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. Read on to learn more.
In 1997 Gaston Bityo Delor founded a 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 mission is to help farmers to help improve their lives. Initially they focused on mainly selling non-timber forest products and planting fruit trees. In 2009 he found Rainforest Saver contacted us because he realized that Inga alley cropping could be a solution to the poverty and environmental destruction in Cameroon. We have been working together ever since.
Inga had been successfully grown in Cameroon before, but not for alley cropping. It had 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 Inga performs well in Cameroon.
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 most tropical countries in the rainforest belt 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 many more in three other places where he could obtain seed. Inga is promoted by the Cameroon government as a shade tree for cocoa, a common cash crop in Cameroon.
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 there, 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 has been giving training on Inga alley cropping, to groups of interested farmers in many parts of Cameroon, and he has provided them with either Inga seedlings or seeds and instructions on how to grow them, with 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.
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.
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. The seedlings are tougher and so more likely to survive even if the farmer makes a mistake in their care.
Delivering the seedlings has been hugely challenging. We initially tried to deliver by car, but that did not stand up to the rigors of Cameroon’s unpaved road conditions, getting stuck regularly and being too low when heavily weight down with 200 seedlings (enough to start one farmer). So no more than 75 could be carried safely.
After some urgent fundraising and thanks to some very generous supporters we were able to buy VSO a truck in 2012. The truck got heavy use for many years, but it cost more and a lot in repairs and drank diesel like a drunkard. So in 2020 we replaced it with a newer one, thanks to receiving a legacy.
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.
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 training workshops, in Kumba, Yaoundé and Fabé. Around 25 people came to these events, a mixture of farmers and community leaders. The greatest benefit comes 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 training that was needed. After this training the Inga project really took off in the Anglophone region of Cameroon.
We have recently been approached by more community leaders. When funds permit Gaston 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.
Since then we have done quite a few more small on-farm comparisons, with the farmer planting 200 Inga seedlings in alley formation on one plot, and having another plot of the same size adjacent to it that was planted with the same 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 tweak their 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.
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.
There is still a good bit 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.
In March and September 2017 Gaston visited the Baka (pygmies) in SE Cameroon and gave a training at Lakabo. Two people from Moloundou also came to the training. Some Inga plots were started at Lakabo and at Moloundou.
In 2021 Gaston took the Inga to Mouanko and Sanaga Yong (besides other places). 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 help surrounding villagers. Gaston visited ten of these villages.