By Shuimo Trust
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic brought overbearing effects on especially communities adjacent to protected areas. Given that communities around Cameroon’s protected areas depend heavily on tourism, the outbreak of COVID-19 means that the spillover benefits of those visiting these protected areas are all gone as a result of travel restrictions
One of those protected areas whose adjacent communities have suffered enormously from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is those around the Lobeke National Park in Southeast Cameroon. Aware of these negative effects, ERuDeF with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), supported inhabitants of 15 communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with sustainable income-generating activities. These income activities include but are not limited to beekeeping, fish keeping, soap making, the transformation of non-timber forest products, etc.
One of the groups that were supported thanks to this project is “Association Tiguio” in Salapoumbe, one of the nearby villages of the Lobeke National Park. The association is composed of members from Bantu and pygmy ethnicity. This association was supported financially and materially to start a fresh fish business. They were supported with a deep freezer, a solar panel and a standby generator to power the deep freezer where fish is stored. The association was also given capital to buy the initial stock of fresh fish to start the business.
“We were stranded in our village given the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of tourists visiting the park plummeted drastically. Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic inhabitants of Salapoumbe were benefiting from regular visits of tourists to the Lobeke National Park. We sold food to tourists; our children acted as tour guides which helped us to get basic income to sustain our lives “, Bekelo Epse Makele Koselle, president of Association Tiguio said.
She continued “during the peak of the pandemic when movement was highly restricted, we could not market our farm produce given that traders that came to our village from nearby urban centres could no longer come”.
With the coming of the project to support the resilience of communities around the Lobeke National Park to surmount the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the narrative of the members of “AssociationTigoiu” in particular and the inhabitants of Salapoumbe village changed. “Supporting us to start a fresh fish business means a lot to us. This means that our attention is gradually being shifted from hunting animals in the park since fresh fish is also a vital source of protein. Limiting our contact with wild animals, I believe, is also another way of fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic” Bekelo said with a broad smile on her face. “Before we could get fresh fish in our village”, she continued, “we had to travel miles away from our village to get it. With the coming of this project, we can now get fresh from our doorsteps for very affordable prices”., another member of the association remarked.
As a result of this project, a bank account has been created for this association, something they have never thought of doing. Members of this association have also been trained on bookkeeping, and how to sustainably manage their business
“We make sure that we track all the sales made each day. For every single purchase here, we make sure that we issue a receipt. At the end of each month, we make sure to balance our accounts and profits kept in the bank” Bekelo remarked.
According to the traditional ruler of Salapoumbe village, Yenje Hubert, the project is a big blessing to his village. Hear him “I am very pleased with this help. we have an alternative to bush meat right here on our doorsteps. I hope to see this business continue to grow to higher heights”.