Lessons from DRYAD’s financing of community forestry enterprises are applicable globally.
In June 2015, World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and partners began the roll-out of a five-year innovative project (to September 2020) to enhance sustainable management of community forests in Cameroon, known as DRYAD, funded by UKAID, Department for International Development and implemented in collaboration with TMP Systems, NGOs and community forest groups.
DRYAD was an experiment in deploying public finance to de-risk and prepare community forest enterprises in Cameroon for private investment through a performance-based finance approach that achieved better access to finance to catalyse sustainable enterprises of forest products and services for the benefit of forest communities.
Forestry in Cameroon is one of the largest economic sectors, creating thousands of jobs and generating significant export revenue. Like most countries in central Africa, many people in Cameroon depend on forests for a living, with timber contributing about 12% of the gross domestic product. The sector still has strong potential to transform the lives of millions of forest-dependent communities and others adjacent. However, limited access to finance has been ailing the sector, particularly, the community forests.
DRYAD aimed to tackle this upfront by introducing an innovative financing scheme together with technical support and monitoring. Performance-based finance models were accompanied by technical and business advisory support services to the community forest enterprises.
DRYAD supported nine types of enterprises — cassava transformation, timber, bush mango ‘eru’ (Gnetum africanum), ‘njangsang’ (Ricinodendron heudoletii or Ricinodendron africanum (Bail.) Pierre ex Pax), rattan fish, plantain, maize, garri (cassava flour) and charcoal — for the 34 community forest enterprises to help them overcome the financial and technical challenges they faced and, by the close of the project in June 2020, had recorded an emergent growth in community forest enterprises’ portfolios with 29 of the 34 in operation recording a very low failure rate of 5.88% against the average national failure rate of 90% in the first year.
Through this support to community forest enterprises, it was possible to create 487 jobs (225 females and 262 males) with 44% being youth, as full-time employees and generating a wage value of XAF 30 million (over USD 53,000). By doing so, DRYAD significantly empowered women and youth. Through the community forest enterprises, DRYAD supported the success of community projects, such as salaries for community teachers, university scholarships, construction of schools and donations of pharmaceutical products to health centres. The communities had begun their transformation towards self-reliance.
As well, DRYAD developed sustainable business cases for 84 community forest enterprises, which are ready for investors. DRYAD also carried out extensive local capacity development by training communities in technical and business skills. Local resource monitoring was also strengthened by training members of communities in data collection and reporting through an innovative technology called simply, Field Monitoring System.
Training in proper record keeping and building investment portfolios that can improve community forest enterprises’ credit scores was one of the key readiness investments. Beyond local benefits, DRYAD contributed to global public knowledge products on community forestry. The journal, Ecology and Society, published a special edition reviewing 20 years of community forestry in Cameroon, drawing on the lessons from DRYAD. The edition included eight articles, two technical and two policy briefs.
DRYAD has enhanced evidence-based understanding of the potential of community forest enterprises to contribute to economic, social and environmental development in Cameroon and beyond. It has also drawn important lessons on ways of financing and supporting community forest enterprises to generate benefits. Avenues are also being explored on how to scale-up the successes of DRYAD.