Researchers from the University of Malaga, in collaboration with scientists from other countries, estimate that the Pygmy population in central African forests could be around 920.000 people.
Around 920.000 Pygmy people live in the forests of central Africa, according to the very first estimation, pulished in PLOS ONE, of the population and the geographic distribution of these indigenous peoples. Pygmies are the largest active group of hunters-gatherers of the world. They live in communities principally located in rainforests of nine countries in central Africa —i.e. covering an approximate are of 178 million hectares—, where they constitute a small ethnic minority.
However, nowadays there are no accurate census data about the whole area where Pygmies live. The majority of this group are semi-nomadic, for social and nutritional reasons, across specific territories to which they are linked through clans and marital relationships. Because of this, determining the number of distribution of Pygmies is a highly ambitious goal. According to experts, establishing how many hunters-gatherers subsist and where they live is the first step in order to support them.
This is the first study providing an approximation of how many Pygmies there are in the enormous tropical forest area of central Africa. The paper also presents a map of the most probable Pygmy distribution area. This is a group of disadvantaged and ignored people, many of whose members have already lost their lands and livelihoods, and are currently confronting the disappearance of their rich cultural traditions. That is the reason why it is critical to get information about Pygmy locations and population sizes, as the first step for recognizing their rights and for developing strategies for ensuring security for their lands and culture. If the cultural extinction of more than 900.000 people has to be avoided, it will be necessary to involve all countries of the area in supporting their rights.
The study has been led by Professor John E. Fa, from the Manchester Metropolitan University, associate senior researcher to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR); by Dr. Jesús Olivero and the group he belongs to: Biogeography, Diversity and Conservation, of the University of Malaga; and by Dr. Jerome Lewis, recognised anthropologist from the University College London, who has worked extensively on Pygmy rights. Altogether, 26 co-authors have participated in the study, coming from Europe, USA, Canada, Japan and Cameroon. This team includes anthropologists, biologists focused on conservation, and biogeographers, some of whom are active members in organizations for the defense of human rights.
For the first time, the information gathered during years by a large number of researchers has allowed to generate the highest data base on Pygmy-camp locations within the study area. With this information, the team of biogeographers has applied bio-statistical methods, developed by themselves, in order to understand and predict the drivers of the Pygmy geographic distribution. Pygmies are closely identified with forest, and depend very much on the natural resources provided by this ecosystem. Hence the Pygmy distribution can be analyzed according to which areas are ecologically important for them. In this way, the analysis emphasises the need to preserve forests as the means of Pygmy livelihood. The aim has been to contribute with visibility and understanding to preserving an indigenous people that faces increasing marginalization and discrimination, threatened by forest loss, industrial exploitation of their environment, forced displacements and sedentarisation campaigns.
Link to this news in the UMA website: https://www.uma.es/sala-de-prensa/noticias/publicada-la-primera-estimacion-de-la-poblacion-de-los-pigmeos-en-africa-central/
Link to the whole article in PLOS ONE: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0144499
Repercusion in the press: NYTimes, ABC, Diario SUR, La Opinión, Málaga HOY