EXPLORING THE SOCIO-CULTURAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF ECOTOURISM ON THE LOCAL POPULATION OF CAMEROON.
The ecotouristic sector in Cameroon is a growing but relatively minor industry. Cameroon's wildlife draws both safari-goers and big-game hunters, as Cameroon is home to many of Africa's iconic animals: cheetahs, chimpanzees, elephants, giraffes, gorillas, hippopotami, and rhinoceroses. Impediments to further growth of the eco-touristic sector include poor transport infrastructure and corrupt officials who may harass visitors for bribes.
Ecotourism can and is however making a substantial contribution to development, and in combating poverty even though not without its own problems. Many studies report on the general impacts of the sector in developing countries, whether social, cultural, economic, or environmental. However, the sector can sometimes be discredited as being less pro poor. Corrupt officials often embezzle most of the funds that flow into the sector. As a consequence of the above, the paper will explore some of the consequences of ecotourism on the socio-cultural and environment. As an Anthropologists, I will not fall into the trap of judging the sector but what is worth noting here is the fact that for the sector to be successful there need to be some kind of social amenities and attraction parks.
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Research on tourism in developing countries has mostly focused on the general economic, environmental and socio-cultural consequences of the sector. This sector has many potentially beneficial impacts to locals, but in practice these have been frequently outweighed by the negative consequences for local people of many African countries especially Cameroon due to poor management systems and corrupt officials.
There are several forms of tourism and reasons of tourism. They vary across cultures and depend on the particular individual or groups involved with tourist activities. For the purpose of time, this paper is going to focus more on ecotourism. Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the wellbeing of local people. “Travel to fragile, pristine, and usually protected areas that strive to be low impact and (usually) small scale. It helps educate the traveler, provides funds for conservation, directly benefits the economic development and political empowerment of local communities, and foster respect for different cultures and for human rights” (Honey 1995:25) This form of tourism is usually intended to protect the environment, have revenues to protect the environment and finally to support local communities. There are some criticisms that surround this form of tourism as to whether it is actually sustainable and if locals are actually the beneficiaries.
There are various definitions of ecotourism that have been provided by many scholars but this paper will briefly provide a few that are very vital to the analysis of the paper. Tikell (1994), defines ecotourism as travel to enjoy the world's amazing diversity of natural life and human culture without causing damage either.
Ecotourism is tourism and recreation that is both nature-based and sustainable.(Lindberg and McKercher, 1997)
What is worth noting from the above definitions and other scholarly definitions is the fact that ecotourism is nature based and the idea of sustainability features in most of the definitions as well. This goes a long way to stress on the importance of nature to human beings and also the fact that it needs to be preserved for future generations.
Ecotourism is also considered one of the world's fastest growing tourism sub-market. This growth has been promoted by Europeans and north Americans to almost all parts of the world either for leisure or for the purpose of studies.
Cameroon is a potential tourist destination owing to its rich touristic potentials such as the natural bright sandy beaches of Kribi in the South and Limbe in the South West provinces of Cameroon, equally its natural priority of hosting several animal species like the, red tail monkeys, giraffes, lions and giant elephants which roam the savannah. The bongo antelopes and massive western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees survive in this primeval woodlands with monkeys, baboons, elephants, hippopotamus and forest buffalos that are almost extinct in certain parts of the world, it harbors different bird species.
Cameroon is blessed with abundant, diverse forest and wildlife on the continent of Africa, Nature reserve cover almost 15 percent of Cameroon 475,442km2,an eventual national goal of 20% has been set by law; These include seven National parks, three world Biosphere reserves and one United Nation world Heritage site but the most unfortunately thing is that they are not adequately protected some have seriously deteriorated due to lack of funds and mismanagement, poaching and official corruption. Forest have been sold off to foreign interest for ecologically unsustainable logging with no benefit to the local people while plundering of rare animals through sales of bush meat has grown and the crime rate has soared, the situation may change with increasing awareness of economic benefits of ecotourism dependent on healthy parks and reserves. The Ministry of Forest and Wildlife in Cameroon has been struggling to put on a legislation to kind of regulate the activities of local communities living around national parks and game reserves.
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The conservation scheme empowering the Baaka pygmies of the East and South of Cameroon thus is a seldom success story. The nation which has a large number of potential tourist destinations due to its rich nature has been plagued by a poor political will for closed to two and a half decades now. The rainforest reserve however escape some of these disruption by the political power that be and is turning into one of the Cameroon's main and few tourist destination.
