Investigating the Role of the Local Community as Co-Managers of the Mount Cameroon National Park Conservation Project
Local forest management is essential for enhancing the sustainability of both communities' livelihoods and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Land Degradation (REDD+) projects. However, few studies have examined the impact of forest ownership and control on community engagement and the functioning of communities in a co-managing conservation initiative. This paper examines the influence of forest management on local participation and identifies the roles/functions of local communities in
... ocal communities in the Mount Cameroon National Park REDD+ conservation project. Cluster multi-stage random sampling was used to collect data from 259 respondents that were analysed using the chi-square, Mann-Whitney, t-test, Kruskal-Wallis, Jonckheere-Terpstra tests and NVivo. Results show that local communities have been involved in forest management practices before the establishment of the park. Communities support the establishment of a strict conservation zone and hope to promote local participation with a high expectation of benefits. Insecure tenure reduces project support and local engagement. Though communities massively support the initiative, engagement is low, and participants are not carrying out any tangible roles. They function mainly as manual labourers or mere committee members who only enforce rules/regulations within communities. Community-based natural resource management and integrated conservation and development projects have often not realised local expectations due to problems of application and impracticable legislation. Projects' failure may be avoided by involving communities in tangible roles/functions and developing an effective co-management approach or establishing community-owned and -managed forest projects. This paper examines the progress of REDD+ from an early stage to help inform proponents in adapting strategies that are geared towards appropriate satisfactory outcomes, especially for local communities, to prevent the early failure of the initiative. Environments 2016, 3, 36 2 of 22 game hunting, which acts as a reserve with the exclusion of commoners. Therefore, conservation is an old practice of indigenous people, and local communities should be considered in all forest projects where their rights to ownership are not interfered. Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Land Degradation (REDD+) is based on experiences with Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) and the United Nations forest-related negotiations, which have slowly shifted conservation programmes from local to a more global scale  . Nevertheless, its implementation still requires sub-national projects such as Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (ICDP) and Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM)  . However, few studies have examined how REDD+ is being examined at these scales. Mount Cameroon National Park (MCNP) REDD+ initiative has an element of ICDP (conservation project), as well as CBNRM (sustainable management of Prunus africana); therefore, the principles and lessons learned from ICDP and CBNRM are essential tools in designing and implementing MCNP-REDD+ projects. As reported by Minang and van Noordwijk , REDD+ programs are often implemented through conservation programs, and many REDD+ pilot projects are currently built on ICDPs. The collaborative management approach and the conservation incentives concept of MCNP are considered as implementing strategies for REDD+, which aims at effective management and conservation of natural resources and biodiversity while rendering socio-economic benefits. ICDP is a conservation project with the inclusion of a rural development component  for achieving sustainable development, and this is a widely-applied approach to achieving conservation, which also holds a wealth of experience for REDD+, including lessons on inherent and design challenges. Conservation can be deployed in REDD+ strategies in two ways: when ICDP is used as a platform for launching REDD+ at the landscape/sub-national level; and when conservation is one of several strategies for REDD+ at the national level  . According to Cerbu et al. , integrated conservation and development projects are part of REDD+ strategies, and using REDD+ incentives for forest conservation will only compliment emission reduction management objectives for park conservation. This is because present REDD+ projects follow ICDP concepts, and local knowledge and capacity developed on conservation activities can be used for measurement, report and verification requirements for REDD+. Conservation also emerges from the Cancun agreement making MCNP suitable as REDD+ projects. CBNRM is a holistic approach that supports participatory, interdisciplinary and multi-level stakeholders networking in addressing complex socio-ecological issues that are geared towards sustainable development. Collaboration of experts, non-experts and members of local communities is instrumental in structuring effective CBNRM initiatives . However, a lack of recognition of communities' values, market values and elite capture often contradict the concept  . Therefore, a holistic interdisciplinary approach is necessary to better understand and address these complex socio-environmental issues. Organisational design principles that are frequently associated with successful CBNRM include sensitisation and community engagement, collaborative partnership, resource and equity, effective communication and dissemination of information, research and development, local empowerment, legitimacy and trustworthiness, monitoring and feedback, adaptive leadership and affective co-management, a participatory approach to decision-making, cooperation and conflict resolution  . These principles enhance the effectiveness and efficiency in natural resource management, while supporting communities socially, economically and educationally. CBNRM struggles when it is imposed by external institutions, such as donors and governments. CBNRM, forest certification, market access for Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) and ICDP, which were once hailed in tropical forest conservation, did not meet-up to expectations due to the application of impracticable assumptions by external actors, and there is fear that REDD+ might be next on the list  . Therefore, there is a need to analyse the progress of REDD+ from an early stage and to adapt strategies that are geared toward appropriate satisfactory outcomes, especially for local communities, to prevent the early failure of initiative. This study seeks to examine "what has been done" by local communities in providing practitioners with useful information (state-of-the-art) that needs to be considered in enhancing effectiveness, efficiency and equity in the Mount Cameroon Environments 2016, 3, 36 3 of 22 National Park (MCNP) REDD+ projects. This study focuses on practical local community engagement within the co-management approach of MCNP.