Wood market in Cameroon. Forests, one of Cameroon`s greatest natural resources, are being harvested at an unsustainable rate.

Wood market in Cameroon. Forests, one of Cameroon`s greatest natural resources, are being harvested at an unsustainable rate. Credit: CIFOR/Ollivier Girard.

Two-thirds of the Cameroon’s 19 million people depend on forestry or agriculture for at least part of their income.  Abundant natural resources across diverse ecosystems—including vast rain forests—offer opportunities for economic growth. 

As such, good governance of land and natural resources is essential to combatting poverty, which reaches 50 percent in some regions. But lack of secure property rights and access to land limits agricultural development and generates conflict.

Cameroon’s legal system incorporates French-oriented civil law, English common law, and customary law (which in some regions incorporate Islamic law).  The country’s 1996 Constitution provides citizens with the right to own property individually or in association with others.  It states that no one can be deprived of property unless it is taken in the public interest, and is subject to payment of compensation.


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Legislation passed in 1974 created a process for land rights registration and a framework for private ownership of property, while also stating that all unregistered land belonged to the State.  But implementation has been slow due to gaps and restrictions in the law.

As a result, registered or titled land represents a small fraction of the total, and virtually no titled land is in the name of women.  Meanwhile, the Government has used the lack of land registration to acquire and re-allocate unregistered land. In addition, land-based conflict is widespread. Conflicts may arise between livestock herders and farming populations, and between farmers wishing to clear forests for cropland and traditional forest populations, and others.

The Government passed a new forest law in 1994, which attempted to decentralize management of forests to communities. However, in many cases it has increased confusion over rights to access and manage this important resource.  Illegal logging persists, and, with a 1 percent deforestation rate, forest exploitation is advancing at an unsustainable pace.  

In more recent years, the Government of Cameroon has moved toward implementing a more transparent property rights system, and improving management of the environment and natural resources.  As of 2013, the Government is in the process of revising the Forest Act.

Cameroon infographic

Total population 20,030,362
Rural population / rural poverty rate 9,597,548/55.00%
Share of women in agriculture 58.10%
Urban population / urban poverty rate 10,432,814/12.20%
Internally displaced People N/A
Total land area / Agricultural land as % of total 472,710/20.31%
Protected areas (as % of total land) 9.15%
Forested land (as % of total) 41.67%
Annual deforestation rate -1.07%
Land rights and access rating 0.497
Time required to register property (days) 93
Women's ownership rights 1.0
Large-scale land holdings 162,969
GDP per capita (current USD) 1,260
Agriculture as % of GDP 19.71%
Natural resource income as % of GDP 9.85%
Major natural resources petroleum, bauxite, iron ore, timber, hydropower
Tourism as share of GDP 0.65%