Net-Works comes to Cameroon

by ZSL on

Abandoned fishing nets may look harmless but can be lethal to wildlife, trapping species and destroying habitats.

Net-Works has invented a way to recycle these nets into carpet tiles by spring boarding locals in some of the worst affected areas to the forefront of conservation, beginning with success in the Philippines and then expanding to other regions in need of help. 

Cameroon's Douala-Edea region, with a delicate coastline and vast but vulnerable expanse of native species is also one of these. In this blog we hear from ZSL's Santiago Ormeno, who is working in the area as part of the Net-Works team. 

Santiago Ormeno (centre) and Fanny Djokham (back right) with the Net-Works team
Santiago Ormeno (centre) and Fanny Djokham (back right) with the Net-Works team

After its successful beginnings in the Philippines, Net-Works expanded to the Douala-Edea region of Cameroon, Central Africa, in mid-2015. 

The pilot project was set up at the Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve, funded through the Darwin Initiative.

The Reserve, on the Lower Sanaga River, is a refuge for the endangered West African manatee and freshwater turtles, and qualifies as a Key Biodiversity Area. 

More than 80% of the households neighbouring Lake Ossa depend heavily on the lake for their livelihoods.

The levels of poverty are high here and access to education, financial resources, and health services is limited.

Discarded fishing nets cause serious problems for the ecology of the lake, entangling manatees and other species and destroying the natural habitat.

Over the last year my colleagues and I have worked closely with the local communities to set up Net-Works operations including organising a net collection hub, building the machines that are needed to compress the nets, and establishing the local community banks which are so central to the Net-Works model.

Weighing nets with Net-Works in Cameroon
Weighing nets for Net-Works in Cameroon
Run by community members, these banks (known locally as Village Savings and Loan Associations -VSLAs) are the social infrastructure at the heart of Net-Works.

They allow us to engage with communities to promote the voluntary removal and clean-up of discarded fishing nets and provide access to finance in a convenient and local way, enabling people to save money, including the money they earn from net sales.

Through the community banks, fishers can also access small loans as and when they need to. This is very important for families who depend heavily on what is often an unpredictable income from fishing. 

Today, Net-Works is actively working with 9 local communities; five close to the lake itself, one by the river, and three along the coast, and we have established 18 community banks.

Over 2,000kg of discarded fishing nets have been gathered for recycling and we have seen first hand how much cleaner the lake is, now that the nets have been removed.

“Net-Works has really helped to clean up the lake. We can already see a difference in the areas that were badly polluted before.” Constant Ndjassi, Field Coordinator at ZSL Cameroon.

Discarded nets on the shoreline around Lake Ossa before collection
Discarded nets on the shoreline around Lake Ossa before collection

The communities themselves have really embraced Net-Works, in part because of the small supplementary income they can generate from selling used nets, but more importantly because of the sense of empowerment and pride they feel through participating in the community banks.

People have come together to pro-actively manage and conserve the aquatic resources that their livelihoods depend on. 

“Where there may have been conflicts in the past, the VSLAs have helped communities come together in a spirit of cooperation. Fishermen committees are now working with the local administration to co-manage the lake and ensure the code of fishing is enforced.” Fanny Djomkam, Community Coordinator for Net-Works.

Personally I am very proud of all that we have achieved so far with Net-Works and the Darwin Initiative.

It’s especially great to see how we have brought the communities with us on a journey, overcoming any initial uncertainty they may have felt and building trust. 

Net-Works team with a truck full of discarded nets collected from Cameroons shoreline
The Net-Works team with a truck full of discarded nets from Cameroon's shoreline
Over the next couple of years we aim to take Net-Works to more communities in Cameroon, particularly to some of the larger fishing communities by the coastal protected area of Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve.

The volume of nets in these coastal areas is much greater than in the lake, so they have the potential to provide a continuous and steady stream of used nets into the global supply chain. 

We are also working on several community based conservation initiatives, including the reforestation and conservation of important “riparian zones,” where the land meets the water. These areas provide important shelter and shade for aquatic life and help with water quality as well as soil stabilization.

We are also training a group of local biodiversity champions who will become guides for tourist visiting the reserve. 

There’s plenty to be excited about, so watch this space! 

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