The Cameroon Inga Project

 

Description: Macintosh HD:Users:tiiuimbimiller:Desktop:Untitled-1.psdIt is estimated that there are between 200 and 300 million slash and burn farmers in the tropics, making this almost certainly still the biggest single cause of rainforest destruction. The farmers themselves remain poor. It is a particularly big problem in Africa, including Cameroon.

 

In 1997 Gaston Bityo Delor founded a small NGO Volunteers Serving Development (VSD) in Cameroon to help these people improve their lives, mainly by selling non-timber forest products and planting fruit trees. Gaston studied botany and has been trained in agroforestry. He is  the son of a farmer and farms himself. So he understands farmers and their problems. In 2009 he found our website and contacted us because he realized that Inga alley cropping was the solution to the poverty and environmental destruction in Cameroon. We have been working together ever since.

 

Gaston Bityo (on the right) with Inga seedlings and farmers at Akonolinga. 2013

Inga has been successfully grown in Cameroon before, but not for alley cropping. It has however been used as a good fallow crop, which compared favourably with Calliandria and with natural fallow. 

The Inga edulis seedlings grown by VSD are healthy with nitrogen fixing root nodules. Subsequent trials have indicated that it performs well in Cameroon.

Nitrogen fixing root nodules on roots of one of Gaston’s Inga seedlings. Photo by Gaston Bityo 2010

 

Inga edulis is native to the Western Amazon but it makes a great, fertilizing shade tree for coffee and cocoa and has therefore been taken to many, probably most, tropical countries where it appears to have settled in without causing problems. Indeed in Honduras in Central America it is now considered to be as good as native. Initially Gaston found one Inga edulis in Yaoundé, but fortunately he soon found three other places where many of them grew and he could obtain seed. It is prometed by the Cameroon government as a shade tree for cocoa. Cocoa is a common cash crop there.

Gaston’s very first Inga nursery in his home village of Bizang. Photo Gaston Bityo 2009

From a small beginning Gaston now has a seedling nursery at Bizang that can accommodate 10,000 seedlings for distribution to farmers who want to try the system. He also has a seed orchard of 50 trees there. However he lives most of the time in Yaoundé, and Yaoundé is more central. So we have now provided him with a small plot near his home in Yaoundé. This serves as a demonstration plot, an experimental plot, and a place to grow seedlings for distribution to the many places that are closer to Yaoundé than to Bizang, which is in the South of the country.

The current Bizang nursery can now accommodate 10,000 Inga seedling. Photo Gaston Bityo 2012.

Gaston gives training on Inga and sustainable farming, and relevant environmental issues,  and even nutrition where possible, to groups of interested farmers. He then distributes the Inga seedlings and makes follow up visits. Each initial plot will not only help that farmer to improve his own family's life, but is meant to serve as a demonstration to his neighbours, so many more can benefit. It is hoped that first farmers will be the nuclei for the promotion of Inga in their neighbourhoods.

Gaston teaching about Inga at Bengbis. He was invited to give this training by the government Deputy. Photo by Gaston Bityo 2012.

Visitors to Gaston’s stand at the Ebolowa agriculturas show in January 2011, looking at the posters, and taking home seedlings. Photo by Gaston Bityo Delor 2011

There has been a lot of interest in the Inga. In January 2011 Gaston attended a national agricultural show where many people came to his stand and 454 signed up as being interested in the Inga system. Since then others have asked to be provided, and he has given more training sessions.

Inga is generally distributed as seedlings not seeds because the seeds start to rot and quickly lose their fertility, and must not be allowed to dry out. Also the seedlings are tougher and so more likely to survive even when the farmer is a little bit careless.

Delivering the seedlings was a problem. We bought a car but that did not stand up to the rigors of Cameroon roads. Some Cameroon roads are terrible. Also it was too low and when loaded with the 200 seedlings that Gaston gives each farmer, the exhaust kept getting knocked off.  So no more than 75 could be carried safely. Clearly the bus was not a good option either, so a truck was essential. 

Cameroon roads and how to drive on them – and there are worse ones still! Photo Gaston Bityo 2011

So we did some urgent fund raising to buy Gaston a truck. In August 2012, thanks to good fund raising and some very generous donations, we made it, and a truck was bought. Thank you very much to all our supporters.

The Seedling Express. It can deliver thousands of seedlings tothe farmers.

We've made it! We have the money for the truck. Thank you to all our supporters.

The truck got heavy use for many years, but it cost more and more in repairs, and drank diesel like a drunkard. So in 2020 we replaced it with a much newer one, thanks receiving a legacy. 

Row of young Inga in a farmer’s plot. Photo by Tiiu Miller 2011.

However distributing seedlings all over Cameroon from one location makes for many long, expensive journeys, and means that if any disaster struck that nursery there would be no back up. Nor will 10,000 seedlings at a time be enough as the project expands, and the amount of work would become impossible for one person to do.  So it is good that other community leaders have joined the project and other nurseries have been started in other locations by them.

