No.65 What’s the use of mobile phones?
By Tiiu Miller | Newsletter No. 65 October 2015

Some of you reading this in the UK cannot imagine life without your mobile phone. But it is in Africa (and other parts of the ‘developing world’) where they are proving to be really useful. Many people there cannot afford computers, nor have electricity to power them, nor are there cables and wires for phone lines, but coverage for mobiles is nonetheless often present. So the farmer can check prices for his produce in different markets, get advice about pests and diseases, or the herder in the more arid regions will ring his cousin to say, move your herd this way, there’s better grazing here. They are even used for paying bills and banking.

Communication in our Cameroon project is a major problem. Many roads are terrible, and distances are considerable, so just hopping over to see how a new farmer is getting on is not a solution.

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It is always best if one can make arrangements efficiently, but when roads can be like this it is doubly important that no journey would be wasted.

It looks like mobile phones are the answer.  We are therefore starting to provide them to some of the farmers, particularly those who we hope will play a leading role in the promotion of the Inga to their communities. Not only is Gaston finding these useful in making arrangements to visit these farmers, but he will be able to check when the maize is ready for harvest, or when the canopies have closed enough for pruning, and so time his visits to best advantage. If the farmer has a problem then he too can ask for advice.

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Mindja David trying to figure out how his new phone works, and Gaston Bityo helping him. He was very happy to get a phone and thanked us very much for it.

Although many people in Cameroon now have mobile phones the farmers we work with are very poor and none of them have had one. Nor do they have electricity, so we have to include solar chargers. The total cost per farmer comes to about £60, not a lot when you think of the high cost in time and money of making a trip and then finding no one home, as has indeed happened.

Four plots were due to be harvested this past summer, but the Inga had grown too fast and had been shading some crops. Maize needs

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The Inga had overgrown this plot (left) by harvest time, so the maize died. But Olou’ou Papy found he could nonetheless grow peppers, which he sold.

a lot of light, but one of the farmers, Olou’ou Papy, realized when his maize failed that he could grow some peppers instead.  He sold them for about £16. For someone who has nothing that is well worth getting. Of course, had Olou’ou Papy had a mobile phone he could have rang Gaston and asked what to do about the Inga that was shading the crops. It may seem obvious that one should give the Inga another light, pruning, but remember, these farmers have never seen an Inga tree before. They would not have know if that was OK to do, or if such an extra pruning at a different time might have killed the tree.

It looks like many of our Cameroon farmers will be able to get two harvests per year. Anyway, we decided to prune these four plots again in September, as there was plenty of leaf growth for pruning, and the small crops would hardly have taken all the previous goodness from the soil. So they were pruned in September, and sown to catch the rain still present in October, to be harvested after Christmas.

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Mindja David surveying his row of young Inga in 2012, and pruning in progress in February 2015.

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Mindja David’s pruned plot being sown with maize in March 2015, and the harvest being collected in July 2015.

Mindja David did get a crop form his Inga plot. Not a very big crop, just 15 kg, as there was some shading of his plot too, but that was a lot more than the 5 kg from the comparison plot.

All these plots have comparison plots without Inga beside them. These are sown with the same maize seed at the same time as the Inga plots. Gaston Bityo has to visit these for the harvest, and also for sowing, and pruning too until he is confident that the farmer knows how to do that. Gaston weighs the harvests from both the Inga and comparison plots, to demonstrate how well the Inga is fertilizing the land. It is of course essential that he should himself oversee both the sowing and harvest, otherwise we cannot be sure that the farmers will really do it correctly.

Whereas the Inga system is based on extensive research no one, to the best of our knowledge, has actually done such on farm comparisons. Yet that is what will convince other farmers to take it up, and hopefully potential donors to donate to us. So far the results have been impressive, with up to 10 times more maize from the Inga than from the comparison plots. Clearly these plots were on poor soil, and the Inga has successfully revitalized it. There is a lot of such degraded soil in the tropics. The potential benefits are huge.

Best wishes to you all,

Tiiu 

Tiiu-Imbi Miller, Mrs., PhD.

Secretary

The Rainforest Saver Foundation 

Scottish registered charity no. SC039007 

contact@rainforestsaver.org

www.rainforestsaver.org

+44 (0) 131 477 6970

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