In Cameroon, centring women in landscape restoration

Gender lens bridges barriers
Femmes du village de Forti lors d’une discussion communautaire. Photo de Laurianne Mefan/CIFOR-ICRAF.”

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Sustainable landscape management is a local and global necessity. Rising demand from growing populations and economies is putting increasing pressure on natural resources, but few of the world’s landscapes are effectively managed to balance the competing demands of today – let alone those likely to emerge tomorrow.

This puts billions of people and many economies at risk from the negative effects of landscape degradation, such as food insecurity, climate change, environmental hazards, the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem service loss.

Integrated landscape approaches are a framework for holistic landscape management and governance to achieve sustainability. They demand consideration of the needs and interests of all stakeholders. But power imbalances often limit women’s participation in – and benefits from – land restoration.

Integrating a gender lens into integrated landscape approaches can help mitigate the effects of degradation. “When land is degraded and becomes scarce, women and Indigenous populations are particularly and differently affected because of the major role they play in agriculture and food production, their heavy dependence on forests, their vulnerability to poverty, their lack of education and the weakness of their legal protection and social status,” said Ann Degrande, a CIFOR-ICRAF scientist and Cameroon country coordinator.

Women make up about 43 percent of the agricultural workforce in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) – and up to 71.6 percent of workers in Cameroon’s informal sector. They are deeply involved in a wide range of land uses and have the ability to manage landscapes at scale – and as such, they need to be at the forefront of the planning and implementation of forest and land restoration.

As a response to these realities, the Centre d’Appui aux Femmes Et aux Ruraux (CAFER), World Agroforestry (ICRAF), Actions pour la Biodiversité et Gestion des Terroirs (ABioGeT) and Rainforest Alliance are implementing the ‘Land Restoration for Post-COVID Rural and Indigenous Women Empowerment and Poverty Reduction in Cameroon’ (LRIWEP) project towards successful gender sensitive landscape management.

LRIWEP aims to encourage the participation of women and minority groups in land restoration initiatives through new tools, approaches, and policies. “It’s all about bridging the socio-cultural barriers that exist,” said CIFOR-ICRAF scientist and project lead Divine Foundjem.

He and his colleagues are studying factors contributing to the success and failure of land restoration by women and minority groups in Cameroon, and considering how to increase their economic prosperity through increased participation in tree-related activities and restoration of degraded land in the country. Gender-sensitive restoration options are also being tested with communities in pilot sites.

The research takes place in three areas chosen to cover the diversity of factors that can affect the success of women’s empowerment in landscape restoration, such as land use; land and tree ownership; the role of women and minority groups in society, culture and religion; history and current initiatives in land restoration; and the actors involved. The sites are Ngambe-Tikar, Bamboutos Highlands, and Lagdo and Pitoa, which are located respectively in the centre, west, and north regions of the country.

A participatory approach is being deployed to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of the project. This entails careful discussion with all the stakeholders involved in the landscape and territory, from the identification of key degraded areas (‘hotspots’) to the solutions proposed to resolve identified challenges. “After the exercise with the communities, we carried out remote sensing to compare the results [with the communities’ identification of hotspots], and we realised that the communities have a good understanding of their environment,” said Foundjem.

CIFOR-ICRAF scientists and Pitoa Commune members in a hotspot identification workshop. Photo by Laureanne Mefan/CIFOR-ICRAF

The approach puts women, men, and minority groups at the centre, helping to ensure that they take ownership and push towards positive results. “We do not decide for them,” said Jacques Bessengue, a research assistant at CIFOR-ICRAF. “We simply guide them through the process.”

Two years in, the project’s impact is felt in the lives of various stakeholders. “The top-down approach has shown its limits, so the participatory approach is more interesting,” said Jean Paul Melaga, the chief of Ndoh Village in Nkong-Zem Commune, West Cameroon. “Moreover, the gender viewpoint is a necessity; if women’s opinions are not considered, there’s no point,” he said.

“One of the most important takeaways from this project is that women and minority groups know they have a place in landscape restoration,” said Bertin Takoutsing, a scientist at CIFOR-ICRAF.


This research is supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

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