Not leaving out the too many ‘romantic' things Africa has to offer such as pre-historic paintings, the African night sky, a unique rhythm of life all these experiences abound in Cameroon and that is the reason why Cameroon is referred to as Africa miniature because it has a little bit of what exist in the whole of Africa
ADVANTAGES OF ECOTOURISM TO THE LOCAL PEOPLE
The value of plants used for medicinal purposes by local communities can be calculated on the basis of their possible future value on the global market. Ecological economics, a field that addresses the relationship between ecological and economic systems focusing on environmental policy and sustainable development (Constanza 1989)
Intrinsic value is a much more subjective matter, while most people take the intrinsic value of humans for granted the view that Nature is very often personalized in the sense that it has inherent rights and is as such subject to the same moral, ethical and legal protection is more controversial (Nash 1989)
The world Ecotour 97 the first world congress and exhibition on Ecotourism was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 15 to 18 December 1997 it was organized by the Brazilian Society for the environment(BIOSFERA).The conference was attended by approximately 2000 people from throughout the world. They shared ecotourism theories, policies, plans, developments and management models. The key outcome of the conference was the realization that ecotourism is not a passing fad but has well and truly arrived, bearing the promise of environmental conservation, community wellbeing and economic benefits.
Around Cameroon's Lobeke National Park, trophy hunting in community hunting area is now generating some US$50,000 each year. This money is managed by local wildlife management committees. It is invested in education, through the construction of schools to provide shelter for children, who used to study under horrible conditions, provision of portable water through improvement of water sources and the construction of wells “The upshot is greater involvement of local communities in wildlife protection” WWF sources.
Most natural areas are located in the rural locales; the development of tourism in such areas can have considerable impact on the local people (Lindberg and Enriquez 1994)
Sensitive use policies that cause minimum negative social impact, but allow high levels of local involvement are required. Jobs for local people are a high priority, but are often difficult to provide in a sophisticated knowledge industry, such as ecotourism or adventure tourism. The development of tourism policy sensitive to local concerns is essential for obtaining community support (Lindberg and Enriquez1994).Local economic and social benefits cause an increase in support for ecological conservation.
Travelers seek out businesses that emphasize the character of the locale in terms of architecture, heritage, cuisine aesthetics, ecology, etc. Tourism revenues give added value to those assets. A value that the locals may not have previously acknowledged.
Travelers not only learn about the destination, they learn how to help sustain its character while deepening their own travel experiences. Residents learn that the ordinary and familiar may be of interest and value to outsiders.
Ecotourism should essentially make good long-term business that should seek to employ and train local people, buy local supplies, and use local services. The more the locals benefit from the operation the more they will support the activities, and the better they will conserve the assets.
Foreign visitors who learn about and observe local etiquette (including using at least a few courtesy words in the local language) feel a greater empathy with the experience. Local residents in turn who learn how to deal with foreign expectations that may differ from their own also appreciate the additional knowledge.
Satisfied, excited visitors take new knowledge home and send friends off to experience the same and/or similar things they enjoyed which provide continuing business for the destination.
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The long term benefits of the resource of ecotourism to the local community, and to the operation must be enshrined, benefits may be economic, scientific, social, cultural, ethical or biological.
DISADVANTAGES OF ECOTOURISM TO THE LOCAL PEOPLE
The Ministry of Forest and Wildlife in Cameroon has been struggling to put on a legislation to kind of regulate the activities of local communities living around national parks and game reserves as these guidelines are being executed the rural communities face negative impact as they actually rely on the forest for a livelihood or survival.
Huge sums or amounts of money is being spent and human resources continue to be used for ecotourism campaigns but this has not succeeded 100%.There had been stiff resistance in this relationship because ecotourism often will cause conflict and changes in land use rights, fails to deliver promises of community level benefits, damages environment and has plenty of other social impacts.
In a real world situation focus should be made towards educating tourists of the environment and social effects of their travels.
At the local level ecotourism has become a source of conflict over the control of land, resources and tourism profits, there are many problems abound with ecotourism with the case of Cameroon, the environmental effect on the local population and conflict over profit redistribution are only a few of those negative effects of ecotourism.
The laws and regulations stands as a hindrance for the potential investors in the sector of ecotourism. There must be the prohibition of the promotion of unsustainable ecotourism projects and materials which project the false images of destinations, and equally demeaning local and indigenous cultures and natural resources.
Ethnic groups are increasingly being seen as a backdrop to the scenery and wildlife, hence they do not participate fully in the development of ecotourism.
The indigenous people struggle for cultural survival and freedom of cultural expression while being observed by the tourist.
