcement agencies, it will be much harder for illegal loggers to hide in the shadows.”

For more information on how RFUK’s ForestLink system works, watch this short video.