Equatorial Guinea Case: Current vulnerability in the Monte Alén–Monts de Cristal landscape

Submitted by Caroline Lumosi 25th June 2014 12:21


Atom village (credit: Daniel Morchain)

Project summary

A regional baseline assessment to analyse vulnerability was conducted in five landscapes of the Congo Basin as part of the ‘Climate Change and Forests in the Congo Basin: Synergies between Adaptation and Mitigation (COBAM)’ project (2011/2012). This is a summary of the results of a baseline assessment of the Monte Alén–Monts de Cristal landscape in Equatorial Guinea. 

Using a participatory approach, a vulnerability assessment was conducted, this included understanding both the past trends and present conditions in relation to social context and their interactions with natural resources. The methods used to generate information for the various vulnerability dimensions include a literature review and focus group discussions with various participatory exercises.

Key messages

The following is a summary of the key outcomes of the project:

Local perceptions of change

Villagers in the project site have witnessed major ecological and socio-economic changes in the past few decades. In particular, they have noticed trends of forest cover decline and decreasing population since the 1970s, migratory outflows and limited access to markets create hardship for the communities, increased demand for agricultural land encouraging slash-and burn shifting cultivation and the use of mature forest and abandonment of traditional cocoa plantations. In addition, a shift towards an oil economy in the past two decades has caused a decline in forestry activities and deforestation in the country. Villagers described a ban on hunting within protected areas and a complete ban on hunting primates as a particular injustice and barrier to their livelihood because forest animals damage their crops. Climate-related disturbances combined with multiple other threats to exacerbate the vulnerability of Atom village and the surrounding area.

Differentiated vulnerability

Each climate-related disturbance has a  different effect on different groups, natural resources and activities. The availability of labour in a household is an important vulnerability factor. Female-headed households (e.g. widows) or households without active young people because of urban migration seem to be the most vulnerable social groups in the villages. Women are responsible for most agricultural tasks, whereas men predominantly engage in forest-related activities such as hunting. Villagers have noticed that they are no longer able to predict wet and dry periods and thus follow the ‘traditional’ production calendar for their activities. Increased climate variability and unpredictability of rainfall patterns have caused reductions in agricultural production, thus negatively  affecting food security and the local economy.

Vulnerability and production

The vulnerability of the natural systems and  social groups varies with the seasons. In the study area in Equatorial Guinea, each year has two cropping seasons, corresponding to the two rainy seasons, known as Oyon and Esseb (or Esep). During Esseb, two types of field are cultivated, compared with one during Oyon. Although Esseb therefore requires more labour, it also allows for greater diversification of crops. Furthermore, the crops cultivated in the different types of fields display differentiated sensitivity to climate variability. The use of different types of fields suggests the use of rotation periods and the association of crops with different types of forest or fallows. 


Home garden (credit: Daniel Morchain)

Current adaptive capacity

Traditional farming practices, particularly slash-and-burn shifting cultivation, are prevalent in the area. The crop production system is based on the valorisation of the different types of ecosystems (forest, fallows), which is linked to different associations of crops, management practices and distribution of the workload over the year. Therefore, the production system displays a certain level of flexibility to environmental changes. Although the villagers do have some degree of diversification in their sources of income, the degradation of forest resources hinders their capacity to adapt.

The high reliance of the community on agriculture for household food security combined with the pressure on forest resources, including bushmeat, limits the role of forests as a safety net. 

Social capital

Collective action in the village is relatively weak and is often driven by either external agents or family members that have moved to a city. Village institutions mainly rely on traditional or informal forms of organisation. The main governance structure is the council of elders, and the chief of each clan is part of the village council.

Villagers are not familiar with the concept of community management of forest. There has been almost no establishment of new formal institutions, as generally occurs in similar contexts with the support of public policies and foreign actors such as forest community or cooperatives, mainly because of barriers to their development.

The villages have experienced progressive migration waves from rural to urban centres. However, migrants have retained their ties to the village and thus must be considered actors in the village’s social networks. Migration to cities has had important social consequences for the village and its social organisation. The role of migrants in the development of the village varies, but family members remaining in the village have high expectations of additional income in the form of remittances from migrants.

Looking ahead

Lessons from past ecological and social dynamics serve as the basis for building adaptive capacity to climate variability. However, adaptation to future climate change requires building the capacity to adapt to new and unprecedented situations and events. 

The following should be considered:

  • Planning for uncertainty must be a key element in any decisions.
  • Strategies should be devised to expand the safety nets.
  • Climate-smart agriculture options  
  • Enhance market linkages with rural areas
  • Provide training on techniques for processing, storage and commercialisation of food crops and NTFPs 

Results from further analyses and evaluation of future strategies will generate recommendations to inform decision-making and planning at local and national levels across countries in the Congo Basin.

COBAM