There are always resentments from the local people for they do not want this change that is being imposed on them.
Tourism has been allowed to develop without any control.
Lodges have been built, too much firewood is being used and no limit are placed on tourism vehicles, they drive off track and frequently harass the wildlife, their vehicles crisscross the zones and inevitably the bush or forest become eroded and degraded all these at the detriment of the locals.
The regulations for environmental protection may be vaguely defined, very closely to implement, hard to enforce and uncertain ineffectiveness very often than not there are frequent confrontation between the indigenous population and the eco-guards, forest guards or the police and the gendarmes who are charged with the implementation of wildlife laws in Cameroon.
The government of Cameroon regulates, administers and enforces environmental protection the lack of the commitment or capacity to manage ecotourism sites effectively.
Government spends budget on politically beneficial but unproductive projects which has nothing to benefit either the locals or even the tourists.
The government is vested in the benefits not the ecotourism industry which they are supposed to regulate causing restrictive environment regulations and enforcement to become more lenient.
The constructions of an eco-touristic edifice may take precedence over more pressing environmental concerns like acquiring habitat, protecting endemic species and removing invasive ones.
Ecotourism most often will be that which preserves and enhances local cultures but in this light it is clearly evident that with the creation of protected areas or zones local people are forced to illegally lose their homes most often without compensation as is the case in most developing countries
Sometimes the local people are pushed to marginal lands with harsh climates, poor soils, lack of water and disease infested livestock since no veterinary care is taken of their livestock. This increases the dead toll of their livestock be it cattle, poultry or piggery. Some of the time the marginal lands do not assure for enough food for their livestock and for their own subsistence. Most often than not taxes are levied on their hard earned livestock this greatly embitters them.
The creation of parks does nothing but establishes a permanent harsh survival reality and deprives the people of their traditional use of land sometimes this parks are created on their ancestral shrines which goes a long way to disturb the quietness of their gods, this greatly affects the tradition of the people in question, in some cases may even lead to violent confrontations between the authorities and the local villagers who see it as kind of sell out and thereby depriving them of their indigenous values.
Hunting which is a passion of these indigenous people is banned and killing of an animal is illegal and punishable, these animals are their main source of protein and income, but they are prohibited to do poaching or hunting around the reserves, National Parks for example the small villages around Korup National Park in Ndian division of the South West Province of the Republic of Cameroon, this forest is completely out of bound to the local people who live and look at this forest for their livelihood same applies to the Menvelle wildlife (Gorilla sanctuary).The Mount Kupe Forest Project, Kejum keku reserve, the Waza National Park, the Limbe Wildlife Reserve, Kilum Mountain Project just to name a few.
Most often than not populations are mostly displaced to create parks without even taking into account their resettlement schemes.
CONSEQUENCES OF HUNTING ON ECOTOURISM
All human actions in natural areas cause some impact. This can be positive or negative and can vary in scale. How much impact is acceptable? The determination of impact, the assessment of the acceptability of the impact, the management of the impact and the monitoring of the impact must be done. (Stankey, et al 1985,Prosser 1986).
The hunting of nonhuman primates is biologically an old practice that human beings share with their closest cousins the chimpanzee, hunting methods or techniques and patterns however have changed substantially in recent times. It has been noted in the twentieth century that due to the use of firearms the efficiency and frequency of hunting has increased.
Tourism, hunting and butchering on nonhuman primates has been linked to the emergence of some infectious diseases, for instance hunting red colobus (procolobus badius oustaleti)has been implicated in a localized epidemic of monkeypox that has continued for four generations of nonhuman to human contacts, this implying that even the tourist who visit these areas are at risks.
Hunting behavior generally tends to focus around villages or new human settlements in logging camps or along roads sides and studies have shown that hunting in a village in the Dja Reserve in the south of Cameroon have demonstrated that both the levels and impact of hunting decreases as a function of distance from the village. The results have importance for both wildlife conservation as well as for assessing the emergence of risks associated with hunting, .(Muchaal and Ngandjui 1999)
Both subsistence and commercial hunting with wire snares and firearms are widespread activities throughout the forests of Cameroon . In addition road networks and increasing opportunities for transporting hunted games have led to an increase in sales and rates of hunting. Some of the parts of rural hunting villages in Cameroon have also been linked to hunting and butchering apes especially those of the south.
