Wednesday, 24 October 2012

More than chocolate: Meetings with cocoa farmers’ groups

after meeting picture with Ntale farmer's group and the Chief

After meeting - A taste of Cameroonian Makiro fish with rice

In Ntale village, cocoa beans drying drum donated by EU

Always not easy to travel during rainy season 

We asked questions to the cocoa farmers,
in both Pidgin English and formal English :) 

Cocoa trees - yellow pods are ready to be harvested!

one day trip to the crater latke Bermin Lake - beauty as those lakes in the Switzerland 

take a quick glimpse of the Wednesday morning market

Cocoa plantation (theobromo cacao Linn) is one of the main tree-based system in West Africa. In Cameroon, average yields of cocoa are low because of several reasons: the farmers tend not to use synthetic fertilizers to increase productivity, and aging of cocoa plants, lack of means to tackle pest and diseases. Production of cocoa depends largely on small holders cocoa producers. And because of lack of marketing knowledge and business management skills, many of theses smallholders farmers are exploited by the middle-men or licensed buying agencies (LBAs) when they sell their dried cocoa beans to these small buyers, who will use false weight to deceive the farmers. Since the liberalization of the cocoa purchasing market, there are no more fertilizers or chemicals subsidies for the farmers. In order to get to know the current problems faced by local farmers and encourage the farmers organised to get technical and financial support by forming farmers group or cooperatives, 2 weeks ago, Nature Cameroon held meetings with cocoa farmers groups in 4 villages in the Nguti Subdivision : Bambe/ Ntale/ Mungo Ndor and Ekenge. On the Monday of 8th October, we took a 4-wheels vehicle (locally called “pick up”, at the back of the truck you can fill up with 20+ passengers and a heap of goods and luggage. The first meeting was held in the Chief Palace of the village Ntale, more than 40 farmers attended the meeting and they are all belonged to 2 cooperatives. We prepared a questionnaire with a list of questions concerning productivity, working condition and marketing issues. We also tried to find out the organisation problems of the cooperatives and see if we can look for solutions together. To sum up problems faced by the cooperative groups:

1)      Evacuation of dried cocoa beans during the rainy season from July till end of October because of bad road systems that connect the villages and the main town e,g, Komba, where all cocoa transactions are done here and beans are sent to Douala Port for export.
2)      Farmers are lack of means of transportation and delivery of their dried beans become impossible.
3)      Lack of management trained staff or expertise in the cooperatives. Farmers don’t have knowledge on managing their business and they are constantly treated by small local buyers.
4)      No first hand market price information, and lack of stable electricity supply in villages is the key issue.
5)      Expensive chemicals in the market and threat of pest and diseases such as fungi infection of black pod disease.
6)      Lack of financial means to enable the farmers to put forward further measures to improve farm management and planting materials.

We talked with the grass-root farmers and collected all necessary information from them, we will find ways to collaborate with the Nguti Subdivision Agriculture Delegate to get technical support and our ultimate aim is to look for better buyers such as exporter, to deal directly with the farmers. So that the they can earn the best out of their produce, and are able to pay for school fees for their kids.
The villagers are very welcoming and they prepared fests for our visit. The Chief of the villages attended the meetings and I feel that they have high expectations from us. I totally felt the weight behind all the warm welcoming and food, and I hope that we will work hand in hand with farmers, farmers groups and regional platforms to influence decision making and work for the economic benefits of the farmers.

I spent 4 days in the villages and stayed in Ntale, a focal point among all villages that we visited this time. It was not funny and enjoyable to travel on bad roads during the rainy season. As many Cameroonians have told me, I have experienced and witnessed the worse road conditions this time, and by next time when I come back to Cameroon, I will be prepared.  From holding meetings with farmers, I have a chance to talk to them face to face and get to know their urgent problems and what’s making them suffer. It is ridiculous  that the government has not invested much on improving the infrastructure in the south west region, although it has the highest cocoa production. This concerns historic factors and power relation between the Anglophone and Francophone region in the country. Next time I will write more about my visits to some cocoa farms around Nguti.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Testing the village road- Track to WSC Research Centre

Location of Banyang Mbo Wildlife Sanctuary

it's 3 PM in the afternoon, I am enjoying my cup of hot cocoa drink, glazing out of my window, I see  pouring rainstorm. It's been the whole week like this afternoon, rainstorm and thunderstorm.

Today I made a trip to a former WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society, a conservation organsation based in New York) Research Centre at the fringe of the Banyang Mbo Wildlife Sanctuary (BMWS) within the Nguti Sub division. We started tracking from 8 am in the morning, all along the way  was the marshy road you can experience, for uncountable times I just stepped inside the marshy mud so deep that my gumboots got stuck! 

