This study is grounded in land change science research, which combines the social and the physical aspects of environmental change, in an effort to better understand the complex coupled human-environment relationship. As a result of increasing global environmental impacts (e.g. climate change and the loss of biodiversity) from humans transforming the environment (e.g. through deforestation and degradation), solutions have been proposed to slow down the rate at which the environment is being altered, while at the same time seeking win-win solutions for sustainable development. Payments for Environmental Services (PES) and Reducing Emissions from Degradation and Deforestation (REDD) were proposed by the international community as a means of achieving this double goal of protecting the environment, while, at the same time, improving the livelihoods of the traditional people that often depend heavily on the environment for much of their livelihood. This project will be based in the Korup National Park (KNP) in Cameroon, and seeks to answer the following questions; (1) what factors lead to deforestation and degradation (environmental change) in the KNP? (2) How do these changes affect the environment, in terms of carbon stocks and biodiversity, and how have they been influenced by household decisions? (3) Lastly, how will household incomes and the environment in the park be influenced under different policy scenarios? The methodology will involve the use of mixed methods of data collection, and analysis. Questionnaires will be used to generate data on the socio-economic and demographic conditions of households while in-depth interviews with key informants will be used to generate data on land use trajectories, and household methods of adapting to the changing physical and socio-economic environment. Other techniques such as field based forest inventory, measures of carbon stocks, regression analysis, and other methods will be used.

This study provides the opportunity to examine the potential implications of PES/REDD policies on local households and communities, which is critical to our understanding of the important role households and local communities will have to play in global climate change mitigation strategies. The project will be conducted in association with The University of Buea, The Smithsonian Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS), and other local environmental NGOs interested in better understanding carbon stock dynamics and the prospects of implementing PES schemes. Furthermore, this project will allow the CoPI to gain valuable field research experience, while also completing his dissertation requirement. After the completion of the PhD, the CoPI will train students in field-based research methods in land change science. Results from this study will contribute to the increasing global talks regarding the importance of people, parks, and sustainable development in the tropics. The results will be shared with local affiliates, and also published in scientific papers as a contribution to the global debate on PES/REDD. User-friendly results will be disseminated to local communities, and copies of digitized maps will be given to chiefs and locals administrators of the park. The project also will provide support to enable a graduate student to establish an independent research career.

Project Report

Korup National Park (KNP) located in Cameroon, is the oldest and most biodiverse rainforest in Africa. The KNP is home to five indigenous villages: (Bera, Esukutan, Ikenge, Erat and Bareka Batanga), which depend on the forest for their livelihood. Local people in the region practice subsistence agriculture, hunting and harvesting non-timber forest products. Increased activities, have led to deforestation and degradation in the park. Previous studies of rural communities show that complex factors, like market forces, population dynamics and government policies drive environmental change, leading to deforestation, biodiversity loss, erosion, the buildup of carbon in the atmosphere etc., which all vary based on location and scale. Much of the atmospheric buildup of carbon in the tropics is caused by tropical deforestation and degradation. Increasing amounts of carbon has led to climate change, which has been linked to increasing environmental problems globally. As a result, finding innovative solutions for curbing emissions is a growing priority. One such heavily debated method is the initiative for Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+), which seeks to compensate local people for the environmental services provided from the conservation of their local environment. The potential impact of REDD+ initiatives on both people and the environment make such studies imperative. Here, we ask the following questions; (1) what factors cause deforestation and degradation in the KNP? (2) How are carbon stocks and biodiversity in the KNP impacted by the activities of the people in the KNP? (3) Lastly, how will household incomes and land cover in the KNP be impacted by different land use policy scenarios like Payments for Environmental Services (PES) and REDD+? We used diverse, mixed methods of data collection and analysis. Remote sensing techniques were employed to analyze Landsat images from the years 2000 and 2013. Sixty five household interviews were conducted to generate data on household demographics, land use trajectories, and environmental perceptions. Key-informant interviews (n=26) were conducted in which we discussed land-use issues concerning park residents and their opinion on various conservation scenarios. Forestry techniques were used to collect data on plant diversity, diameter (dbh), and soil composition from 180 20X20 meters plot in disturbed, secondary and "intact" forest. Biomass equations were used to analyze the carbon stocks in each plot, while species diversity indices were used to determine the species richness of all plots measured. Remote sensing results show that the total area deforested increased between the year 2000 (994.77 ha) (7.12%) and 2013 (1755.73 ha, or 12.28%). The total area deforested also increased in the villages (by approximately 1.4%), but the rate of deforestation, dropped significantly between the year 2000 and 2013 in three out of the four villages . Additionally, remote sensing results also show substantial area in reforestation, likely capturing the swidden cycle, as well as the displacement of the Village of Ikondo-Kondo tribe. Factors that affected the rate of deforestation were: population size, the number of subsistence farms owned by a family and the livelihood of the people. Data from forest plots and field observations show that plots in managed or "disturbed" areas have significantly less plant species (µ=10) than the plots located in undisturbed, "intact" forest (µ=45). Results from biomass analysis show that "intact" parts of the forest have more metric tons of carbon per hectares (µ=180tC per ha), than the disturbed (µ=80 tC per ha) parts of the forest. The majority of interviewed households (98%) are in support of conservation initiatives, like REDD+, which are perceived to benefit both their livelihood and the environment. They were nevertheless against monetary compensations; preferring instead increased services like roads, and better medical and educational facilities. The two percent that did not support the REDD+ initiative were not necessarily against the initiatives, but mainly distrust the large promises offered by REDD+ policy. From our field observations and interviews, it is evident that there is an ongoing complex and antagonistic relationship between the local people and the park’s management. The local people see the park’s policies as limiting their livelihood activities, while the management blames villagers for being difficult on all matters that concern the management of the park. For conservation initiatives such as REDD+ to succeed, local residents will need to be included in future decision-making and must be allowed to play more active roles in the management of the park. This research provided the opportunity for two university students in Cameroon to receive extensive training and experience on advanced techniques in geography like remote sensing and GIS. It also created an opportunity to encourage undergraduate Cameroonian students to pursue advanced degrees in the field of geography. Lastly, through this project, the Co-PI was able to gain valuable field research experience, while completing his dissertation requirements.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Thomas J. Baerwald
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Oklahoma State University
United States
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