Equator Prize Winners Speak Out at World Conservation Congress: Caroline Olory
2004 Equator Prize Winner
Atumatu Ekuri (Ekuri Initiative), Nigeria
Located in Nigeria's Cross River State, the Ekuri community manages a 336 square kilometer community forest adjacent to the Cross River National Park. Community forest management began in the 1980s when the villages of Old Ekuri and New Ekuri united in response to the proposed logging of their forest. The project would have included the construction of a road linking the villages to local market centers; instead, the community decided to sustainably manage the forest as a community asset, generating income, subsistence materials, and food. Levies on the sale of non-timber forest products by community members financed a road that eventually reached Old Ekuri in 1990 and New Ekuri in 1997. In addition to allowing farm and forest products to reach new markets, the road has also made possible the transport of construction materials for two schools, a health center, and a civic center where the community meets to discuss forest governance decisions. Plans for a superhighway are underway, bringing significant destruction to the last remaining rain forest in Nigeria.
CO: “The community, on its own, had the initiative to say, ‘Ah, yes. We are in an area where the company and the businessman has come in and said, “We are interested in your forest, we want to log, and we will provide you with water, etc.”’ But the Ekuri community reflected—if we manage this forest sustainably, it becomes our economy. So when this company came, we realized that as a community we can actually come together and manage our own resources, and we did. And we handled the issue of creating a road for the communities as there was no road at all. We were able to pick the natural materials from what we had locally. If you go to our roads, the bridges were made by men locally from that picked natural material. So it was by the creativity and the generousness of this community that we sustainably manage our forest. And since that time til now, the community is a voice in Cross River state. In fact, the proposed construction of this new superhighway has led about 187 other communities to fight the government, because they won’t allow it to pass through their areas.
[There is tension], but these communities said ‘nope, we don’t want that’ to the superhighway. You cannot do development that destroys the entire forest. Let’s see how we can take care of our needs as a community. That is what’s being done via the Ekuri Initiative. The communities realize they can actually benefit from managing the forest, from conservation.
The most important thing is that there must be a way of involving everybody, for this idea to be replicated in other parts. When you don’t involve everybody, suspicion comes in. Everybody must feel on top of things when you involve multiple communities and everyone must see the shared benefits. So with that, it’s sustained. The key thing is transparency, togetherness. Checks and balance have to be put in place. And making the people realize we can actually gain from our resources, and that is what the Ekuri Initiative has done.
The challenges are access roads. Development must be cost effective; if you want to make a good road you need money. So what if you want to build a wonderful highway? It will not be balancing the conservation. A superhighway would provide access but it would definitely destroy our forests. So the people say, ‘no, that is not what we want.’ If you want to make a road, let it be an eco-friendly road."