A Cameroon solution: helping communities take control over their lands

Christian Jitar Taku, Coordinator of Community Assistance in Development (COMAID).
Sunday, September 16, 2018

From the Namati Blog series 5/6

Using simple approaches, COMAID tool farmers and grazers to take on land grabbers

Before the industrial farmers came, the 13 villages of the Mbaw plain lived in peace.  Farmers cultivated maize, cassava, groundnuts, beans and more on lands they believed were endless.

But since 2012, when farming investors requested over 2 million hectares of land from the government, there is a new story in the land. Coveted for its potent soil and favourable climate, the Mbaw plain is no longer a peaceful farming community that supported over 35,000 farmers and graziers, but a battlefield for land. Villages clash with each other over imaginary boundaries, while chiefs secretly give up village lands to grabbers. Recently, confrontations over boundaries between Ngom and Ngomkwo sparked fighting between villagers, causing damages and injuries.

In the past, COMAID used action research, mapping, dialogue and other techniques with success to bring peace in certain areas of the plain, but since land deals yield big to certain traditional rulers, reluctance to accept transparency and accountability on land is visibly growing stronger in certain villages.

New skills target two villages

COMAID VILLAGE CONSULTATIONS

Armed with new techniques at the Community Land Protection Co-Learning Initiative, a yearlong peer-learning programme, launched by ILC at the beginning of 2018 and coordinated by NAMATI and IIED, we decided to try and convert sceptics with a project that targeted two villages in the plain.

As explained in a previous blog, the Initiative exposed us to Namati’s bylaws creation approach, JKPP’s boundary harmonisation and conflict resolution technique used in Asia, the paralegals approach developed by ECOLEX and the life plans built by IBC, both used in Latin America. These techniques inspired our approach to the land protection project we recently launched in Ngom and Nyurong villages of the Mbaw plain.

Before the project, we launched a consultation in February in Ngu, Ngom, Ngomkwo and Nyurong villages. Inspired by the process, all four villages applied for support. Two villages that showed more determination and willingness to encourage the process, Ngom and Nyurong were selected. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) detailing roles and responsibilities of all actors followed and we were ready to start.

Outcomes

Once the MoUs signed, COMAID helped communities map stakeholders and select relevant community members to play frontline roles in the project. A team of global positioning system (GPS) mappers, paralegal officers, and  project management unit was set up. Though this process went smoothly, sceptics attempted early on to smear the project but a strategy to convert detractors to champions stood on their way.

To address land boundary conflicts, COMAID trained 16 GPS mappers in Ngom and Nyurong communities to use the GPS to map family lands and record in village land registers. The team spent over three weeks recording and documenting community land in Ngom and Nyurong villages. Purchased satellite images then helped communities develop maps with clear boundaries.

Challenges and lessons

Though the process is well received in beneficiary villages, issuing challenges are slowing progress for the project. The English-speaking regions of Cameroon, where we work are going through a crisis and escalating violence has forced authorities to restrict movements.  Because of the insecurity, placing such a project at the heart of local government policy is extremely challenging. 

Another difficulty comes from traditional rulers. In Nguri and Ngonkwo villages for example, rulers unleash barrages of criticisms on the project and obscure community arrangements to gain land protection. A troubling case was that of Ngonkwo, where its traditional ruler refused to sign the MoU and requested for the exclusion of other villages as condition to join the process.

Next steps

But these challenges will not stop us. We renovated our strategy to match the current situation and now spend more time in the villages to dialogue and implement activities. As we navigate through the security challenge and the smear, we have one thing in mind: make Ngom and Nyurong a success so that other villages will develop the zeal to emulate their example.

Once we find better ways to deal with the situation, we will next pilot Namati’s visioning, resource valuation and bylaws drafting approach in other villages. COMAID hopes to share more practical insights as the project unfolds given the difficult context within which the project is being implemented in subsequent blogs.