Cameroon hosts about 22 million hectares of tropical forest that forms part of the Congo forest ecosystem. It is a part of the most efficient storehouse for greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. Cameroon is a country that is located in the tropics. It receives sunshine all year round.
Millions of livelihoods depend on the forest ecosystem for food, fuel and economic activities such as agriculture or tourism.
However, rural folk have continued to cut down trees. The wood is used as fuel and charcoal for heating and cooking. Then there is the practice of burning forests to clear land for farming and settlement.
According to Global Forest Watch (a NGO dedicated to monitoring forest’s health), 900,000 hectares of trees in Cameroon were lost between 2001 and 2016. The human pressure in rural areas has resulted in forests disappearing at an alarming rate and in a risk of extinction. There is also the immediate risk of a negative impact on local weather patterns where these communities live.
Heavy Dependency on Fossil Fuels
There is a heavy dependency on fossil fuels. Only half of Cameroon’s population has access to electricity, according to a 2018 World Bank report. However, the percentage reduces drastically to 17% in rural areas. Moreso, in a rural setup, the bulk of energy sources is supplied from wood and charcoal.
Currently, solar energy, though not as widespread, supplies at least 1% of energy needs, according to official government sources in 2017.
There is a desperate need to use sustainable energy sources to support and foster positive lives while conserving the environment. There is a great need to find sustainable energy sources to help stem out the rampant use of wood and charcoal.
The tide in Cameroon is changing. The change has come about due to the government and the private sector’s concerted efforts in promoting renewable energy sources, especially solar energy.
In 2017, the Cameroonian government piloted a solar power program that benefitted 300 homes. Mfou, a town located east of the capital Yaoundé previously relied on the government’s biomass fuel sources and electricity, which was erratic and unreliable.
Homesteads and small businesses in Mfou now appreciate that solar energy is a cheaper alternative compared to wood and diesel generators. Businesses that are electricity-dependent are now flourishing, creating additional business opportunities.
There has been a drastic reduction in the felling of trees for fuel in Mfou. This is a testament to the success of solar energy.
The government aims to replicate this success in 160 other villages across rural Cameroon. The country has an abundance of sunshine which is available throughout the year. If used properly, solar would turn the energy-deficient rural communities into energy generators supplying the surplus even to neighboring countries.
Efforts by the Citizen
Individually, Cameroonians household have seen an increased uptake of small solar solutions. On market days in rural Cameroon, you will find vendors selling small photovoltaic solar solutions. The small solar lanterns are inexpensive and popular. They can provide lighting, charge phones and small electrical appliances. This has also served to eliminate wood and charcoal as the staple energy source for households across communities.
The solution is also extremely popular with smaller businesses like small roadside stalls. Business operations run well past 6 PM. This has economically uplifted the livelihood of rural communities.
If this potential is well utilized, multiple homes across Cameroon would have solar power lighting and reduce the dependence on wood.
Cameroonians are also aware to the fact that power from solar energy is cheaper compared to diesel generators and wood in the long run. As affirmed by a local council official, the solar systems have reduced the health burden due to smoke pollution. It has greatly benefited the restoration of forests, and children can comfortably do their homework after dark.
The private sector chips in
The private sector is also playing a key role in conserving forests by offering alternative energy sources. Most of the 1% solar power generated in Cameroon is thanks to efforts by non-governmental agencies.
In a small port village-Idenau where fishing is the main economic activity, solar energy is playing a vital role in boosting the area’s economy and conserving forests.
For this community, the capacity to dry the fish was initially limited. Installation of solar-powered equipment to dry fish has helped prevent massive stock loss experienced by fishermen.
Previously, traders and fishermen used firewood to dry and smoke their catch. Apart from the process being inefficient, smoke generated by the firewood would periodically lead to health issues.
The solar-powered oven has helped trade go until late in the evening, increasing profit for the fisherfolk. They mostly relied on wood from the nearby mangrove forest, which had led to felling mangrove trees. This led to an ecological disaster. For instance, the number of fish had reduced immensely because the mangrove ecosystem is a vital breeding ground for fish.
What’s next for Solar energy in Cameroon?
Cameroon targets reducing Greenhouse gas emissions by 32% by 2035. Restoration of degraded forests and substituting fossil fuels with renewable energy will be critical in achieving this goal.
Solar energy has proved a success, especially in rural communities. The Cameroonian government should draw policies and put incentives to facilitate the widespread adoption of solar energy.
The uptake of solar sources has led to a reduction in deforestation. However, challenges persist in the adoption of the technology. Various obstacles, including a small economy, high initial cost, sparse rural population, lack of skilled labor and an outdated energy policy, still hold back progress.
Policymakers should move quickly to draw laws to incentivize the adoption of solar energy. Policies like zero-rating importation of solar energy equipment will help in popularizing the technology.
It is well known that forests form a core part of human development. In Cameroon, forests have supported agriculture, preserved biodiversity, preserved water sources and moderated local weather. The continued increase in population activity has put great pressure on existing forests.
The need for energy forms a huge part of why chainsaws and axes continue to afflict Cameroonian forests. Although not a silver bullet, solar energy offers a sustainable solution that, if used, will reduce deforestation.
Finally, the use of solar energy in Cameroon promises to eliminate hardships, eliminate health hazards, positively contribute to climate change and help communities live sustainably.
Author : Stephen Ngari