Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, Vol 2, No 3 (2008): African Sacred Ecologies

Sacred Forests and the Global Challenge of Biodiversity Conservation: The Case of Benin and Togo

Dominique Juhé-Beaulaton
Issued Date: 16 Jan 2009


In southern Benin and Togo, sacred forests are often the only remaining patches of forest vegetation, but are threatened with destruction because of the growing demand for arable land and the effects of cultural change. In this paper, I outline broad historical and cultural changes since Europeans first arrived in this area and identify the different stakeholders involved directly or indirectly in the management of these forests. In recent years, new policies for the conservation of sacred sites have been drawn up at international meetings, and these have stimulated scientific research into the conservation potential of sacred forests in Benin and Togo. These, in turn, have influenced the actions of non-government organizations in the area and led to the establishment of national environmental and cultural policies. On the local level, these events have contributed to changes in the management of sacred sites and in the cultural practices of the local political and religious leaders who control them. Problems of succession and decreasing respect for religious sanctions have reduced the power of the traditional leaders, with negative impacts on the status of the sacred forests. One solution proposed by the national forest authorities is to ‘restore’ these forest patches by tree planting. Ecotourism is also seen as a new way to conserve their biodiversity. Policies such as officially sponsored tree planting, the clarification of the legal status of the forests, and the expansion of local economic opportunities will necessarily strengthen the role of the state in these rural areas, and at the same time cause traditional leaders to renegotiate both their status and their forest management practices.

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DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.v2i3.351


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