Making woodfuel part of the solution for refugees in Central Africa

In eastern Cameroon’s forest-savanna transition zone, refugees who fled civil war in the Central African Republic are living in camps and within host communities. As for internally displaced people from other regions of Cameroon, they have few livelihood options available. Collecting and trading firewood is critical to their food security.

When a large influx of people settle in a new area, the sharp surge in demand for land and natural resources, including wood, can lead to degradation and deforestation, leaving room for further conflicts in ecologically sensitive landscapes. Nutritious foods provided through humanitarian aid, such as cereals and beans, take a long time to cook. So when woodfuel is scarce, displaced families have no choice but to walk long distances or to reduce cooking time, eat fewer meals and stop boiling water – putting them at risk of malnutrition and disease.

With support from the EU, CIFOR-ICRAF and local partners have supported an integrated landscape-level intervention in the town of Garoua-Boulaï and the Gado-Badzéré refugee camp since 2018. They are engaging local communities and refugees in joint restoration initiatives, ranging from tree planting to participatory tree management. Activities include developing agroforestry systems with native food trees to increase local tree cover and support nutritious diets, and promoting tree species that can be used for fuel. Researchers have set up consultation forums to negotiate land-use norms and minimize conflict, and are promoting the use of energy-efficient stoves that use less wood.

To mitigate the environmental impacts of displacement in sub-Saharan Africa, CIFOR-ICRAF has established an Engagement Landscape to test, scale and implement this model and other alternatives. “These models can be adapted to each context as soon as displaced people begin arriving, to reduce the likelihood of rapid deforestation, degradation and social conflicts,” said scientist Abdon Awono, who leads activities in Cameroon.

Read more in our multimedia feature story.

A gender-inclusive approach to woodfuel

Women and children make up the majority of internally displaced people, and the need to travel long distances to collect firewood puts women and girls at risk of harassment and assault. In Cameroon, research was informed by interviews with women refugees.

In other work, CIFOR-ICRAF experts have developed a framework for incorporating gender analysis in research and policy-making in the charcoal sector. And an episode of the ‘Let’s Talk Trees’ podcast features CIFOR-ICRAF scientist Mary Njenga and Associate Director for Gender Initiatives at Pennsylvania State University Ruth Mendum sharing their experiences working with refugee communities in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.

forward better


In 2020 – a year like no other – CIFOR-ICRAF continued to deliver the world’s best science on forests and trees in agricultural landscapes, shifting the conversation online as the Covid-19 pandemic evolved.

This annual report features stories about expertise, dedication and perseverance. When people responded to the pandemic with calls to ban wild meat, CIFOR-ICRAF experts stepped forward with recent, highly relevant evidence in hand, highlighting the needs of communities who rely on wild game for nutrition. Other scientists forged ahead to deliver compelling research findings on improved tree seed and restoration work in Ethiopia, agroforestry in Southeast Asia, and a new model for sustainable use of woodfuel in refugee camps – among many other topics.

CIFOR-ICRAF continued to chart its path as one organization, with a new 10-year strategy that outlines game-changing solutions to five global challenges: deforestation and biodiversity loss, the climate crisis, unsustainable supply and value chains, the need to transform food systems, and extreme inequality for women, Indigenous Peoples and vulnerable rural communities.

Three new holistic approaches will deliver actionable solutions to these challenges: Transformative Partnership Platforms, Engagement Landscapes and Flagship Products. And the newly launched Resilient Landscapes aims to leverage the power of the private sector to spur greater investment in nature-based solutions.

The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) held its first fully virtual conference in June and didn’t stop there, seeing unprecedented digital growth during the year. And the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) marked its 10th science conference – also virtual – while continuing to demonstrate the power of partnership.