For means of sustaining livelihood the local villagers around the reserves in the rural areas tend to do illegal hunting in the protected zones
Hunting increases in these regions in direct proportion to logging activities. When the logging companies open up new areas, snare and firearm hunters follow in their track. Logging camps in the region provide a cash market for fresh bush meat and their trucks are often used as a means of transportation of smoked bush meat to the urban markets of Yaoundé and Douala where demand is high. The densities of large primates(gorillas and chimpanzees)in the East Province are among the highest in all of Africa. Hunting of these ape species likely results in a higher risk of exposure than the hunting of the other species. Driving the bush meat trade in Cameroon is the large growing urban demand in conjunction with the opening up of logging concessions in the east province. The market among households for sauce preparation in Yaoundé alone is estimated at approximately $4million annually(IITA unpublished data)
There were differences in the form of bush meat consumed with the poor more likely to purchase smoked bush meat rather than the more expensive fresh product. The conclusion here is that even though of its illegality smoked bush meat is an important source of protein for both the rural and the urban poor. Urban demand makes hunting a source of income for rural households.
Some in the ecotourism industry have refused to take Cameroon seriously as a tourist destination until the government begins to take tougher stands against the country's thriving bush meat trade. The killing of rare wildlife species for food and cultural artifacts was once believed to be an activity exclusively of the native pygmies. Today most observers recognize that the bush meat trade has become a part of mainstream of the forest or the rural villages of Cameroon, meat from forest elephants, chimpanzees, gorillas and other native animals are a popular and often preferable substitute to beef, poultry, or pork, a traditional pygmy will often include chimpanzee or gorilla instead of a chicken on a Christmas dish, of course killing and selling rare animals is illegal but laws go mainly unenforced because of a combination of corruption, lack of resources for law enforcement and a kind of apathy to the problem, in addition to logging concessions that the governments hands out to dealers who have little or no idea on conservation.
The exposure to non human primates has led to the emergence of important diseases, including Ebola hemorrhagic fever, and adult T-cell leukemia. To determine the extent of exposure to nonhuman primates, persons were examined in 17 rural hunting remote rural villages in Cameroon that represented three habitats (savannah, gallery, forest and lowland forest.
The convention on international trade in Endangered species found that the increasing commercialization of trade has led to some 68species in Cameroon being threatened by poaching.
SOME SETBACKS OF ECOTOURISM TO THE ECOTOURISTS
Nonhuman primate ecotourism for example gorilla watching has been associated with the possible transmission from nonhuman primates to humans of diseases that includes scabies for example sarcoptes scabies, intestinal parasites and measles, equally laboratory handling of tissues or fluids of nonhuman primates has led to the transmission of a variety of infections to humans .including Simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) and SV40. Additionally the keeping of nonhuman primate pets has been linked to the transmission of variety of microorganisms.
A range of activities involves direct contact between humans and non human primates and allows for the transmission of micro organisms such behaviors can facilitate transmission of microorganisms from nonhuman primates to humans with consequences for human health, as well as from humans to non human primates, this equally has great consequences on wildlife conservation.
Care for captive nonhuman primates has led to the transmission of a range of infections, including Simian foamy virus, herpes virus B. (HBV) primate malaria and tuberculosis.
A widespread problem in ecotourism is the assurance of information accuracy of quality interpretation of levels of safety of operational integrity and of adherence to impact rules. Consumers look for such assurances and any deficiency in these areas can seriously inhibit use.
Visitors satisfaction surveys are becoming a more important part of park and ecotourism management, they are common in developed countries but rare in Africa (Friesen1995)
WAY FORWARD FOR ECOTOURISM IN CAMEROON
The local communities must be given status as equal partners in the venture and their share of the revenue must be contractually guaranteed over and above the creation of jobs and by so doing the local communities should receive priority in terms of jobs.
Local communities should be clearly identified, their legal access to the resource, through their legal tenure should be recognized and acknowledged.
The distribution of revenues to the local people should be fair, transparent and accountable.
Capacity building for local people should be part of the scheme, to the extent that there should be maximum involvement of the local people or communities in the planning and development of ecotourism with benefits accruing from it to the local people not leaving out minority and disadvantaged groups.
Ecotourism operations should and in most cases must be an imperative involvement of big business concessions coming from the west( partners from abroad) in the form of people and investment for development, but it must also involve local communities and individual entrepreneurs.
It is worthy of note that Ecotourism should be planned in an environmentally sensitive manner so that its natural and cultural resources are conserved, ecotourism development does not generate serious adverse environmental or sociological impacts, the overall quality of the environment is maintained or improved, the benefits of ecotourism are widely spread in the society and ecotourism satisfaction levels are maintained.
Ecotourists should be environmentally aware they should favor businesses that have active programs to minimize pollution, waste, energy consumption, water usage, the use of landscaping chemicals, and unnecessary night time lighting.
