Throughout the world, deforestation remains the biggest driver for climate change and global warming. And while the spotlight has been so much on the activities of farmers and logging companies, there remains a group of stakeholders whose role in deforestation is not getting sufficient attention. This group of stakeholders are the smallholder timber dealers who exploit community and private forests to provide local material for construction, furniture design and cooking fuel.

There are thousands of such smallholder dealers in Cameroon who play a key role in the construction industry and their contribution to deforestation/climate change cannot be overstated. As part of activities to commemorate the International Day of Forests on March 21st, Eco Relief teamed with the Regional Delegation of Environment, Protection of Nature and Sustainable Development to organise training workshop to build the capacity of smallholder farmers on sustainable forest exploitation in the community of Muea in Cameroon. In all, thirty-five dealers, and ten chainsaw operators were drilled on how they could best carry out their activities with minimal impact on the environment and other flora and fauna.

The seminar was chaired by the Regional Delegate of Environment, Protection of Nature and Sustainable Development, Mr. Set Ekwadi Songue; and the first module was designed to lecture farmers on the fundamental concepts of climate change and the vital role of forests in our ecosystem.  In the second module, farmers acquired training on sustainable forest exploitation techniques as well as how to optimise wood material extraction in a bid to minimise the number of trees cut down.

During the panel discussion, it was established that there are four people involved for every tree that is cut down for wood extraction: the landowner who sells the tree, the smallholder farmer who buys the tree, the chainsaw operator who cuts down the tree and the final user who buys the wood product from the smallholder farmer. This was the platform to launch Eco Relief’s #cut1plant4 campaign, with the aim of ensuring that four trees are planted for each one felled.

At the end of the workshop, the Regional Delegate inaugurated Eco Relief’s dedicated tree nursery, from which every farmer went home with four seedlings each to plant in the forest areas they exploit. Peter Mua, one of the workshop participants who doubles as the chairman of the Muea Smallholder Timber Exploiters Union expressed satisfaction with the training obtained and said “thanks to Eco Relief, I now fully understand what climate change is all about and how my actions as a small timber exploiter are contributing to climate change. I owe the responsibility to protect the environment for the next generation and will strongly support the #cut1plant4 campaign to give back to nature what I have taken away. For every tree I am involved in cutting as part of my business, I will ensure four trees are planted – any type of trees!” Every smallholder timber exploiter in the Muea community can now obtain tree seedlings from Eco Relief’s tree nursery for free.