In accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, the need for infrastructure in developing regions and its positive effect on poverty reduction has been widely accepted [1
]. Among others, roads enable access to public services and institutions, providing connection and simplifying transport [4
]. In the past, studies have focused on highlighting these positive effects of road access on poverty alleviation and livelihoods by reducing travel time and costs, as well as creating job opportunities and establishing better access to local markets, which in turn increase agricultural production and household income [1
]. Additionally, local communities profit from employment during construction and better access to public services, like hospitals and schools [4
In Western Africa, where commercial bushmeat hunting remains one of the main conservation challenges [9
], road access is also suggested to induce a shift in primary occupation from hunting to farming [10
]. Indeed, others found hunting effort to be a negative function of farming effort and likely to decline if agricultural production increases [11
]. In West Africa, many integrated conservation and development projects (ICDP), which aim to promote conservation in a way that reduces poverty and use poverty reduction as a tool to enhance conservation [13
], failed to substitute poaching as a very lucrative income source with alternatives, such as cash-crop farming or livestock keeping [14
]. Improving road access may serve as a key instrument in ICDPs, since it fosters agricultural production and in turn combats both poverty and wildlife decline. However, information on the effects of road access on income activity patterns as well as the effectiveness of ICDPs in general remains limited [15
Here, we present a case study from Southwest Cameroon, where the construction of unpaved motorbike roads in the context of an ICDP has been used to facilitate the marketing of crops such as cocoa, plantain, and cassava and, therefore, promote crop farming and reduce hunting [14
]. Acknowledging that there are many other adverse effects of roads on biodiversity, such as deforestation [17
], fragmentation [18
], genetic degradation [19
], and wildlife collisions [20
], we want to focus this study on the impact of road access on income patterns of rural communities, which indirectly affect biodiversity.
Taking the case of an ICDP in Southwest Cameroon, we aim to identify the causal effects of road access on income activities. We hypothesized that total household income will increase in response to road access due to higher crop sales and new job opportunities. In consequence, we expected a negative impact of road access on income from hunting. We further enrich these quantitative findings by the perceptions of rural households concerning the effects of improved road access on village life.
In this study, we examined the effects of road access on the income structure of rural households and their perceptions concerning the effects on village life. Our results support the finding that livelihood of local people in KNP largely depends on crop farming, followed by hunting and income from NTFPs [41
]. Moreover, we found that total household income increased due to improved road access, which is in line with previous studies [1
]. However, ‘below median income’ households did not profit from road access. This could be due to lack of capital in combination with high transportation costs [43
], preventing people from reacting on structural changes (i.e., road access) with an investment in their farms or opening of a business as well as gaining market access [44
]. Even for nonbusiness travels, most households are now confronted with transportation costs, which were previously only paid when hiring porters. This is mainly because hiring a bike has become the modern way to travel, and people feel reluctant to walk.
We further found that the increase in total income can be attributed to a higher participation in household self-employment and wage labor. Our qualitative results suggest that the enhanced business activities are strongly related to a higher turnover rate in the village. Road access seems to establish new self-employment opportunities such as small shops. Traders, who buy products in neighboring Nigeria or nearby towns, are now using cheap transport to their villages, which creates higher profit margins. Furthermore, men with access to motorbikes offer transportation and delivery services. Women sell meals to visitors and vendors in the village. Many villagers declared their intentions to continue and extend such business activities. The qualitative results further suggest that wage employment has not improved. Overall, these findings show that the road not only opened new opportunities for villagers but also for people outside of KNP, which, on the downside, suggests growing human presence and activity in the protected area.
Crop income did not change in response to road access. This is not surprising, since the main cash crops in the area are tree crops, which need at least three years to reach maturity [45
]. It seems to be beyond debate that road access can increase farming activities by enhancing access to fertilizers, speeding up transport of perishable products, and increasing transport capacities and better market access [6
]. Respondents confirmed that road access stimulated their farming activities to increase agricultural outputs and explained this trend with simplified sales. This is in line with findings of an earlier study in neighboring villages, which found a link between increased income and simplified product marketing and noted increased quantities of NTFP and agricultural products in response to primary road access [16
]. However, successful development of farming as an alternative income source to hunting will fail if wildlife-induced crop destruction re-increases hunting activities [12
]. Additional measures should thus include projects on mitigation of crop-raiding and human wildlife conflicts.
