A week-long sporting event in Cameroon provided an exciting opportunity for our team to raise awareness to conservation.
Born Free’s Guardians of Dja conservation programme has just held a week-long football and handball competition – a wonderful opportunity to provide conservation education and sensitisation to participants and onlookers.
“You might be surprised, but sport can be an extremely effective tool in conservation,” explains Born Free’s Head of Conservation Dr Nikki Tagg. “Playing games can have a unique ability to unite people from diverse backgrounds, energising them to listen and engage with one another. Born Free is harnessing this collective energy to create a platform to deliver conservation messaging through our Kicking for Conservation initiative.”
The sports competition kicked off on Saturday 12th August in the villages of Malen V, Doumo Pierre and Mimpala, just north of the Dja Biosphere Reserve in Cameroon. Eight football teams and six handball teams turned up, eager to compete, bringing together athletes across ten neighbouring villages. Along with the teams, around 500 supporters and representatives from local authorities came to watch and cheer on the matches, excited to see how the competition hotted-up.
With so many people from diverse backgrounds attending the matches, our team used the opportunity to talk about how important our forests are, using the theme Protection of Forests.
Among goals and near misses, celebrations and heart-break, our Guardians of Dja team spoke to people about the negative consequences of deforestation from slash-and-burn farming, a technique that is widely practiced in the region as well as sustainable cultivation methods such as cultivating food crops on fallow land with the use of compost manure.
Keen to learn more, the teams and their supporters visited a school farm where crops had been planted on fallow land with compost manure. Here they saw that these crops were growing better than equivalent crops grown on slash-and-burn farms, despite being planted one month later. Getting their hands dirty, our team took people through the process of producing compost manure. They were shown how accessible materials, which typically go un-used or thrown away, including fresh grass and leaves, dry grass and leaves, kitchen waste, wood ash and water could be used to make the compost. Everyone walked away with more knowledge and skills to implement sustainable farming practices themselves, reducing the pressures of slash-and-burn farming on pristine forests.
Keeping the festivities going, our team showed film about Mefou park and Limbe Wildlife Centre as well as a video of the construction of the bridge on river Mpouo, and videos of three pupils who visited Yaoundé and Mefou Park as a reward for demonstrating high levels of environmental awareness. Through the films we can demonstrate the direct benefits of engaging in conservation efforts to the community, particularly young people in the crowd.
By the 7th day of the competition, the closing ceremony and celebrations were well underway by the evening. Everyone gathered together discussing tactics, sharp plays and well-earned goals. The message of conservation wasn’t lost in all the excitement – conversations continued about reducing forest destruction and fostering positive actions for the environment. Then the prize-giving began: the winning football team from Madjuh II and Somalomo and the handball teams from Doumo Pierre and Ekom received their prizes (money, footballs, and jerseys). Individual prizes for the best players of the tournament, best goalkeepers, the best-behaved football and handball teams, were also handed out.
“No matter where you are in the world, sport is unifying,” said Dr Nikki Tagg. “It has a common language and we can all share in the highs and lows and perhaps take a moment to listen to what others have to say. It is our hope that this event will stay in the minds of everyone who came along and help people adopt more sustainable farming practices, preserving forest habitat and protecting the species that depend on it.”