Before I started working with Volunteers Serving Development, after I studied Botany at the University of Yaoundé, I went to my village Bizang and started farming. My stay in the village helped me to learn how a farmer lives.
A Cameroon village
Generally, farmers here live in extreme poverty with many children in small huts they build with wood posts mud and thatch or corrugated iron for those who are fortunate.
A Cameroon farmer’s house. The smoke is from a cooking fire in the house.
One farmer can have up to 10 children*. A Cameroonian farmer wakes up very early in the morning around 6am to go to his farm with his wife and all his children; they bring the rest of the food left the day before in the farm to eat there.
Family helping with the harvest on an Inga farm, Cameroon
Growing their crops without the help of the children is very hard. Many of the farmers are old. They can't anymore do much work without help. That is the reason why they have many children, to have enough manpower. But then there is the problem of growing enough food to feed them. Unfortunately their way of growing crops and their tools do not help them to have enough food for everybody.
They usually come back home in the evening around 6pm. It is at that moment the woman starts to cook food for the family to eat in the evening. God knows at what time she will finish cooking. Sometime when all the children are already sleeping. So they sleep without eating something. Or some time they wake them up to eat even if it is late.
Cameroon farmer’s children eating in the kitchen. Note the open fire.
The farm is very very far in the forest 2 or 3 km (even more) in the forest. Most of the time you cross a swamp. They need to go very far in the forest because of the goats that destroy crops near the houses.
The only tools he has are machetes, axe and small hoes. He starts by clearing a very small area in the forest with his machete, then cut down all the trees that are in the area he has cleared with his axe. After few weeks he puts the fire on the place to burn everything. Burning the place has 2 explanations:
1- To make the work easy because he has to clean the place to grow crops.
2- Traditionally they know that it is the ash from the wood that fertilizes the soil.
Clearing the forest, cutting the trees and cleaning the place to grow crop are men’s and boys’ works. While burning and growing crops are women’s and girls’ works.
The crops they grow are: Cassava, plantain, sweet potato, maize, groundnuts, beans, cucumber, melon, etc… They put all these things in the same farm.
Sweet potato vines and cassava grown on a Cameroon farm
Can they harvest enough food in that small place to feed a family of 12 people (10 children + father +mother)? That’s the question. They cannot harvest enough food to feed the family properly. They can only clear a small plot of just a few acres. They cannot clear a large plot. They don't have enough good tools to do that. Just machettes, hoes and axes. They do not have enough means to buy or rent a chain saw to cut big trees on the plot where they want to grow crops.
Sowing maize with few tools in an Inga farm.
it takes too long before a farmer can come back where he has grown crops before (several years) more than 5. He needs to clear a new farm every year
To get some money to send their children to school or to bring them to the doctor when they are sick the father needs to harvest palm wine and sell. Can this give enough money to the family? Once more that’s the question. Some farmers also grow cocoa, others do not. and even cocoa does not produce well as there is no money to buy chemical products to take care of their cocoa farm so that it can produce more. Also cocoa farms need lots of work. They have other work to do not only cocoa farms.
By growing crops in this way Cameroonian farmers do lots of hard work for a very little harvest to feed their families. They also destroy their beautiful environment by cutting trees and burning things.
Part of the magnificent Lobé Falls, Cameroon, with lush rainforest behind it. Forests help to preserve the water supply.
That is why we decided to create VOLUNTEERS SERVING DEVELOPMENT to lighten the work of Cameroonian farmers and better their living conditions and that of their families by training them in new agricultural techniques that increase their crop production while protecting their environment. We also help them to diversify their incomes by helping them to harvest what we call Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP) like nuts and other wild fruits to sell on local markets and train them on trees domestication to shorten the fruiting period of fruit trees like mangoes, guava, avocado, papaya, oranges, tangerines, coursops, etc…that they can also eat to better their nutrition and health or sell on the local markets too.
Fortunately, we got in touch with RainForest Saver in United Kingdom (UK). They are helping us a lot to achieve our objectives in a project we call: Cameroon Inga Project (CIP). This project is helping us to lighten the work of local farmers so that they can have enough time to take care of their families, but it is also increasing crop production with the Inga trees comparing what we had before the project come without the Inga.
PS:I will be talking about how they get the water they drink and the quality of that water and how the children are living and how the farmers spend their free time in PART II.
Gaston Delor BITYO
*Birth rates are decreasing all over the world, including in Cameroon. Populations are increasing because death rates are decreasing faster than birth rates.
Inga alley cropping requires less labour. It does take time and labour to plant the Inga trees to begin with, but once that is done comparisons of the time needed (M. Hands, 2002, unpublished report) have shown that pruning the Inga takes less than half the time that clearing a plot for slash and burn does. So an Inga farmer would not need as big a family to grow the crops, but, if he did want a big family anyway, he will be better able to feed them.
Gaston Bityo founded Volunteers Serving Development in 1997 and has been collaborating with Rainforest Saver as the head of the Cameroon Inga Project since 2009.
You can support the work of Gaston Bityo by making a donation using the Donate button at the top of every pageof www.rainforestsaver.org If you want your donation to be used specifically for Gaston please put ‘For Gaston’ in the Purpose line of the PayPal donation form. You do not need a PayPal account to donate by PayPal.
With best wishes,
Tiiu-Imbi Miller, Mrs., PhD.
The Rainforest Saver Foundation