In January 2013, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility approved USD $3.6M to fund Cameroon’s Readiness Preparation Proposal—a roadmap detailing how Cameroon will develop a national REDD+ strategy to help protect its forests. Cameroon, like many other REDD+ countries, now faces the challenge of delivering on commitments made in its Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP). Doing so will require significant efforts to address historical forest sector challenges, including weak governance. I recently participated in the National Dialogue on REDD+ Governance in Yaoundé, Cameroon, where these challenges were at the top of the agenda. The Dialogue, co-sponsored by Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme-Cameroon (BDCPC), Cameroon Ecology, the Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection, and Sustainable Development (MINEPDED), and WRI’s Governance of Forests Initiative (GFI), provided a forum for government and civil society members to talk frankly about strengthening governance as part of Cameroon’s REDD+ program.

Dialogue participants included government officials from key ministries engaged in the REDD+ process—including ministries responsible for environment, forests, mining, land affairs, agriculture, and social affairs—as well as civil society organizations working on forest and land issues. During two days of presentations, panel discussions, and working groups, participants identified a wide range of challenges and needs. Below, I highlight three key questions that generated significant discussion among participants. These questions represent critical issues in Cameroon’s REDD+ process, and also illustrate common challenges that many countries are grappling with as they move from REDD+ planning to action.

1. How should REDD+ build on existing laws and policies?

Developing REDD+ programs may entail revising existing laws and policies or creating new ones, but the dialogue revealed significant uncertainty about creating a legal framework for REDD+. Cameroon’s R-PP proposes to develop legislation on a range of topics, including stakeholder engagement, carbon rights, and distribution of benefits from REDD+ programs. Some dialogue participants raised questions as to whether new legislation is needed, noting that the slow pace of existing policy and lawmaking processes in Cameroon could hinder progress on REDD+. Others stated that REDD+ activities should begin even while new laws are developed to ensure that lessons from demonstration projects inform development of new legal texts.

While perspectives on whether to create a new legal framework varied, participants generally agreed that REDD+ programs should try to build on existing laws and programs where feasible. For example, Cameroon’s 1996 Framework Law on Environmental Management establishes rights of public participation and access to information concerning the environment; however, decrees setting out specific procedures for putting these principles into practice have not been finalized. Some participants noted that the REDD+ process could create the momentum required to finalize these texts.

2. What can encourage active participation in the REDD+ process, particularly for indigenous peoples and women?

Much of the participation in REDD+ planning in Cameroon thus far has taken place at the national level. Participants stressed the need to improve approaches for engaging locally, particularly with forest communities, rural women, and indigenous groups that often face social exclusion.

Stakeholders noted that past efforts to engage indigenous populations often did not consider their traditions and needs, build sufficient trust, or include legitimate representatives chosen by indigenous communities themselves. Participants agreed that there is a need to improve methods of communication, modes of representation, and capacity for engaging marginalized groups. Ideas included the creation of dedicated forums to help indigenous peoples identify appropriate representatives, and development of a legal framework to facilitate public participation in decision-making. Detailed requirements for public participation could not only improve stakeholder input into the REDD+ process, but also enhance the quality and consistency of stakeholder engagement in Cameroon more broadly.

3. How can two-way information flows be strengthened as part of the REDD+ process?

Transparency and access to information in Cameroon are well-documented challenges. Participants noted that early efforts to share information during the development of the R-PP were not sufficiently organized or tailored to target audiences. Currently, the government is developing a communications strategy that may address those challenges. Improving transparency and access to information at the local level was particularly important to dialogue participants. For example, the list of priority actions for the REDD+ process in Cameroon included expanding community radio programs to additional communities to facilitate communication about REDD+ concepts.

Participants also suggested development of local information centers that would enable local stakeholders to seek out information about the REDD+ process. Information centers could enhance access to information on other forest and land use issues as well. Examples include information on forest use contracts, revenues owed to forest communities, and proposed development projects with significant social and environmental impacts.

Moving from Planning to Action

The discussions during the dialogue revealed that many government and civil society stakeholders basically agree on what needs to be improved, although there is less clarity on how to do it. Nonetheless, there was general consensus that more action on governance is critical to the success of REDD+ in Cameroon. Participants identified priority actions that provide an important starting point for strengthening forest governance in Cameroon even beyond the REDD+ process. As Augustine Njamnshi, Executive Secretary of BDCPC, commented on the first day: “Even if REDD+ doesn’t bring the money, let it bring good governance.”