Cameroon is endowed with a rich heritage of biodiversity and biological resources . The country’s representativeness, abundance and diversity of ecosystems and species is exceptional , ranking fourth in floral diversity and fifth in faunal diversity within the African continent , . Cameroon is home to an estimated 409 species of mammals, 183 species of reptiles, 849 species of birds, 190 species of amphibians and over 9000 plant species . Additionally, its diverse ecosystems are representative of 92% of Africa’s ecosystems, thus earning it the name of "Africa in miniature". Cameroon’s ecosystems can be split into 6 main ecosystem types, namely, Coastal/Marine, Tropical Humid Dense Forest, Tropical Wooded Savannah, Semi-Arid, Montane and Fresh Water Ecosystems . Further, the country has the second largest forest area in the Congo Basin, with about 45% of its surface covered by forests , . This high degree of species, genetic and ecosystem diversity is of significant socioeconomic, scientific, and medicinal importance to Cameroonians .
Cameroon’s biodiversity underpins its economy, significantly contributing to the wellbeing of its people and particularly the rural population . Its importance is more apparent in certain sectors of activity in Cameroon, such as agriculture, forestry and fishing, which represent about 15% of GDP (in 2017) and employ more than 50% of the workforce . According to the country’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan Version II (NBSAP II: 2012), about 80% of the rural population are engaged in biodiversity-driven activities on which their livelihoods depend . Further, over 22 million Cameroonians depend on the country’s rich ecosystems and their provision of goods and services including clean air, freshwater, energy, food, inspiration, and medicine . The medicinal properties of the country’s diverse plant and animal species provide enormous health benefits, with an estimated 80% of the rural population dependent on traditional medicine, a practice that has lasted for over a century and that is quite common to the Central and West African region .
In spite of its importance , Cameroon’s biodiversity is rapidly deteriorating , with significant consequences for the well-being of people and the country’s economy . According to the key findings from Cameroon’s National Ecosystem Assessment, all the parameters on biodiversity and ecosystem services indicate a decline in species, a reduction in the extent of some ecosystems (forest, savanna, coastal) and the loss of potential services. This is most severe in the semi-arid area. In fact, Cameroon is among the countries recording the highest number (61%) of endangered and critically endangered species in the Guinean forests of West Africa .
The degradation of ecosystems and unsustainable exploitation are the main dangers that threaten biodiversity in Cameroon. The direct drivers linked to the loss of biodiversity are, among others: slash and burn agriculture , inappropriate planning of development activities , poaching, overexploitation of non-timber forest products and the use of unsustainable practices, climate change and its induced effects such as floods and drought, various pollutions, and the introduction of non-native invasive species. For their part, the indirect drivers are linked to socio-economic conditions and growing demography which increases the pressure on resources .
Key policies and governance approach
Cameroon has been a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) since its ratification in 1995 . In compliance with its obligations under the provisions of the CBD, Cameroon in 1999 developed its first National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) which was officially validated in 2000. In 2012, Cameroon launched the revision of its NBSAP (NBSAP II), guided by the CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Targets, with the following vision “By 2035, a sustainable relationship with biodiversity is established in its use and sharing of benefits to meet the development needs and well-being of the people, and ecosystem balance is preserved through sector and decentralized mainstreaming with the effective participation of all stakeholders including local communities” .
To attain this vision, Cameroon’s NBSAP II includes 10 guiding principles and prioritises 4 strategic goals (areas for intervention). The strategic goals are as follows: A). addressing the causes of biodiversity degradation/loss by reducing the direct and indirect pressures on biodiversity; B). maintaining and improving the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, habitats, species and genetic diversity; C). promoting the sustainable utilization of biodiversity for wealth creation and contributing to poverty alleviation; and D). promoting the integration of biodiversity in sector and local level planning and development. Further, for the effective realisation of the strategic goals, NBSAP II includes 20 National Level Targets to be achieved by 2020, as well as 10 Ecosystem-specific targets for the identified 6 main ecosystem types in Cameroon. These targets provide a context for developing large and medium size projects with a focused orientation in addressing key challenges of biodiversity .
In addition to the relevant international and regional instruments ratified by Cameroon, the protection of the country’s biodiversity is also shaped by relevant biodiversity related policies, laws, and regulations. The legal landscape for the protection of biodiversity is based on the 1996 Framework Law for Environmental Protection, as well as the 1994 Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries Law . Additionally, to improve the contribution of biodiversity to development and human well-being and to guarantee the involvement of indigenous populations and local communities in the sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, Cameroon adopted in 2021 a law to govern access to genetic resources, their derivatives, traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from their utilization. The government of Cameroon has also adopted several biodiversity-related strategies, such as the National Strategy for the Sustainable Management of Mangroves and other Coastal Ecosystems, the National Sustainable Financing Strategy for Protected Areas for the Conservation and Enhancement of Biodiversity, and a national strategy to combat poaching and wildlife crime, which was adopted in 2020 .
