The long term goal of ERuDeF is to develop a community foundation to support its programmes of conservation and development in regions that it intervenes through its Conservation Finance Programme.

ERuDeF’s Conservation Finance Programme is being developed through its Micro-finance and Enterprise Development Programme (EMEDP) started in 2006. The EMEDP program was created in 2006 to promote sustainable food production, off-forest enterprises and ecologically sound income generating activities that will reduce illegal harvesting of wildlife resources and farming on marginal lands. It was also in accordance with the United Nation Millennium development goals declaration, which is to reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than US$1 per day and to reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.

Through its EMEDP Program, ERuDeF is moving forward to set up the first Community Foundation in Cameroon known as the Forest Protection Fund to support conservation and local economic development initiatives in ERuDeF’s programme areas.

Within the Forest Protection Fund, a community-led micro-credit initiative known as the Biodiversity Community Trust has been set up to serve both as revolving fund and providing start-up grants to the most impoverished farming groups that continue to farm and construct on marginal and fragile lands.

The initial focus of the Forest Protection Fund is the Lebialem Highlands and the Mt Cameroon area.

The Lebialem Highlands area is one of the poorest areas in Cameroon. Very low levels of income (usually less than ½ US$ a day), limited land management skills, lack of credit facilities, lack of market access and lack of medical care characterize all the communities in the region especially those bordering the forest areas and those completely lacking access routes. Their economy is essentially that of hunting, gathering and fishing. Their agricultural potentials are low especially as they continue to farm on marginal lands pruned to landslides every year and their economic options are low due to lack of market access. However the vast non-timber forest products present one of the opportunities for exploration to raise the incomes of the rural people.

The majority of the peasants have no access to credit facilities. The Cameroon Credit Union League (CAMCCUL), the main micro-finance institution in the country field offices are located very far away from most of these communities and can only serve a very tiny proportion of the over 30,000 indigenous people living here. Most people here rely on an informal network of money lenders who often charge very high interests (> 50%) and will seize poor farmers properties in case of non-compliance. In this context many farmers and young people have no choice than to encroach into the neighbouring protected areas, and the marginal lands for search of farm land at little or no cost.

Struggling with debts, these local farmers who for most part have no access routes have no choice than to resort to heavy poaching, poisoning of rivers for fishing, illegal logging and land encroachment. This is causing the unsustainable exploitation of the wildlife resources especially the endangered fauna. In the highlands area, the continual cropping of marginal lands leads yearly to several landslides which have in the recent past led to hundreds of deaths and destruction of houses, productive forests and arable land. Research conducted between 1999 and 2002 have shown that game harvesting is two time more than the sustainable off-take.

This research has also shown that one of the legally protected species, the leopard in the neighboring wildlife sanctuary has become extinct. There are fears that another protected species, the giant pangolin may also have become extinct. This situation could only be reversed through the improvement of the socio-economic environment of the adjacent local communities otherwise the conservation objective of the area could be compromised if nothing is done.

Within this context, ERuDeF realized that the problem of debt and poverty had to be dealt with if livelihoods and the endangered biodiversity of the region have to be fully protected. It is within this framework that ERuDeF is seeking to establish an innovative community-based led micro-credit system that will be opened to all the local communities and even those having no collateral as required by many micro-finance institutions. ERuDeF is helping to organize the communities across the region into constituted community-based institutions that will facilitate the process of all the local people having access to this credit facility.

This credit system called the Lebialem Highlands Environmental Protection Fund (LHEPF) will be run by a democratically elected committee that will compose of at least 50% women. The women are the most affected in terms of poverty and more than 55% of the women are found below poverty line. The main objective of the LHEPF is to promote sustainable income generating activities and reduce illegal harvesting of wildlife resources and cropping of marginal lands. This credit system is part of a wider programme of micro-enterprise support, capacity building and sustainability being led by ERuDeF. ERuDeF is seeking financial support from your organisation to the tune of US$ 20 000 to help implement these activities.

ERuDeF’s sustainable development programme activities are meant to improve livelihood sustainability and increase local community members’ capacities to repay loans, remain solvent and expand on their existing micro-enterprises. This project will provide both start-up grants to cooperating farmers and youths and credit facilities to enable them expand on their micro-enterprises.

The micro-credit system operates on the following principles: local people get loans for ecologically beneficial and income generating micro projects provided they do not poach or crop on marginal lands and or log illegally. Very low interest rates of less than 5% will be charged generally. Impoverished farming groups with no collateral will be given start-up grants. Criteria for selecting loan and start-up grants recipients will include the viability of the proposed activity, repayment capacity and market demand. The LHEPF will also establish what actions will be taken if members fail to pay back loans or meet environmental criteria.

ERuDeF will ensure that beneficiaries will focus on mixed cropping and on cultivating products with high market value but with low environmental impact. Such systems involve community forestry, agroforestry and consist of planting a combination of fast & slow growing tree species on marginal lands. This will permit them to get an averaged minimum income from fast growing species while the high value but slow growing hardwood species will get mature with time. This approach will also allow the land to restore itself. The micro-credit initiative will also support a system of local enterprises which yield high-return products with low impact on the fragile highlands environments. ERuDeF will promote such enterprises as beekeeping, mushroom cultivation, livestock, tree nurseries, snail rearing, eco-tourism, non-timber forest products processing etc.

This is an innovative mechanism through which micro-credit initiatives will be interwoven with wider efforts to improve incomes of lower and most affected impoverished groups and jobless rural youths and sustainability by aligning ecologically sound micro-enterprises with the actual demands of the market and promoting biodiversity management.

This is a three-year pilot initiative which will serve over 30 000 farm families. After this start-up phase, the revolving fund system will become sustainable as money given out during the first year will come in the third and the second year grants will come in the fourth year and the cycle will continue as such. The main micro-enterprises will include cultivation of colanuts, tree nurseries and reforestation, beekeeping, NTFP processing and marketing, mushroom farming, snail rearing, wildlife domestication, livestock, agro-forestry and community forestry development and exploitation.