Alternative sources of income generating activities enable women to preserve the Waza Biosphere Reserve

Women in the villages of Andirni and Djermé, some few kilometres away from Maroua in the Far North Region of Cameroon (Lake Chad basin), are now using environmentally friendly stoves made by themselves with local materials. They now require less wood to cook and the stoves produce very little smoke, making their kitchens more comfortable for them and also giving them more time for other chores instead of daily wood fetching for cooking.
Women creating a sustainable oven

Preserving food used to be time-consuming and energy costly, but, recently these women have been adopting new live skills and sustainable ways of life that do not overexploit natural resources in their local forest of the Waza biosphere reserve.

This area is the oldest biosphere reserve of Cameroon and was one of the first biosphere reserves created in Africa over 40 years ago. But challenges lingering around the Lake Chad region such as food insecurity, droughts, conflicts, terrorism, displacement and climate change have for many years now increased dependence on forest products.

It is to respond to these challenges in the Waza area, that UNESCO is implementing activities in the framework of the Biosphere and Heritage of the Lake Chad (BIOPALT) project, designed to contribute to the reduction of poverty and the promotion of peace through the creation of alternative livelihood activities for women.

This women-targeted response strategy, prioritises activities that include; the improvement of capacity of women in cash crop cultivation, reforestation, and learning of life skills and new technics that can help to curb the dependence on forest biofuel. 

In the villages of Andirni and Djermé, 100 women from 10 women groups have received support to promote sustainable development and are championing activities in their local communities that are already yielding good results. The 100 champions have been able to transfer their new skills and it is expected to reach 3000 persons after the end of the project in September 2021.

They have been trained on how to produce handmade food flasks from a combination of cheap available materials like loincloth and plastic papers, families are using this model to ameliorate their living conditions. 

Other key objectives of the BIOPALT project are to reduce food insecurity among local population, and lead women into income generating activities that could see women’s income levels increase to over 50% before the end of the project. To be able to reach these goals, women are supported in various cash crop farming projects, through the distribution of improved seeds for onions, millet, sorghum, and groundnut cultivation.

In this area, where Climate change and desertification has drastically deteriorated the physical environment, women have as target, to plant 1000 fruit trees like mangoes that will not only help in the reforestation of the Waza Biosphere Reserve but will also be source of food and income to many families.

Besides preserving the Biosphere of WAZA, UNESCO through the BIOPALT project is aiming at supporting and promoting Biological diversity.  The United Nations proclaimed May 22 The International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. This year the day is celebrated under the theme “We’re part of the solution”.

The BIOPALT project falls in line with this vision and also with UNESCO’s partnership with member states of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) that started in 2018, to strengthen the capacities of countries in the Lake Chad Basin area (Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Central African Republic and Chad) to safeguard and sustainably manage the hydrological, biological and cultural resources of the Lake Chad Basin.

In addition, the transboundary dimension of the Lake Chad Basin provides an opportunity for subregional cooperation and integration as the BIOPALT project contributes to promote peace, safeguard and enhance natural and cultural resources. This indisputably improves local communities' sources of income and thus, contribute to poverty reduction.

The BIOPALT project is also implemented within the framework of UNESCO's Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. This Programme is improving human livelihoods and safeguarding natural and managed ecosystems while also promoting innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable.

UNESCO’s intersectoral strategy for biodiversity is based on 3 pillars: restore the relationship between humans and nature and regenerate ecosystems; conserve the harmony of our ecosystems; and amplify the power of youth. The backbone of this strategy are UNESCO designated sites (1,121 World Heritage sites, 714 Biosphere Reserves and 161 Global Geoparks) that cover 6% of the Earth’s landmass and are key areas where people learn to live in harmony with other living species and experiences are shared for the benefit of all.