 

Linus Arong, a community leader from near Mundemba who wants to promote Inga in his region on the left with a laptop we managed to get for him, and Gaston Bityo on the right. 2012

 

Prof. Tabouguie is a community leader from Kumba. This is his Inga nursery. 2013.

 

Atanga Wilson, a community leader from Buea, planting an Inga seedling. 2013.

There are mature Inga trees near Ambam so a nursery was planned for there, and there was a suitable farmer who already had his own Inga plot who was willing to care for it. Unfortunately he died, so we have so far been unable to create a distribution centre there. 

People from Buea and Mundemba have contacted us wanting to have the Inga, and have started nurseries there. These need to be enlarged. They will eventually be semi-independent Inga promotion centres, but initially they are overseen by Gaston, who will follow them up into future years too as far as possible.

Map of Cameroon showing existing and planned Inga nurseries, and farmers who have planted their Inga alley plots. December 2013.

In 2016 we got a grant from the Guernsey Overseas Aid Commission for Gaston to train several of these other Inga promoters. He ran three trainnig workshops, in Kumba, Yaoundé and Fabé.  Altogether about 25 people came to these trainings, but several of them were simply interested farmers. Whereas these have been very happy to show their Inga plots to their neighbours the greatest benefit from these trainings was in training four community leaders, Atanga Wilson, Linus Arong, Pastor Nsandah and Tabouguie Alphonse, who have all continued as semi-independent successful promoters of the Inga technique to many villages and farmers in their neighbourhoods. There were at least three more community leaders at the trainings but we have not had the funds to finance them to do as much.

Images from the training at Kumba: Gaston giving a presentation; field trip to see some Inga; dinner.

We have been approached by another three community leaders in 2020. When funds permit we would like to organise another training session for them.

 

One of the most successful early planters of Inga alleys was Mrs. Mendo Antoinette. She took great care of her seedlings and they grew well. An experimental comparison plot without Inga was planted beside her Inga plot. Both were planted with equal quantities of the same maize seed. The Inga plot produced a harvest of 30 kg, while the comparison plot produced only 8 kg. The second harvest from these plots gave similar proportions, and similar results were obtained from the Inga and comparison plots at Bizang.

Water hole at Allen

The waterhole for everything including dinking water at Allen, and the path, steeper than it looks, up from it. Mrs. Mendo Antoinette carried water for her seedlings from here and got very good Inga alleys. Photos by Tiiu Miller 2011.

Gaston Bityo Delor standing in front of one of Mrs. Mendo’s alleys, which is ready for pruning. Note how few weeds are still growing in the alley. Photo by Tiiu Miller 2011.

Since then we have done these small on-farm comparisons, with the farmer planting 200 Inga seedrings in alley formation on one plot, and having another plot of the sami size adjacent to it that was planted wtih the same maize seed at the same time. The results show that 

These are the results of  nine small, somewhat rough, on-farm experiments of comparing maize yields from Inga plots with yields from otherwise comparable plots without Inga. Each farmer is separated by the red lines. Within each section the black lines devide each year's harvest. The yellow bars represent the harvest from the Inga plots, and the grey from the adjacent no-Inga plots. the crossed ones are failed harvests due to preblems like planting at the wrong time.

Inga alley cropping has also been introduced to some schools, both secondary and primary. The students come from rural backgrounds so teaching them sustainable farming will be very useful.

 

Gaston Bityo on the right with Mr. Akono, headmaster of the Lycée de Nkoumadjap, holding Inga seedlings. 2012.

 

Atanga Wilson explaining about Inga to primary school children who will be planting out the seedlings. 2013

There is still a good bit of rainforest left in Cameroon. Slash and burn is a major cause of the loss of both primary and secondary forest there. Each time a farmer starts Inga alley cropping instead of burning the forest an area of rainforest is saved, not for one year but year after year after year, while the farmer gets better crops.

RFS has supplied Gaston with funding for the training, for building the nursery, for the distribution of seedling, the truck and so on.

We urgently need more funds to continue this very promising project.

Please donate whatever you can afford.

                                     Than you very much

Be it much or little we, Gaston and the farmers will be very grateful.

Cameroon children

Cameroon children: Gaston’s youngest. Photo by Tiiu Miller 2011.

Lobé Falls

Part of the fantastic Lobé Falls, Cameroon, with rainforest behind it. Photo by Tiiu Miller 2011.

By 2020 Atanga has started over 20 individual farmers witth Inga plots himself, and taken it to at least 8 villages. 

Linus has started Inga plots in 11 villages. The first three of these have been pruned in spring 2020.

More information about this project is in the Latest section, and in several of the newsletters, particularly No. 39 ‘Some highlights from 2012 in pictures

and Nos. 34, 29 and 23 ‘Read Mrs. Mendo’s story in her own words. The first maize in an inga alley in Cameroon is growing well’ and How farmers use the forest in Cameroonand The Cameroon Inga Project.’  These are accounts from our co-workers in Cameroon in their own words.

 

We urgently need more funds to continue this very promising project.

Please donate whatever you can afford.

                                     Than you very much