At the institutional level, the Ministry of Environment, Protection of Nature, and Sustainable Development (MINEPDED) and the Department of Forest and Fauna (MINFOF) are responsible for biodiversity, ecosystem conservation and forest management in Cameroon .
Successes and remaining challenges
Cameroon has made significant progress in increasing its forest and protected areas. According to the country’s Voluntary National Review, the total area of managed forests increased from 6,263,838 ha in 2018 to 6,530,489 ha in 2020, and the total area of protected areas with a development/management plan increased from 6,415,856 ha in 2018 to 6,461,273 ha in 2020. The total area of protected areas also increased from 9,716,163 hectares in 2019 to 9,728,871 hectares in 2020, or 20.46% of the national territory. This was made possible thanks to a favorable institutional environment with, among other things, the creation by decree of January 7, 2020 of the Ma Mbed National Park (Far North region) .
Additionally, within the framework of the implementation of the National Strategy for the Sustainable Management of Mangroves and other Coastal Ecosystems in Cameroon, Cameroon carried out several activities between 2020 and 2021, in particular: the production and transplanting of 21,000 mangrove seedlings; the cleaning of 10 ha of water bodies infested by aquatic invasive species; the construction of shadehouses; the training of more than 700 local actors on bamboo agroforestry techniques and other Non-timber forest products (NTFPs); the establishment of nurseries with more than 105,042 plants including 46,982 bamboo, 54,060 NTFPs and 4,000 mangroves; and 249.7 ha of bamboo and NTFP put in place .
Despite these successes, several challenges still exist related to the management of the country’s biodiversity. Such challenges include the low capacity of government agencies to perform law enforcement and conservation management; poor involvement of local communities in biodiversity conservation; inadequate budget allocations for protected areas and wildlife agencies; and limited transboundary coordination in planning and control of natural resource use and conservation .
Further, though biodiversity is essential for the long-term functioning of economic activities in Cameroon, most economic sectors use it without taking it into account. According to a study on the sectoral footprint on biodiversity in Cameroon, the issue of biodiversity is still poorly taken into account in the country’s development policy . At the same time, the potential of Cameroon's nature to reduce poverty and improve well-being remains largely untapped .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Cameroon joined UNEP-WCMC’s National Ecosystem Assessment Initiative (NEA Initiative) in 2017, and then in 2022, became the third country to validate its National Ecosystem Assessment. Cameroon is now in the use of assessment findings stage, which aims to identify ongoing and future processes where assessment findings could guide the consideration of the full value of nature in decision-making. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will support Cameroon in the use of assessment findings, through the catalytic BES Solution Fund. Managed by UNDP through the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Network (BES-Net) and generously supported by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection of the Federal Republic of Germany and SwedBio, the BES Solution Fund will support action on tangible solutions emerging from the recommendations of the National Ecosystem Assessment .
The German Development Agency (KfW) is allocating €10 million to improve the management of forests and protected areas in the South West regions of Cameroon between 2023 and 2025. This funding will help to combat poaching and illegal logging .
- There is a need to assess and take into account biodiversity and ecosystem services in Cameroon’s development planning, including in the National Development Strategy for 2030 (NDS30) , .
- The 3 key policy options to reconcile biodiversity and ecosystem services conservation with Cameroon’s development needs and increase its contribution to human well-being by 2030 are: (i) spatial planning for biodiversity and ecosystem services conservation and sustainable management, (ii) sustainable food and energy production, and (iii) enforced environmental safeguards .
- Highlight the essential role of protected areas in the economic dimension of society and in the preservation of human health and well-being .
- Intensify actions to build the capacities of regional and local authorities in terms of protection of the environment and preservation of biodiversity .
- Set up a system of multi-sectoral coordination of interventions and actors for better planning and implementation of actions to be carried out in terms of sustainable management of forests and biodiversity .
- Strengthen alternative economic initiatives to poaching activities and permanent deforestation .
- Strengthen benefit-sharing mechanisms providing communities with access to forests and their resources .
- Strengthen biodiversity and forest law enforcement .
- Implement surveillance actions in the titles intended for integral protection (forest reserves, protected areas), in order to eradicate any human action in accordance with the regulations in force .
 UN Environment Programme (UNEP) (2022). CAMEROON VALIDATES ITS NATIONAL ECOSYSTEM ASSESSMENT. [Online]. Available: https://www.unep-wcmc.org/en/news/cameroon-validates-its-national-ecosystem-assessment.
 BIODEV2030 (2022). CAMEROON. [Online]. Available: https://www.biodev2030.org/en/pays/cameroon/.
 CBFP (2020). CAMEROON: Africa’s 4th largest biodiversity reserve called to eco-citizenship - Afrique Environnement Plus. [Online]. Available: https://pfbc-cbfp.org/news-partner/eco-citizenship.html.
 AFRIK 21 (2022). CAMEROON: €10 million from KfW for biodiversity protection in the South West. [Online]. Available: https://www.afrik21.africa/en/cameroon-e10-million-from-kfw-for-biodiversity-protection-in-the-south-west/.