We also found that participation in hunting was not affected by road access. A reason for this result could be that giving up a major income source will only be manageable if alternative activities can yield similar income [48
]. Many respondents mentioned that people who have mainly relied on hunting struggle to take up alternative activities due to a lack of necessary skills, tools, and capital. By ameliorating the income situation of only ‘above median income’ households, road access unfortunately seems to not reach this group. However, many respondents intended to decrease hunting output and effort as well as bushmeat sales, while only one respondent aimed at pursuing this activity, all of which point towards less hunting activities in the future. According to interview responses, this trend seems to primarily rely on enhanced law enforcement rather than alternative income sources. Apparently, the enhanced accessibility of eco guards reinforces the fear of legal consequences and thereby stalls hunting activities.
Nevertheless, in accordance with findings from Tanzania, our results suggest that reduced hunting efforts relate to an increase in agricultural production [12
]. Moreover, several studies suggest a similar link to increased income from labor and self-employment [44
]. An increased participation in self-employment activities within road villages may thus lead to reduced hunting in KNP [50
], which itself could be a consequence from time famine [44
]. Fishing provides the main source of protein in Southern Cameroon, while bushmeat hunting serves primarily to generate income [42
]. A decrease in hunting activities should thus not create a strong need for protein replacement, so fishing activities and livestock rearing are unlikely to be enhanced for this reason. Fishing, however, has the potential to become a lucrative business, as the fish can be caught and prepared in the village and sold for profit in town, while strenuous livestock production in the village cannot compete with mass-produced town meat. However, the short time span between road opening and data collection requires considering the results of this study as short-term effects, leaving the door open for consequences in the long-term.
Respondents’ perceptions of changes in the village were primarily a reduction of conflicts and violence attributed to easier access of gendarmerie. Communities also reported a change in visitor fluctuation associated with a different presentation of the village and its inhabitants, including less alcohol consumption. Indeed, the road seems to provide possibilities for new and permanent constructions by facilitating transportation of large and heavy construction materials (such as cement). Respondents explained that access to hospitals stays limited, as transportation with motorbikes on dirt roads remains challenging for elderly and badly injured community members. Hence, many respondents suggested the construction of health centers inside the villages. Overall, road access appears to not only impact income distribution but also lifestyle and behavior of the forest communities and provides a stepping stone for village development.
Conflicts between local communities and national park management objectives often arise where villages are set within national park boundaries. This demands for solutions such as resettlements, compensations, alternative livelihood strategies or changed management approaches [51
]. In order to reduce negative anthropogenic effects on wildlife in the park, indigenous people in Korup National Park were successfully encouraged to leave the park through various measures, such as incentives, the implementation of new conservation policies or resettlements [52
]. However, experiences from resettling Ikondo Kondo I village, which was formerly situated inside Korup National Park, have shown that successful resettlements are difficult to realize since they require very careful planning and need to meet many prerequisites [54
]. Our results suggest that road access for villages in formerly remote areas, for which resettlement is not feasible, can lead to desired short-term shifts in income patterns in the framework of an ICDP. Connectivity provides new opportunities regarding income generation and village development and changes village life as well as individual behavior, especially for households with above median incomes. In KNP, road construction was the outcome of a long process included in a set of incentives to halt hunting activities (e.g., paid involvement in park activities, monetary incentives at community level, support of road maintenance), where a resettlement was not an option [21
]. Still, potential long-term consequences of road access, such as vehicle collisions [20
], fragmentation effects [18
], increased pressure on wildlife, and open markets for species that were previously not hunted [56
], also need to be taken into account in the decision-making process. Hence, we support other findings [57
] that using road access as an incentive in biodiversity rich areas should be carefully considered and planned and only be implemented when other options (such as resettlements) are not feasible. We therefore conclude that road access can only approach sustainability of the desired effects if it (1) can meet the target group (below medium households, relying on hunting); (2) is embedded in a framework of good communication, support, education, alternative income sources, and incentives and (3) if possible adverse effects on wildlife are considered.