Cameroon has around 18.8 million hectares of forest land, which constitutes almost 40% of the total land area. 26 000 hectares (0.1% of the forest area) is categorised as planted forest. Forest land cover in Cameroon has declined for the last 25 years with a loss of around 1.0% forest cover per year, which is one of the highest deforestation rates in the Congo Basin.
The main drivers of deforestation in Cameroon are conversion to agriculture, from both large and medium-scale plantations, as well as smallholders, fuel-wood harvesting, mining and infrastructure development, while unsustainable and illegal logging has been identified as one of the main drivers of forest degradation in Cameroon. Illegal logging has long been recognised as a significant problem in Cameroon. Concerns have been raised over the misuse of certain logging permits in the country, and the lack of effective regulation and law enforcement.
Cameroon’s forests are mainly tropical rainforests of two predominant types: lowland evergreen (54% of total forest area), and lowland semi-deciduous (28%). The evergreen forests can be divided into two broad categories: The Biafran forests, a low altitude coastal forest along the Gulf of Guinea, and the Congo Basin forests in Cameroon’s south and southeast. Biafran forests have been largely cleared, but where it still exists, it is characterised by species such as Azobé (Lophira alata) and Ozouga (Sacoglottis gabonensis). The species composition of the Congo Basin forests differ significantly from that of the Biafran forest, and an important species of these forests is Moabi (Baillonella toxisperma). Other commercial tree species harvested include Sapelli (Entandrophragma cylindricum) and Sipo (Entandrophragma utile) and Ayous (Triplochiton scleroxylon).
The Forest Law (1994) divides the forest area into non-permanent (domaine forestier non-permanent), including community forest and private forest, and permanent (domaine forestier permanent) forest areas. The permanent forest includes forest reserves, logging concessions, protected areas and council forests. Protected areas cover approximately 4.7 million hectares, which is around 10% of the land area (WRI, 2014). The permanent forest areas are owned by the state, although for a large part of this forest area the management rights are transferred to other parties. Generally, people living in forest areas fully retain their traditional user rights.
In the non-PFE (domaine forestier non-permanent) non-allocated lands are mainly used by local communities for farms and other purposes, and allocation of these lands to communities shall follow formal procedures. However, disputes over forest ownership and the demarcation of boundaries have been common in the past and remain so today (ITTO, 2011).
Despite the favorable agro-ecological conditions of the country, Cameroon is only sitting at 13th world rank in terms of oil production, with a total production of 230 000 t of crude palm oil (CPO) from 190 000 ha exploited by both agro-industries and small and medium holdings. Two thirds of this area are in the hands of individuals but they provide only half of the total production because of very low oil yields. Such low yields are not restricted to the non-industrial sector only. For various reasons companies like CDC and Pamol cannot produce more than 2 t CPO/ha/yr. In Indonesia, smallholders reach much better yields (3 to 3.5 t CPO/ha/yr) with guaranteed purchase ensured by agro-industries.
Cameroon has a huge domestic and sub-regional market for crude palm oil, but the country is still a net importer of CPO (50 000 t in 2011). According to Ngando et al. (2011), 80% of Cameroonians consume red palm oil of which 30% is produced by artisanal mills. According to Carrere (2010), the advantages of these oil palm smallholdings are numerous, since they can guarantee producers a stable income, they foster land tenure security and they strengthen the monetization of the rural areas, thus generating development. The present study aims at assessing the sector with special emphasis on its present strengths and weaknesses and it proposes ways to overcome/solve the problems.