Stakeholders who can recognize that development pressures can deplete resources, and apply limits and management techniques to prevent this to happen can gain respect. Thus businesses that co-operate to sustain natural habitats, heritage sites, scenic appeal, local culture etc, are perceived generally as good businesses that are environmentally sensitive. This therefore calls for good plannification and implementation techniques which must be considered throughout the planning process, this planning should not leave out contemporary and creative concepts of development.
Communities need to measure Ecotourism success not by the many numbers of visitors, but by the length of stay, money spent, and quality of experience. Many visitors may not be necessarily better since we acknowledge that every site has a maximum carrying capacity, which must not be exceeded or over utilized, this kind of over utilization may lead to some kind of abuses hence if the capacity is exceeded it could lead to the resources becoming depleted or overexploited or exhausted as the case may be.
Participation by the Ecotourists should be encouraged at all levels and in all sectors since they form part of the whole network their exclusion will mean that the industry will fail to exist they must be part and parcel of the whole scheme. Their participation at all levels is very primordial, since decisions to be taken equally involves them.
All resources should be respected and every effort must be made to use them sparingly and judiciously to avoid eventual depletion of the resources in question.
Value adding by all the stakeholders at all levels will be very essential for success to be recorded.
Education and training of all parties that are involved, the local communities, the Ecotourists, government and those operating in the ecotourism industry this will be a key asset leading to success.
Ethical and moral attitudes, and responsibility towards the natural and cultural environment, should be promoted by all concerned with the operation that is from the part of the government, the locals and why not the visitors since all of them have a stake in the venture.
Partnerships between all parties involved in the venture should be promoted.
For Ecotourism to succeed there must be a high level of co-operation between the local, regional, national and international communities, so that everyone should benefit to the maximum. This co-operation must also extend into the field of marketing and promotion of the said tourist destination.
At the end of the day it is the initiative and responsibility shown by the community that will determine the success or failure of an Ecotourism venture. There are no guarantees. All parties involved have to risk failure and all parties must know this risk of possible failure at the very beginning.
Ecotourism is integrated as a system in itself, and the Ecotourism sector is integrated into the overall development policies and plans of the area and local plans are integrated into the national and regional Ecotourism policies and future plans if there are any.
It is sometimes appropriate, to do strategic planning which focuses more on identification and resolution of immediate issues or problems.
All levels of the Ecotourism industry are vital, and the quality of training and the resulting services that are offered must be of the highest quality or standards. These standards must also be maintained and improved over time and space, this will require putting in place monitoring and evaluation programs.
It should be noted that at the start of any ecotourism ventures, these should be backed by both the Social and environmental impact assessments. These in a bid to ensure sustainability both economically and ecologically. Research into these societies in themselves and the local politics can help identify and discard negative attitudes that may discourage the indigenes and even potential ecotourists. These procedures should not be too cumbersome and time consuming but should be in proportion to the size of the proposed development as the case may be limited finances have to carry the project through this information gathering period. The amount of environmental and social impact allowed is a management decision. This decision should or must take into account the legal and environment policy of the protected areas. Ecotourism is seen as a kind of exploitation and depletion in the case of the rural villages of Cameroon, it should be given more orientation to serve as a useful tool to local communities and equally to become sustainable.
In Cameroon there had been little or no awareness as far as the tourist industry is concerned, there has been low impact educational, ecological and cultural sensitive awareness. All these issues must be addressed by the stakeholders in the tourist industry for it to be sustainable until when all these will be met with, then will it be a success story.
In many parts of Cameroon, the involvement of local people is crucial in creating a memorable ecotouristic experience. Even though local people strongly support ecotourism development, they are involved little with the planning and management of ecotourism in the region. Therefore, for the sustainability of ecotourism development, future planning should consider the inclusion of local people.
Mechanisms should be created to strengthen the coordination between different Stakeholders, especially the locals who most often constitute farmers etc. The development of policies concerning ecotourism planning can be very important, provided that this process is conducted in an open and participative manner to ensure that the growth of the tourism sector in Cameroon is sustainable.
In addition to offering adequate services and goods to tourists, the local government and companies in the ecotourism sector must also cater to the needs
of the local community. Most inhabitants in Cameroon are unable to use the same services or purchase the same goods that may seem inexpensive to a foreign tourist. The economic growth brought about by international tourism is not perceived as entirely positive by everyone in the village. Some goods and services have become more expensive to local people. This then gives them the impression that Tourism in general is not for everyone since the life of the population and the local workers most often does not change much.
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