Over half a million trees have been planted by refugees in Cameroon since 2017, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This remarkable effort began with a small project in the Lolo refugee site, planting fruit and medicinal trees. The aim was to plant and grow fruit trees (guava, avocado) and medicinal plants, 2,500 in the camp and 600 in the village. But it evolved into a groundbreaking program in the Minawao camp, bordering Nigeria, aimed at both combating desertification and empowering refugees.
In 2018, UNHCR and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) launched a large-scale project to restore the environment around Minawao. According to the UN agency, the refugees were trained in the use of a technique known as "cocoon planting technology", which enables trees to be planted in drought conditions. Minawao, a village just over 70 km from Maroua, the regional capital, was chosen because of the large number of Nigerian refugees (over 70,000) living there. For their own survival, these refugees have unconsciously accelerated the destruction of the forest by the anarchic cutting of trees for firewood.
Inspired by the resilience of Nigerian refugees she met in the Minawao camp, Emi Mahmoud, poet, former refugee, and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, delivered a powerful call to action at COP 28. Witnessing firsthand their innovative reforestation efforts in a harsh environment, she urged for greater inclusion of refugees and displaced persons in climate solutions. "I was able to see the real work that everyone is doing and the innovation that is happening in real-time on the ground. Refugees are not only on the front line of climate change, they are also on the front line of the fight against climate change,” she said.
According to the Ministry of the Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development (Minepded), Cameroon has 12 million hectares of degraded land, including 8 million hectares in Adamaoua, the North, and the Far-North, which is classified as an ecologically fragile region. To combat desertification, Cameroon has set up Operation "Green Sahel", a vast reforestation program designed to control the desert's advance, raise awareness, and educate the population on environmentally friendly practices.