Ecological Balance Sets Up IrvingiaCOOP for Economic Empowerment of Forest Communities

Income generation is a bigger motivation for forest protection to the Cameroonian youth than the desire to conserve the habitats of cross river gorillas, forest elephants, and other fauna species. In recognition of this, Ecological Balance Cameroon recently established the Irvingia Cooperative Society (IrvingiaCOOP), which aims at helping forest adjacent communities to develop value chains and small businesses with non-timber forest products as a way of making local people have business interest in forest protection.

The IrvingiaCOOP is currently enhancing the economic empowerment of over 200 women and youths from forest adjacent communities in Cameroon. The cooperative has created partnerships with companies and individuals in Africa, Asia and Europe to provide them with value-added non-timber forest and agroforestry products (spices, oils, fruits etc). The profits generated from IrvingiaCOOP are ploughed back into active forest conservation through the Irvingia project.

Barely a few months after creation, IrvingiaCOOP has already started meeting the income needs of forest adjacent communities in Cameroon and contributing to protecting Cameroon’s portion of the Congo basin tropical forest ecosystems. Forest people have the mandate to pass on the forest to their children in a healthy state.

IrvingiaCOOP is the social business arm of Ecological Balance Cameroon’s project Irvingia.  It seeks to solve a fourfold problem: “forest adjacent communities in Cameroon lack intrinsic motivation to protect their forests; Consumers the world over have no place to buy products that actively improve the world; Companies do not have a supply chain that meets current and future sustainability requirements; Nature and climate protection cannot find long-term funding, but rely on uncertain donations”.

According to the World Co-operative Monitor (2014), the world’s top 300 co-operatives have an estimated global turnover of 2.2 trillion USD. IrvingiaCOOP strives to be one of the best in terms of annual turnover in the coming years.

When the Rochdale Pioneers founded the modern cooperative movement in 1844 in Lancashire-England, their objective was to provide an affordable alternative to poor-quality and adulterated food & provisions and to use any surplus to benefit the community. The fact that the co-operative movement has flourished and extended across the globe, encompassing all sectors of the economy, with over 1 billion members and 250 million employees is only a testament of the resilience of the model.

By Limbi Blessing

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