Refugees in Cameroon Turn a Wasteland into a Green Forest
Around 70,000 refugees have been resettled in the Sahel, in Minawao, Cameroon since 2014. It is a region known for its harsh, arid conditions, now exacerbated by climate change. They have fled the violence of the Islamist terrorist group "Boko Haram" in neighboring Nigeria. The influx of newcomers increased deforestation and accelerated desertification causing wood prices to soar.
As a result of the growing environmental crisis, in 2018 the UNHCR and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) launched an ambitious reforestation program to be carried out by refugees in Minawao, Cameroon. Refugees have turned a once arid and barren desert into a lush forest.
Within four years, the volunteers in the refugee camp managed to plant 360,000 seedlings on more than 100 hectares of degraded land (equivalent to 250 football fields) and successfully transformed it into a thriving forest. The forest has provided economic relief to the poor refugee community by supplying trees big enough to be chopped and sold or be used as firewood.
The trees have also served in restoring the surrounding environment. “The trees bring us a lot,” says one of the volunteers Lydia Youcoubou. “First, they provide the shade necessary to grow food. Then, the dead leaves and branches can be turned into fertilizer for cultivating. Finally, the forest attracts and retains water. Rainfall has even increased.” The trees also break the wind and reduce erosion. The shade provided by the older trees in the refugee camp allows food and herbal medicines to be grown
The project is part of the UNHCR's program to protect the local environments surrounding refugee camps and reduce the associated greenhouse gas emissions. Solar energy systems, tree planting programs, and plastic waste reduction are all part of the plan. Moreover, the Land Life Company has given refugees and volunteers training on how to give seedlings the greatest chance of survival in harsh conditions, using "cocoon technology". It is a system that involves burying a doughnut-shaped water tank made from recycled cartons, which surrounds a plant's roots that provides nutrients and protection.
The ambitious reforestation project contributes to the African-led initiative called the Great Green Wall. They aim to develop an 8,000 km continent-wide barrier to stop the desertification of the Sahel, a territory on the border of the Sahara and the Sudanian savanna. According to Lydia, "Minawao has become a place that is green all over and there are a lot of benefits to that. We have shade from the sun, the soil has improved and the trees attract water."