Net-Works Comes to Cameroon
By Santiago Ormeno |
After its successful beginnings in the Philippines, Net-Works expanded to the Douala-Edea region of Cameroon, Central Africa, in mid-2015. We set up a pilot project at the Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve, funded through the Darwin Initiative. The Reserve, on the Lower Sanaga River, is a refuge for the endangered West African manatee and freshwater turtles, and qualifies as a Key Biodiversity Area.
More than 80% of the households neighbouring Lake Ossa depend heavily on the lake for their livelihoods. There are high levels of poverty and limited access to education, financial resources, and health services. Discarded fishing nets present a serious problem for the ecology of the lake, entangling manatees and other species and destroying the natural habitat.
Over the last year my colleagues and I have worked closely with the local communities to set up Net-Works operations – organizing a net collection hub, building the baler machine that is used to compress the nets, and establishing the local community banks which are so central to the Net-Works model. Run by community members, these banks (known locally as Village Savings and Loan Associations -VSLAs) are the social infrastructure at the heart of Net-Works. They enable us to engage with communities to promote the voluntary removal and clean-up of discarded fishing nets. They provide access to finance in a convenient and local way, enabling people to save money, including the money they earn from net sales. Through the community banks, fishers can also access small loans as and when they need to. This is very important for families who depend heavily on what is often an unpredictable income from fishing.
Today, Net-Works is actively working with 9 local communities – five close to the lake itself, one by the river, and three along the coast – and we’ve established 18 community banks. Over 2,000kg of discarded fishing nets have been gathered for recycling and my colleagues and I have seen first hand how much cleaner the lake is, now that the nets have been removed.
“Net-Works has really helped to clean up the lake. We can already see a difference in the areas that were badly polluted before.” – Constant Ndjassi, Field Coordinator at ZSL Cameroon.
The communities themselves have really embraced Net-Works, in part because of the small supplementary income they can generate from selling used nets, but more importantly because of the sense of empowerment and pride they feel through participating in the community banks. People have come together to pro-actively manage and conserve the aquatic resources that their livelihoods depend on.
“Where there may have been conflicts in the past, the VSLAs have helped communities come together in a spirit of cooperation. Fishermen committees are now working with the local administration to co-manage the lake and ensure the code of fishing is enforced.” Fanny Djomkam, Community Coordinator for Net-Works.
Personally I am very proud of all that we have achieved so far with Net-Works and the Darwin Initiative. It’s especially great to see how we have brought the communities with us on a journey, overcoming any initial uncertainty they may have felt and building trust.
Over the next couple of years we aim to take Net-Works to more communities in Cameroon, particularly to some of the larger fishing communities by the coastal protected area of Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve. The volume of nets in these coastal areas is much greater than in the lake, so they have the potential to provide a continuous and steady stream of used nets into the global supply chain.
We are also working on several community based conservation initiatives, including the reforestation and conservation of important “riparian zones” where the land meets the water. These areas are especially important in providing shelter and shade for aquatic life and helping with water quality and soil stabilization. We are also training a group of local biodiversity champions who will become tourist guides for the reserve. There’s plenty to be excited about, so watch this space!