The communities around the periphery of Cross River National Park are almost entirely dependent on the rainforest for their livelihoods. But a future of continued degradation of the natural environment, and with it the loss of wildlife, is not inevitable. In fact, poverty reduction can be achieved, while simultaneously improving natural resources. The strategies required are diversification, improved farming systems, and sustainable management. The importance of forest conservation has become even more important in the context of climate change, since mismanagement of natural resources increases vulnerability to disaster.
Through an integrated approach to conservation, CERCOPAN’s seeks to facilitate the coexistence of primates, local communities, and their rainforest. CERCOPAN’s community-based conservation programme currently includes three communities villages, with a combined population of 16,500 people and a community forest area of 40,000 hectares, which functions as a buffer to Cross River National Park. To decrease dependency on forest resources for nutrition and income, we provides these communities with training in alternative livelihoods, targeting the most forest-dependent and vulnerable groups: hunters, women, and non- timber forest product collectors. We also provide tangible benefits to the community owners of the forest from conservation, through development programmes, employment, and tourism. CERCOPAN strives to empower communities to carry out conservation and community development projects independently, focusing efforts on capacity building and skills training. We have assisted in the formation, registration, and capacity building of a Community-Based Organisation (CBO) in each village, and these act as a platform for community-driven development. CERCOPAN provides support for small community development projects formulated by the CBOs to provide hands-on experience with the execution of grant-based projects. The visible benefits to the community strengthen the CBO’s position in the village.
Each community has signed conservation by-laws which guide the sustainable exploitation of the community forests. Land use is governed by participatory land-use management plans, which specifies zones for conservation, selective non-timber forest product extraction, and farming. Without enforcement, community members that adhere to the agreements will eventually lose out as resources are depleted by others. CERCOPAN therefore employs ex-hunters in forest patrols to ensure adherence to the conservation bylaws. Additionally we provide training and logistical support for CBO members to conduct surveillance excursions to monitor adherence to the land use management plan on behalf of the community. Longer- term, surveillance and enforcement will ideally be carried out entirely by the CBOs of each community. Effective protection of these contiguous forests in the larger landscape is enhancing the potential to attract carbon-credit financing, and indeed has already made a most critical contribution to Nigeria’s acceptance as a partner country under the UN REDD+ programme.