Local forest management is essential for enhancing the sustainability of both communities’ livelihoods and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Land Degradation (REDD+) projects. However, few studies have examined the impact of forest ownership and control on community engagement and the functioning of communities in a co-managing conservation initiative. This paper examines the influence of forest management on local participation and identifies the roles/functions of local communities in the Mount Cameroon National Park REDD+ conservation project. Cluster multi-stage random sampling was used to collect data from 259 respondents that were analysed using the chi-square, Mann–Whitney, t
-test, Kruskal–Wallis, Jonckheere–Terpstra tests and NVivo. Results show that local communities have been involved in forest management practices before the establishment of the park. Communities support the establishment of a strict conservation zone and hope to promote local participation with a high expectation of benefits. Insecure tenure reduces project support and local engagement. Though communities massively support the initiative, engagement is low, and participants are not carrying out any tangible roles. They function mainly as manual labourers or mere committee members who only enforce rules/regulations within communities. Community-based natural resource management and integrated conservation and development projects have often not realised local expectations due to problems of application and impracticable legislation. Projects’ failure may be avoided by involving communities in tangible roles/functions and developing an effective co-management approach or establishing community-owned and -managed forest projects. This paper examines the progress of REDD+ from an early stage to help inform proponents in adapting strategies that are geared towards appropriate satisfactory outcomes, especially for local communities, to prevent the early failure of the initiative.
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