Local Conceptualisation of Nature, Forest Knowledge Systems and Adaptive Management in Southern Cameroon
Conventional forest and natural resource management tend to overshadow local forest management practices and ecological knowledge on which rural communities base their survival and livelihood strategies. This article examines how rural communities conceptualize nature, what forest knowledge systems they use and how they adapt their natural resource management practices to changing circumstances. The study was conducted in the humid forest zone of southern Cameroon along a gradient of resource use intensification and demographic density from Ebolowa (low), via Mbalmayo (medium) to Yaoundé (high) within the forest margins benchmark study area. The results show that the concept of nature is well embedded in the social representation of the vital space of the people of the study area. Three forest management knowledge systems were derived from this concept of nature that combines the space, the time, the supernatural and the distance between forests and its socio-economic values. The seasonal transition of climate determines the dynamics of local bio-ecological knowledge at the spatio-temporal scale. This local concept of nature and their local knowledge systems affect forest management and agricultural practices in terms of understanding and interpretation of states of nature where human activities will take place. In contrast to a mere romantic idea, the results confirm the existence of a cognitive background of local knowledge systems supporting the implementation of adaptive forest and natural resources management (NRM) practices that contribute to community livelihoods and conservation of natural resources.
Keywords: Local conceptualisation, nature, forest, knowledge systems, adaptive management.