A blog from Chris Hamley, our volunteer Patrol Coordinator!
“The machine is hot”, Benjee’s description of our motorbike’s fuel tank as we ride from Rhoko Camp to Iko Esai. He’s sitting up front, catching a lift back to Iko Esai, from where I will continue on another 4 hour journey to another of our project communities: Owai. The fuel tank has a leak and the vapour is giving Benjee a short cause for concern. As the crow flies, Owai is only 12km from Rhoko Camp but taking the most direct route would involve a 6-hour trek through rainforest and farmland. Since my coming week is to involve a busy trekking schedule, I’ve opted for the “easier” alternative. My bike journey ends up being somewhat wet and uncomfortable. After arriving in Owai and a quick rice and stew washed down with a mineral (Nigerian Pidgin for ‘soda’), I settle in for the night in my accommodation for the week. One of CERCOPAN’s protected area patrol officers, John, has offered me to stay in his house: a nice mud-walled 2-room thatch on the village edge.
My mission this week is to work with two CERCOPAN protected area patrol officers (John and Sylvanus, both from Owai) and the conservation surveillance team to collect information for a participatory land use map. The map is to give the community a better understanding of the extent of their farming and forest use practices and initiate a process of planning sustainable land management. After a focus group meeting with community representatives a few weeks earlier, it is now time to use GPS and local knowledge to locate and map all the places and land activities identified by the focus group participants.
The Owai surveillance team has been formed by the village Community Based Organisation (CBO) to monitor adherence to conservation rules and laws. On this occasion, I’ll be combing GPS training and a rapid land cover/land use survey. Starting from the village every morning for 4 days, we walked 5 main trails in different directions to the Owai boundary areas covering a spectrum of landscape features. The survey team picked up the methodology quickly and we were soon able to split up and cover a larger area. Together we completed the week having trekked nearly 85km.
By taking GPS way-points we’ll now be able to accurately develop a map that reflects the community’s relationship to their lands and natural resources. By combing this data with information from satellite imagery we will delineate areas of current land use activities. We will then work with Owai to identify zones to be set aside for either farming, forest conservation, sustainable use or urban development. From this, it’s hoped that the community will have an improved capacity to monitor their resources while taking a more active and informed role in conservation.
My return journey to Rhoko Camp was no less eventful than the trip out. Sylvanus offered me a ride to the highway and we spend 3 hours navigating the slippery dirt road which leads to the highway, walking to fetch fuel and repairing brakes on the way. I squeeze into a Cross Lines taxi-bus to get to Ibogo, from where Manson will give me a ride back to Iko Esai on the motorbike.
Note: Due to the difficult access to Owai village, CERCOPAN has started the construction of a small office in Owai. This project, like our livelihoods projects and CBO work, is sponsored by IUCN France. We will provide updates on the progress of the land use map and office construction on our Facebook and in the monthly newsletter, CERCO-NEWS.