Forêt Sacrée Wêwêré, Bénin
The sacred forest of Wêwêré is located in the district of Bembèrèkè-Ouest and covers an area of approximately 0.01 km2. In the community of Bembèrèkè two main socio-cultural groups are found; the Baatombu (48.3%) and the Peulh (38.1%). The Sinadouwirou community who manage the sacred forest, belong to the Baatombu socio-cultural group.
History and Activities
The sacred forest of Wèwèré owes its name to both the river which passes through it, and to the deity ‘Wèwèré’, whose spirit is housed in an Iroko (a large West African hardwood tree) in the heart of the forest. The Iroko is belted with a white ribbon to symbolise purity of the mind. The forest has always been considered a sacred place for worship, helping to ward off bad spells, as well as offer blessings. The variety of rites practiced in this sacred forest form part of the exceptional cultural richness of the area and are fundamental to the identity of the communities. Access to the sacred forest is permitted to any person, regardless of sex or rank.It is thought that the sacred forest of Wêwêré has existed for over a hundred years and was one of the places of resistance against colonisation.
The area was proposed as a protected area prior to 2000 and was recognised with support from the Project for Integration of Sacred Forests into the Protected Areas System (PIFSAP) in 2012. An inter-ministerial decree established a framework for community management of the sacred forests in Bénin. This gives the sacred forest recognition as an ICCA by the various local institutions (e.g. the Town Hall and Forest Inspectorate), which support the conservation actions. A decree that would grant legal recognition is currently in progress.
PIFSAP aims to improve the sustainable use of areas of global importance in and around the Sacred Forests of Bénin by integrating them into the formal system of protected areas (PAs). This strengthens legal and institutional protection and promotes community co-management of the sacred forests. PJUD Benin (a Bénin-based NGO) is currently working on implementing two major projects in the sacred forest of Wêwêré to support sustainable and participatory management and rehabilitation.
The ICCA conserves several rare or endangered plant and animal species, as well as medicinal plants. These include large tree species such as Milicia Excelsa, Azadirachta indica, Khaya senegalensis and Sarcocephalus latifolius, which help regulate the climate and stabilise the soil. The local fauna includes common guinea fowl, African savanna hares, mona monkey, forest giant squirrel, giant pouched rat, yellow-winged bat, patas monkey, and bushbuck.
Management and Governance
There is great respect for traditional institutions and the traditional chief in particular. The traditional chief and the elected persons and bodies work together in the day-to-day management of current affairs. A management committee (composed of 7 members) monitors and participates in the conservation actions of the sacred forest. It is supported by PJUD Benin within the framework of the projects mentioned above.
The impacts of the conservation actions are measured through a conservation plan. This plan supports people to undertake sustainable activities such as selling organic goods and fish farming. The aim is to divert people from unsustainable activities and limit pressures on the forest. The ICCA community and their management committee are involved with any conservation or sustainable management actions that take place in the sacred forest.
The ICCA does face some threats though, such as the encroachment of new houses (despite interventions by the management committee). Wêwêré also experiences threats such as forest loss and fires. Development and modernisation have had an impact on traditional knowledge, which has become scarce over the years. However, with the new plan supported by PJUD Benin, actions were taken to tackle some of these threats, including:
- Revitalising the local management committee, and increasing its influence
- Reforestation efforts
- Improving the river quality (as the water is used by the local population)
- Encouraging sustainable activities
The actions undertaken have been recognised and supported by the town hall of Bembèrèkè, the Departmental Directorate of the Living Environment and Sustainable Development of Borgou/Alibori, and the Forest Inspection of Borgou.
Next steps and lessons learned
The next steps are to secure the site’s conservation and sustainable management. Future planned activities are to:
- Secure legal recognition of the sacred forest
- Complete the current activities outlined above
- Engage members of the management committee in beekeeping practices (using Kenyan beehives)
- Reinforce market gardening and fish farming activities
- Secure the ICCA with a fence
- Mobilise more partners for carrying out these different activities
The ICCA remains an emblematic place for our communities. However, it is not immune to assault, degradation and human pressures. Raising awareness among communities remains a prerequisite for the protection of ICCAs. But in addition to this awareness, it is important to think about defining activities with these communities that can ensure the sustainable management of the ICCA.
This case study was originally published by UNEP-WCMC in July 2021. The content was provided by the custodians of this ICCA. The ICCA has been self-declared and has been through a peer-review process to verify its status. More details on this process can be found here. The contents of this website do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of UN Environment Programme or WCMC.