Customary land rights, indigenous rights and land expropriation in Cameroon: Ecosystem services as a possible new approach in valuing compensation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Ecosystems such as forests are recognised as an important part of our cultural and natural heritage. Different countries have different ways of preserving these ecosystem services and ensuring that they are managed in a way that is beneficial to the public. One approach that is increasingly being considered, and used, is Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), a system that aims to recognise the contribution of landowners, occupiers and managers in enhancing these ecosystem services around the world.

In Cameroon, the current approach to preserving forest ecosystem services also entails the expropriation of land to secure its management in the public interest subject to the payment of some form of compensation for the work that has been done to the land over the years. The expropriation procedure is increasingly being used to supplement the forestry laws and to place forested land that is valuable either as a commercial asset for timber or for other reasons, such as the protection of biodiversity under the control of the State. One key feature of this process is the limitation on who can or cannot be compensated for the loss of their interests in the land, with the different interests that contribute to the value of the land not fully taken into account in the valuation tests used. The system misses on occasion the value of land as providing livelihoods to others and benefits to the community as a whole. The question as to what amounts to ‘just and equitable’ compensation has already given rise to litigation under the European Convention on Human Rights and as the law on the rights of indigenous people to land and natural resources develops, there is likely to be further litigation; strengthened by the increasing recognition of the role of the natural environment as providing vital ecosystem services that can no longer the ignored.

This paper aims to challenge the current Cameroonian position both in terms of it being a misapplication of the current law and by arguing for a change in the law. Specifically, it is argued that although not recognised as legal rights under the expropriation regime, customary rights remain part of the land tenure system in Cameroon. The valuation tests used to calculate the different interests that contribute to the value of the land to the customary owners and others are also examined alongside the legal implications of this and, using examples from the United States of America (USA) and South Africa, it is argued that the existing set of interests and values considered in the payment of compensation do not reflect the true value of the land expropriated. The concept of ecosystem services might provide a basis of getting beyond the narrow and artificially created set of “commercial” interests and market values attributed to only a few of the uses and interest in land; but such an attempt is hampered by the challenges with valuing ecosystem services.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProperty and human rights in a global context
EditorsTing Xu, Jean Alain
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherHart Publishing
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781509901746 , 9781509901739
ISBN (Print)9781849467261, 9781509921157
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2016

Publication series

NameHuman Rights Law in Perspective
PublisherHart Publishing

Bibliographical note

Happy for it to be made OA if the publisher allows.


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