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08 November 2013

Up-Scaling Agro-forestry Technologies in Western Highlands Of Cameroon

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agroforestry changing lives

Western Cameroon, a densely populated region, is an example of many areas of Africa where the continued threat to the world's land resource is compounded by the need to increase food production and reduce poverty.

Here, the attainment of food security is intrinsically linked with reversing agricultural stagnation, safeguarding the natural resource base and reducing poverty.

Farmers in this region with farm sizes typically less than one hectare per household have many problems. Key among these are low and declining soil fertility which is reflected in the low crop yield, shortages in fodder and fuel wood, reduction in major water volumes and low income from farming activities.

The resultant effects of these problems include; widespread poverty (over half of the households in the region live in absolute poverty - below the World Bank figure of US $ 1 per day), severe food insecurity (many families produce little or no food during most part of the year), high rural-urban migration, and high environmental degradation including the Mt. Bamboutos, a major water shed in the region.

The existence of the Trees for the Future Cameroon program (TREES Cameroon) over the last six years led to the evaluation and dissemination of several agroforestry technologies for improving farm productivity and incomes of small holder farmers.

Farmers and communities have been key participants in the adoption of the different options in soil fertility management and conservation of soil and water resources promoted by Trees for the Future. Examples include the establishment of hedge rows constituting fast growing leguminous trees and shrubs (Acacia angustissima, Leucaena leucocephala, Calliandra calothysus) in crop fields (alley cropping).

Leafy biomass cut from hedge rows are spread on crop fields to provide much-needed nitrogen to the soil. The integration with organic waste from kitchens and compost is an effective and economically feasible means to improve soil fertility.

In addition to improving the fertility of the soil, several species used in the hedge rows provide fuel wood and stake for supporting crops including; climbing beans and tomatoes.

Farmers have also adopted the planting of Colliandra calothyrsus and Leucaena leucocepha in the hedge rows to make use of their high protein content as fodder for livestock especially pigs, goats and chicken.

The ability for most of the species to fallow all year round is very instrumental to farmers in the domain of beekeeping. These farmers are able to produce pure white honey as well as golden brown honey which are both widely known for their medical values

To accelerate the scaling up process, the farmers' associations were grouped into local community-based institutions which we called Agroforestry Farmers Networks (AFN).

Farmers meet every month under the auspices of the AFN and make tours to sites where the technologies have been practised for more than two years. This facilitates knowledge transfer as the farmers mix, discuss freely and gain trust in each other.

Supported by Trees for the Future, the AFNs are able to run a micro-credit scheme that provides micro-loans to farmers to assist them in executing micro-project as a means of diversifying their agricultural activities.

Over the years, farmers in some of the AFNs have benefited up to 100,000 FCFA. Gradually, the AFNs are being linked to government departments and municipal councils to increase their opportunities to benefit from grants as well as technical support from the government to complement their efforts.

By Neba Kingsley