Traditional healer, Felix Gbetekanlin, who estimates his age at 65, showing forest flowers he uses in healing. He is the head of a committee responsible for the restoration of a heavily degraded sacred forest grove in the village of Agonme. The grove is being protected following a Forestry Inspectorate project that sought to demarcate 42 traditional sacred forests, inventory the medicinal plants within them, and work with local communities to create structures for the ongoing sustainable management and conservation of the forests.
Historically, taboos around sacred forests where Vodoun (Voodoo) spirits or deities are believed to dwell, or where fetishes are found, had the effect of preserving forest ecosystems. However, the erosion of traditional values through modernisation, the growth of Christianity, population pressures, fuel wood demand and a period of government-mandated destruction have caused tremendous forest loss. A handful of grassroots NGOs are now reviving traditional beliefs and once again harnessing them to forest protection and expansion, alongside education about the importance of forests and the development of livelihood alternatives that reduce pressure on the natural environment.