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In West Africa, thousands of small forest patches remain isolated in the agricultural-dominated landscape.

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These forest patches are formally unprotected and provide crucial ecosystem services.

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The forest patches host important biodiversity habitats that are endangered

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due to the over-exploitation and heavy pressure on natural resources.

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How do some forest patches persist while others disappear?

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Are the remaining forest patches ecologically intact?

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Who decides how the forest patch is managed?

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And what about the sacred forest?

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In order to answer this question, the project Sustain Forest from the University of Bern

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undertook an expedition of six months of fieldwork in nine forest patches

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in Benin, Togo, Nigeria and Cameroon.

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Before starting our work, we need to seek the consent of the chief of all the villages

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surrounding the forest patches where we were interested in.

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The exercise consisted of introducing us to the local authority

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as a team of students from the university conducted their research in the field.

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I want to hear from you now. You don't shake me. You don't feel good in me.

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Good morning, sir.

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I want to hear what kind of language you use.

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That's why I listen to hear the kind of language you use to greet me.

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You are welcome. How are you?

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In addition to it, briefly present the purpose of the research

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and the activity to implement during the stay in the community.

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Can I know you, sir?

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My name is Frank. We are doing our research about forest.

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So we came to meet the leaders yesterday and then to interview the leaders also.

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We are continuing today to interview the forest management committee.

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I am understanding. We knew of that.

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We knew that that would take place.

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Did you come alone? Are you coming alone?

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No, I came with my colleagues yesterday.

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Yeah.

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And we interviewed the chief and the leaders.

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Once the introduction was done, we organized the logistic,

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usually motorcycle, to get into those forest patches.

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They would know when to get out, when to go in.

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So that's why there are three of you in total.

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Yes, that's right.

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So you have to know when to go and when not to go in.

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You have to know to get in.

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It has become a habit.

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We have done it.

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Thank you.

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Welcome to the community.

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The traditional and religious authority proceed to rituals to request God's and ancestors'

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authorization to allow the team to enter into the sacred forest and conduct their work.

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The sacredness of the forest is one reason that certain forest patches persist despite

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anthropogenic pressures.

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The remoteness can also be a factor leading to the persistence of these forest patches.

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An easily reachable forest is prone to exploitation of timber and agricultural expansion.

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Reaching the forest was therefore often complicated.

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Despite the state of the road, some motorbike drivers accepted to carry us and we were usually

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three or four per motorbike.

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In Hailey Forest, the main challenge was climbing the steep slopes.

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This requires strength to hold on to branches and lianas to move.

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Navigating in the forest without trails, maps and with poor GPX signal was a major challenge,

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especially in the swamp forest.

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Most of the time, we made a big effort to reach the area to lay our plot for three measurements.

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The local guides were more experienced than us and they were able to handle it easily.

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Balance and mutual assistance were key.

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Unfortunately, we were sometimes spectators of forest degradation.

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Trees were cleared off mainly to set up a plantation of banana and cacao trees.

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Definitely, solutions have to be found in order to preserve this last forest.

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Once arrived, we installed the plot using several instruments, machetes, clinometers,

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measuring tape of about 50 by 50 meters.

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Three tasks were assigned.

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For the scanning process, the trees were labored, the tripod settled to install the scanner

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and notes were taken to capture all the information.

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Another part of the work within the forest was the collection of litter and soil samples,

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which were weighted and stored for further analysis.

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To assess the forest structure, the utilization of drones was key.

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It required setting up all the equipment and calibrating the drone to ensure a safe flight.

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This came after getting permission to import and fly drones in our different countries,

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which was also a challenge.

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In the meantime, in the villages, focus group discussions with men and women were conducted,

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in addition to household survey, to learn more from community perspectives on their

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benefits they get from the forest, their everyday challenges to sustain the livelihoods.

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And today we're going to have a participatory modeling with the local people, and then also

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we do focus group discussions where we are going to assess the ecosystem services that

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the people benefit from, and then also to know the governance arrangements that are

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influencing changes in the forest parks.

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Regarding the biodiversity aspect, some animals were encountered in the forest.

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Some were harmless, like small pangolins and frogs, others were quite dangerous.

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Fortunately, some were friendly, like the red-bellied monkey, which is an endangered species.

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Some came alone,

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and others came in groups.

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Once we achieved the task of the day, we went straight back home using the same means of transport.

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But sometimes, we still encountered issues.

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I can't, I don't miss.

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I drive, I drive, I drive, I drive, I never reach anywhere.

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Often, the daily life of local people were interrupted.

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This adventure was a collaborative work with our research assistants, exchanging laughter

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in a friendly atmosphere, despite the fatigue.

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We're tired, we walk, it's not an easy task.

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OK, bro. OK, bro.

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OK, bro.

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OK, bro.

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OK, bro.

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OK, bro.

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OK, bro.

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OK, bro.

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OK, bro.

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At home, we used to fetch water for showering and got some food to fill up our energy.

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Oga, are you watching all the water?

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This is not fair.

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No.

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It will be dirty the next day.

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Oga, you are watching or what?

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It's not so dirty.

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We had the opportunity to enjoy local food.

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Sometimes, attend local celebrations.

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While finalizing the last tasks.

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We can therefore have a good rest looking forward for the next walking day and adventure.

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For more information about our Sustained Forest Project, please visit our website.

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It's not dirty.

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No, it's not dirty.

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No, it's not dirty.

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No, it's not dirty.

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No, it's not dirty.

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I am not doing it like that.

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I am not doing it like that.

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I am not doing it like that.