In Cameroon, breaking barriers for women in restoration

Teasing out gender dynamics for equity, efficacy and sustainability
Ugwono Pauline plants gnetum (okok) seedlings in the village of Minwoho, Lekié, Center Region, Cameroon. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR-ICRAF

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Restoring land and reducing its degradation is crucial for Cameroon’s sustainable development and long-term resilience. Over 70 percent of the population depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and as such are directly impacted by land degradation. As such, Cameroon has pledged to restore 12 million hectares of land and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent by 2030, in line with international targets like the Paris Agreement, the Bonn Challenge and AFR100.

To achieve these targets, restoration policies and practices cannot be gender-blind, and must be cognizant of the barriers faced by marginalized groups more generally. In rural Cameroon, women and indigenous people play key roles in growing food and managing natural resources; in fact, such women constitute 75 percent of workers in the informal agricultural sector and are usually primarily responsible for their households’ welfare and food security.

Yet despite this overrepresentation, women often have limited access to natural resources due to gendered economic, social, political, and legal inequities. As a result, they are more vulnerable to the effects of land degradation, and are therefore largely seen as ‘victims’ of its impacts rather than as ‘agents of change’.

Women and minority groups also face specific constraints that limit their contribution to land restoration, such as limited land rights; inadequate access to financial resources, training, and technology; and restricted involvement in decision-making arenas at all levels. Overcoming these barriers is necessary for these groups to contribute to their full capacity in addressing land degradation and other environmental challenges.

“We see a lot of households where it’s the women who are at the heart of agricultural production, and if the landscape and land are degraded, production won’t be able to support food security within the family,” said Lucie Temgoua, a professor at the University of Buea. “By empowering women, we are more or less sure that the family can achieve a level of food security.”

In this context, a consortium of national and global actors led by Cameroon’s Center for Support to Women and Rural People (CAFER) implemented a three-year action research project from 2021-2024 entitled Restoration of Lands for the Empowerment of Rural and Indigenous Women and Poverty Reduction in Cameroon (LRIWEP). It sought to inform policies and practices that promote the participation of women and minorities in land restoration initiatives, and address gender-related barriers to economic opportunities for these populations.

As one arm of the initiative, the researchers assessed the extent to which three case-study NGOs integrate gender into their work at various stages, from project development to the implementation of land restoration. The resulting assessment showed that whilst substantial efforts are being made, Cameroonian NGOs face challenges to implement genuine gender-sensitive approaches and struggle even more to set gender-transformative objectives. 

As such, the researchers proposed a number of actions, including employing more staff that are well-trained in gender approaches; ensuring gender-responsive consultation processes; providing women with skills development and leadership opportunities; addressing gender discrimination in access to resources; collecting disaggregated gender data; and implementing positive affirmative action and quota systems.

Several studies were also conducted to gain better understanding of the opportunities and constraints to women and minority groups’ participation in land restoration activities. They found that while national policies and policy instruments are not gender-discriminatory, there is room to make them more gender-sensitive and transformative, especially with regards to access and control over resources; access to information and knowledge; and participation, status, and power.

They also found that more inclusive approaches are needed to make sure people, including women and minority groups, receive up-to-date information and training on context-specific and gender-sensitive land restoration options. Further, they found that innovative strategies and mechanisms must be put in place to enhance women’s and minorities’ control over land restoration choices, especially in contexts where customary rules and norms restrict their access to the resources needed for land restoration. Lastly, they said, project managers and practitioners need to give more attention to encouraging women’s leadership and facilitating inclusive decision-making processes in land restoration initiatives.

A participatory methodology to assist municipalities in identifying context-specific and gender-sensitive restoration options for their communities was also developed and tested in three municipalities. These locations – Ngambe-Tikar (Central Cameroon), Nkong-Zem (West Cameroon), and Pitoa (North Cameroon) – were chosen to cover the diversity of factors that can affect the success of women’s empowerment in landscape restoration, including agroecology, 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.

In the pilot areas, the participatory and inclusive approach was shown to enhance stakeholders’ buy-in and subsequent participation in the implementation of selected land restoration activities. A methodological guide and tools are now available to help municipalities to integrate land restoration in their development plans and thereby contribute to the national restoration agenda. However, higher level government support is needed to institutionalize and scale out the approach in ways that positively impact livelihoods and the environment.

As the project draws to a close, stakeholders gathered this month in Yaoundé for a workshop to share insights, gather feedback, and chart a path forward for sustainable land management practices within the country. “For me, this is very relevant research,” said Temgoua following the workshop. “[…]It gives us an idea of the place that women occupy and what we can do to empower them further. It allows us to identify all the constraints and opportunities for further action.” 

For more information on the project, please contact CIFOR-ICRAF scientist Divine Foundjem-Tita: and communications officer Laurianne Mefan:


Restoration of Lands for the Empowerment of Rural and Indigenous Women and Poverty Reduction in Cameroon (LRIWEP) was led by the Center for Support to Women and Rural People (CAFER) in collaboration with the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), Actions for Biodiversity and Land Management (ABIOGET), and the Rainforest Alliance (RA), and funded by the International Development Research Centre of Canada (IDRC) under the Gender in Low-carbon Worlds (GLOW) programme.

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