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Minkebé Interactive Map
Minkebé Interactive Map
Login to view georeferenced community data Mayibouth1 Adjap Bitouga Etóo Doumassi Elarmintang Exploitation of Minkebé forests Hunting Forest products, Minkebé 2 Forest products, Minkebé 1 Artisanal gold mining Farming and cultivation House Construction Minkebé forest video Honey Collection, Minkebé Minkebé Forest Camp Ground Mapping in local communities Ground mapping video Presentation of community maps in Minvoul Community Mappers, Minkebé Community mapping in Minkebé

The remote town of Minvoul and surrounding villages lie in the Department of Haut-Ntem, in the Woleu Ntem Province in the Northeast of Gabon - some 700km from the capital Libreville. 20km to the north is the border with Cameroon and to the east are the Minkebé forests - the largest undisturbed forest in this bio-geographic region. Rich in fauna and flora, these forests contain significant populations of forest elephants and western lowland gorillas as well as important bird species such as the oriole cuckoo-shrike and the forest swallow. The area has been recognized as a critical site for conservation by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Land use in the area is dominated by the Minkebé National Park (created in 2002 and the largest in Gabon), the proposed tri-national protected area ‘TRIDOM' (spanning 140,000 km² or 7% of the entire Congo Basin forest) and a logging concession managed by the Tropical Timber Industry Board (TTIB).

Many of the traditional inhabitants of these forests (the Fang and indigenous Baka) are today based in and around Minvoul. The majority Fang were displaced as a result of colonial resettlement policies and the 600 (approx.) Baka came to settle in seven villages during the 1970s in search of labour, goods and services. However, since the cocoa ‘boom and bust' of the 1970s, there has been very little commerce or industry here and communities - particularly the Baka - still largely depend on the forest for their livelihoods. Participatory mapping has shown that communities hold extensive tenure claims to the forests and still cover vast territories in order to meet their needs. Relations between the Fang and Baka communities are often complex and problematic, with the Baka occupying and using lands the Fang consider as theirs, and with many Baka living in conditions of debt bondage under Bantu patrons. Baka communities typically have no officially recognized chiefs, and most of the population does not possess ID cards or birth certificates. Access to basic health and education services in the area is limited at best. 

There was little consultation of local communities when the nearby National Park and logging concession were created, and neither has yet put in place management plans with provisions and safeguards for local people. This has led to growing conflicts over land and resource use but has not generated notable investment or employment in the area. Starved of economic alternatives and exploited for their hunting skills and knowledge of the forest, some Baka have today become implicated in the ivory trade. The Baka however say that anti-poaching drives, which have included beatings and burning of forest camps, unfairly limit their traditional activities. Many say that they are frightened to enter their customary forests for fear of reprisals and have been unable to carry out traditional rights to Edzengui, the Baka's overarching ‘spirit' of the forest.

Minkebé East

 On the eastern edge of the Minkebé National Park in the far northeastern corner of Gabon lie a number of Baka, Bakoya, Bakwélé and Bakota communities located along the Upper Ivindo River. The area includes the Belinga iron field - the second largest known unexploited iron ore deposit remaining in the world - which has been the subject of considerable commercial interest since it was first discovered here in 1895. The latest attempt to exploit the 7,700 square kilometre deposit by Chinese state-owned CEMEC was heavily criticised for its lack of environmental safeguards and the absence of a transparent consultation process with potentially affected local populations. Largely thanks to a campaign led by Brainforest, which included the use of participatory mapping to demonstrate the potential impacts of displacement, flooding and contamination of water systems on local communities, the project was halted in 2008.

Despite this successful campaign, for which Marc Ona (Executive Secretary of Brainforest) won the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa, local communities here continue to face a number of threats to their livelihoods. The global demand for iron means that Belinga is likely to become subject to renewed interest from speculators. In recent years, previously intact areas of forest have been handed out to logging companies, many of which are now operating on the edge of local villages with little or no consultation or provisions in place for local people. Sadly, conservation efforts have often further disenfranchised local populations, imposing limits on their movement and restrictions on subsistence-based forest activities.  

The overall objective of the mapping project around Minkebé is to support the rights of local communities to participate in and benefit from the management of natural resources in the area. By mapping and documenting their land tenure and resource use, the aim is to provide local authorities and other stakeholders with the tools to make informed decisions, undertake adequate planning of forest management and  promote progressive community engagement mechanisms.

Four communities from Minkebé West (Doumassi, Elarmintang (Esseng), Bitouga and Etóo) and two from Minkebé East (Adjap and Mayibouth) have been involved in mapping activities and associated work. Supported by trained mapping facilitators from the National Parks Agency (ANPN), the Ministry of Forests and local civil society organizations including local Baka association EDZENGUI, over 31 community mappers have so far been trained to use GPS units and produce fully geo-referenced maps of their lands and resources.

Communities are now using these maps to engage in dialogue with local authorities and other decision makers concerning their rights to the lands and resources on which they depend. Specifically, communities are developing strategies for securing these rights through the drafting of land management protocols associated with the management plan for the Minkebé National Park and in the implementation of the TRIDOM protected area landscape project, which will potentially cover much of northern Gabon. Maps are also being used to try and ensure that logging companies provide adequate safeguards and provisions for local communities, as well as informing any future debates or attempts to exploit the Belinga iron deposit.


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