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Bafut Botanic Garden - a New Cameroon Garden

Volume 2 Number 10 - June 1998
Tafor Princewill Che

The people of Bafut near Bamenda in north-west Cameroon have allocated 17 ha of land to create a savanna botanic garden and a sanctuary forest reserve. The project area involves three very important historic shrines in the Bafut Kingdom.

History

In 1992, the author and coordinator, Tafor Princewill Che discussed the project with Sama Wilfred and approached the Fon of Bafut-Abumbi II. The Fon of Bafut willingly gave the old palaces of Mbebli and Njibujang and the main garden area of Niko/Mankaha for the project. The old palace of Mbebli also known as Ntoh Firloo is the cradle of the Bafut Kingdom. The Bafut people built the palace here when they first arrived from Tikari some 400 years ago. It contains the tombs of the first three Bafut Kings namely, Firloo, Nebasi Suh and Ambebi. Libation for the famous Bafut Annual Dance "Abin" begins here. It will now serve as an aboretum. The palace at Njibujang contains the tomb of the 8th King of Bafut -Achirimbi I. It harbours some rare medicinal plants and has a grinding mill which was used to grind an extinct species of maize (musang). This will serve as the second arboretum. The botanic garden will be developed at Niko/Mankaha which was the military headquarters of the 9th king of Bafut Abumbi I during the Bafut German wars. From here he directed the military operations during the war and it now serves as a war memorial to the Bafut people.

After we acquired the land we met Dr Ngwache Francis, the North West delegate of the Environment & Forest Department who was very supportive. He assigned the indefatigable Tangie Peters who did the survey, mapping and prepared a technical report. The project Committee have also developed articles of association.

Once the report was completed, we started to involve the surrounding people with the need to conserve the patches of forest found in the project area. This was not easy as they saw the project as a hindrance to their uncontrolled harvesting of its products. However, they are now quite willing to cooperate in the sustainable harvesting of these resources.

In June 1997, the first thematic gardens were established. These are an ornamental garden, a medicinal garden, a spice garden, an indigenous plant garden, a rock garden and a waterfall garden.

Conservation

The Bafut Botanic Garden project has identified and wishes to conserve some patches of montane and low land forest savanna. These forests are rich in plant and animal (bird) life. The forests are at Akossia, Akoyoh, Buwie, Ndung, Aga and Mako Bujang. These forests make a major contribution to the flow of the famous Menchum Fall (largest in West Africa) Unfortunately, these forests are being cut and burned for farmland and timber. We hope to introduce conservation farming methods and income generating activities such as agroforestry, bee farming and mushroom cultivation in order to control the present abusive exploitation of these natural resources.

Education

Cameroon is currently elaborating a programme in environmental education for schools. The Bafut Botanic Garden Project aims at facilitating its introduction into schools, particularly those around the project areas. The education of young people will create in them, love and appreciation of the environment which will guarantee the better management of these natural resources in the future.

Research

The savanna highlands are rich in medicinal plants, spices and other indigenous species, some still unknown to humankind. We are introducing these species in the Garden for future research. Other exotic species alien to the savanna will also be introduced.

Some common rodents (like 'cutting grass'), a delicacy with the people here will be domesticated. This is aimed at checking the excessive hunting of this animal that may lead to its local extinction.

Recreation and Tourism

The Bafut people are aware this is the number one tourist destination in the North West Province, due to the historic and magnificent Fon's palace and rich and varied crafts. The Bafut Botanic Garden with its waterfall, patch of forest and thematic gardens will enhance the tourist potential and provides a quiet and natural environment for relaxation and leisure.

The Future

The project intends to rent a nearby house as a temporary office, extend the thematic gardens in the Mankaha part of the garden. We will soon form a Bafut Botanic Garden Club. In the future, we intend to construct a permanent office, conference centre, museum, snack bar, rest house and library in an area that has been reserved in the Mankaha part of the garden. It is planned to create a seed bank for species from the savanna vegetation. The project also aims to extend conservation practices to the dense lowland savanna forests found in the Menchum valley. The montane and lowland savanna forest forms a unique ecological transition, rich in plant and animal life.

By the end of the first two phases of the project (2007) we wish to have conserved this rich biodiversity with the community sustainably managing its natural resources. However, this can only be possible with the cooperation of the people and the international community. This is the case since no single community or nation can alone win the fight for environmental protection.