Albion Monitor /News

Logging Brought Boom, Then Bust For African Town

by Tansa Musa

(IPS) NDONGO, Cameroon -- As recently as a decade ago, the market in this settlement some 900 kilometers southeast of the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, was full of vendors and buyers from surrounding villages and from neighboring Congo.

But everything changed in 1987 when a French logging company pulled out after harvesting the timber available in the area. Today Ndongo is a ghost town with only about 200 people, a far cry from the some 3,000 who lived there before the loggers left.

Schools and health facilities closed after the logging ended
Local chief Comada Marcel, 72, says the logging firm did no lasting good to the village. "They left us with nothing but the road they built and that is just a path today," he laments.

When the loggers were in Ndongo they built and maintained a 50-kilometer road to transport timber to Moloundou, the nearest administrative center, for export. Vehicles plied the road so villagers were able to go to Moloundou to sell some of their produce, buy the things they needed, or visit the health clinic.

With no one to maintain it after the loggers left, the road was quickly reclaimed by the surrounding bush.

The timber company provided employment. Now that it has gone, the inhabitants of Ndongo are poorer. There is some small-scale fishing and villagers rear sheep and goats, but they can hardly sell their livestock because the company's employees are no longer there to buy them and the journey on foot to Moloundou is harsh and tedious, taking two to three days.

For the villagers, the only other option is to go to Moloundou by boat, but the schedule is irregular and the fares prohibitive.

They are thus forced to sell their goods cheaply to the few traders who come to the village once a fortnight and who only buy a small amount of what the villagers have to offer. On the other hand, people here pay dearly for products they buy from the merchants.

John Nchami, Communications Officer in the Cameroon Program Office of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) recognizes that the timber industry brought money, housing, education, and social services to this remote village. But, he says, once the loggers had taken all they could and departed, the villagers were left to fend for themselves.

Ndongo had a primary school but it was closed when the company left. Today some of the children stay at home since many parents are reluctant to let their offspring walk to and from the nearest school, which is in Mindourou, seven kilometers away.

There is not a single health facility in or near Ndongo. People who have severe illnesses have to be transported by river to Moloundou. For minor cases, says village chief Comada, "we wait here for some (medicinal) drug hawkers to come along."

"When people say logging companies bring development, I think the people living here in Ndongo can see for themselves the destruction that has been caused to them"
Today, many of Ndongo's inhabitants yearn for the good old days. "I really wish the loggers could come back," says Akoa Andre, a farmer who has been forced to stockpile his cocoa beans for three seasons owing to the lack of transport. "At least they would bring us back the road we so badly need. Not everyone can travel by water."

However, Atanga Ekodo, manager of the WWF-sponsored Southeast Forest Project, does not think that luring the logging companies back is the answer.

"When people say logging companies bring development, I think the people living here in Ndongo can see for themselves the destruction that has been caused to them and their natural resources," he says. "The logging company cut down the trees and the workers killed the animals for food, but the people were left with nothing."

The Southeast Forest Project, recently launched as part of the Global Environment Facility's Biodiversity Conservation Program in Cameroon, aims to fill the gap the loggers left.

It involves the protection of about 8,040 square kilometers of lowland forest around Ndongo, coupled with the establishment of an ecotourism program, thus creating jobs for people in the area.

The project will also seek to reduce poaching.

The southeast lowland rainforest is rich in natural resources. The seven ecosystems project officials have identified there have a wide variety of animals, including elephants, gorilla, buffalo, chimpanzee, giant pangolin and black and white cobobus monkey.

According to WWF Cameroon, the real challenge of the project will be to protect the forest's ecosystems while enabling the people of Ndongo to enjoy once again the standard of living they had when the loggers were still around.

But this time "the future of Ndongo must be built on a sustainable basis," says Ekodo.

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Albion Monitor August 4, 1997 (

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