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Cameroon Project- Gaston Bityo

It is estimated that slash and burn farming accounts for about 90% of rainforest loss in Africa (and 24% worldwide). Our experience on the ground with our Cameroon partners matches this. Slash and Burn farmers generally live with high levels of poverty. We work with Volunteers Serving Development to tackle these issues in Cameroon.

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

In 1997 Gaston Bityo Delor founded the small NGO Volunteers Serving Development (VSD), in Cameroon. Gaston studied botany at Yaoundé University, and has been trained in agroforestry. He is the son of a farmer and farms himself. So he understands farmers and their challenges. 

VSD’s mission is to help farmers improve their lives. In 2009 he partnered with Rainforest Saver when he realized that Inga alley cropping could be a solution to the poverty and environmental destruction in Cameroon. We have been working together since.

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

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

Nitrogen fixing root nodules on roots of one of Gaston’s Inga seedlings. Photo by Gaston Bityo
Gaston’s very first Inga nursery in his home village of Bizang. Photo Gaston Bityo 2009.

When scoping out the project initially, Gaston found one Inga edulis in Yaoundé. Fortunately he soon found many more where he could obtain seed. Inga is promoted by the Cameroon government as a shade tree for cocoa, a common cash crop in Cameroon.

Inga edulis is in fact native to the Western Amazon. But it makes a great, fertilizing shade tree for coffee and cocoa and has therefore been taken to most tropical countries in the rainforest belt. It appears to have settled in without causing problems.

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

Gaston now has a seedling nursery at his home village of 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, and 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.

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

Gaston has been giving training on Inga alley cropping to groups of interested farmers in many parts of Cameroon. He has provided farmers with either Inga seedlings or seeds and instructions on how to grow them. He performs essential follow up visits too. Each initial plot both helps the farmer to improve his own family’s life and also serves as a demonstration to the farmer’s neighbours, so more can benefit.

There has been a lot of interest in the Inga throughout the region. VSO has attended events such as the national agricultural show, where hundreds of people have signed up as interested in the Inga system.

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.

Inga is generally distributed as seedlings in Cameroon rather than as seeds. This is because the seeds start to rot and quickly lose their fertility, or are prone to getting dried out. The seedlings are tougher and so more likely to survive even if their initial care isn’t perfect.

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

Delivering the seedlings has been challenging. We initially tried to deliver by car, but that did not stand up well to the rigors of Cameroon’s unpaved road conditions. A car can only transport 75 seedlings at once.

After some fundraising and thanks to some very generous supporters we were able upgrade deliveries to use a truck, able to transport 200 seedlings safely at once.

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

It has been very important to create more nurseries and train more farmers or community leaders to promote Inga alley cropping in their localities. Community leaders from Buea, Kumba and Mundemba contacted us wanting to have the Inga, and, overseen by Gaston, have started nurseries.

Images from the training at Kumba

Gaston giving a presentation

Field trip to see some Inga

Dinner After Training

In 2016 we got a grant from the Guernsey Overseas Aid Commission for Gaston to train several more Inga promoters. He ran three training workshops, in Kumba, Yaoundé and Fabé.  Around 25 people came to these events, a mixture of farmers and community leaders. The greatest benefit came in training new community leaders, particularly Atanga Wilson and Linus Arong, Pastor Nsandah (now in Kenya) and Tabouguie Alphonse, who have all continued as successful promoters of the Inga technique to many villages and farmers in their neighbourhoods.  Besides doing the training Gaston visited them with follow up monitoring and further support that was needed. After this training program the Inga project really took off in the Anglophone region of Cameroon.

We have recently been approached by more community leaders. When funds permit VSO will organise training sessions 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.

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 from VSO standing in a newly planted Inga Alley in 2011.

Since then we have done quite a few more small on-farm comparisons. We ask the farmer to plant 200 Inga seedlings in alley formation on one plot, and to set up another plot of the same size adjacent to it. They then plant the same quantity of maize seed at the same time.

The results show that the Inga is able to fertilise the badly degraded soil that would not otherwise grow well. The average increase in crop yield is 10X. That said, the yields vary greatly from plot to plot and year to year in the same plot. We are doing some experiments to figure out why that is so as to be able to provide the best advice to farmers to get the most out of the process.

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.

In November 2018 Gaston was invited to take Inga to Sierra Leone by the Charity Rory’s Well, and train the local people there in the alley cropping technique.  He took seed pods, by plane, packed in an insulated box. They survived the journey very well and were promptly planted out with almost all surviving. 

Inga seed pods packed for air travel to be taken from Cameroon to Sierra Leone by Gaston Bityo.
The seeds planted in the nursery and thriving in Sierra Leone.

There is still a decent amount of beautiful primary rainforest left in Cameroon. 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.

The Sienna Leone Inga trees growing well, August 2nd 2019.

In March and September 2017 Gaston visited the Baka (pygmies) in SE Cameroon and gave a training session at Lakabo. Some Inga plots were started at Lakabo and at Moloundou.

Recently pruned Inga alley at Moloundou at the end of November 2019. Photo by Andi.

In 2021 Gaston took the Inga to a number of new areas, including Mouanko and Sanaga Yong. Mouanko is on the coast and it is hoped that the fishermen can start to use pruned Inga branches instead of cutting the mangroves to dry their fish. 

Sanaga Yong is a chimpanzee rescue centre. They also help surrounding villagers.