We reached the station around 10 am. It's located at the buffer zone that is managed by the community based conservation (CBC), which means the communities can utilize resources in sustainable manner. Here used to be a research camp site for the WCS team for their project of management and conservation work in the wildlife sanctuary. The reserved area is of high ecological value of reptiles, vegetation, and endangered animals like Dwarf crocodiles, elephants, chimpanzee, and the virgin forests. Our guide Mr. M. used to be a research attendance for WCS. "We stationed 1 week in the camp, and other 2 weeks doing field trips". "We used to cook, sleep, and work in this well-constructed wooden house. It's a pity to see everything left abandoned. Nowadays, Illegal hunters and chain-saw operators gather here and shelter. Broken windows, ruined furniture. “Here used to be a beautiful compound, we grow lemon trees, orange trees, surrounded by forest,"

The BMWS was first set up by the government as a reserved forest in the 60s. In the 90s, it's handed over to WCS for management of activities in the sanctuary, like monitoring illegal poaching, field works". But in 2006, WCS decided to withdraw the research project. Nature Cameroon then was founded with the assistance of WCS as torch handover of conservation works at the wildlife sanctuary. Since then, the centre has been abandoned for more then 6 years. In 2013 January, WWF will take over the management and hopefully they will renovate the Centre again. 

On the way we tracked back along the Mbie-Ntale-Mamfe Road to Nguti, we met some farmers carried bags of cocoa beans struggling with the bad road with their vehicles and motorcycles. Mr. M told me that he pays Ocada (local name for motorcycle)1000 franc CFA for a 50kg weight of wet cocoa beans. Imagine many farmers who have farms way far from the town, they may prefer sleep in the bush and work for 3-4 days than travel back and forth everyday. 

Historically, the anglophone regions of NW and SW Cameroon were under the rule of the British and of minorities, not like the French ruled francophone regions, where the government allocates more capital and resources for development. The two Anglophone regions only reunited with the Republic of Cameroon in the 70s.  Maybe because of the historical background, people from the SW region are more opened to challenges, inflow of different cultures and welcoming. "Although we have all the resources, oil, rich soil, the forests, it's sad that there are no supports like technical development (machines), people simply are not aware of the economic value of all these resources!" 

Only the beginning of our adventure! 
see how farmers transport the cocoa beans to town
A wooden bridge built with timber

Doremouse, a rare specie of rat we found ! Surprise :) 

It's sad to see all infrastructure are abandoned, can resources 
be used in a better way?
We tracked back from noon, and on the way we saw trees with high medical value "Celesediscust", the locals use the tree bark to make tea to heal malaria, typhoid and fever. 

Farmer transport the fermented coco beans back to
town by motor cycles (locally called Ocada)

I learned how to embrace the mud here in Nguti!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

More about ASA~ What do we do here?

Let me tell more about my volunteer work here with the organisation. I had joined the ASA- programme in Germany  website:  and it's a programme supported by Engaement-Global - a non-profit making company in Germany, and they promote global learning of youth in Europe, mostly in Germany. There are different programmes under the ASA programme, and I joined the "Basic Programme". In April and June 2012 I have already been to 2 preparation seminar in Germany and met other volunteers for the Africa group. During our 3 months internship volunteering experience in an African country ( I chose Cameroon), we develop a project with a partner organisation (like Nature Cameroon) on different topics and issues in group of 2 partners, and my project is about making a strategic plan for the next 5 years, a frame work for applying funding to sustain different projects like solar oven bakery programme in Nguti, water projects/ socio-economic surveys in villages around the Nguti sub division, or biodiversity/ wildlife inventory surveys or research focus in the Banyang Mbo Wildlife Saunctury in South West Region of Cameroon. 
Snapped at NC office in Buea Sara, admin officer of the organisation

Marli was helping out with cocoa farm works!  

Me, pounding water fufu at a oil palm farm.

During our stay here in Nguti, a peaceful town surrounded by protected forests and agriculture lands, we are introduced to many parties and people, like the Nguti Council, the Mayor, the Sub Division Officer (DO), churches, the Hospital (where I am lodging at their Brother's Guest House), and the agriculture delegate... The most exciting thing is that I've got to visit and work in FARMS every week! To cocoa farms ("kaka" in local dialect), oil palm farms ("banga farm"), cassava farms, coco-yam farms....ect. Last week I was in a banga farm in Banangtii visiting how do people extract palm cooking oil from palm nuts, from harvesting the palm nuts bunch in trees to the final product - cooking oil (locally called"red oil"/banga oil/ chop oil"). The other days I've been to cocoa farms to help cracking cocoa pods and remove seeds for fermentation, drying and selling. Next week, we will go to different villages to meet with farmer's cooperatives and learn about their concerns and problems. Then field trips to different farms, oil palm nurseries, plantations of cocoa and oil palm, a local saw mill that has waste wood management problems. We also have chances to attend different meetings or conferences like the PASC meeting/ council meetings to enrich our experience in Cameroon, get to know more about hot environmental issues and how common interest groups (CIGs, Cameroonians love abbreviations!) work together to struggle to survive. By mid of October, I will also attend a cocoa research conference in Yaounde. 

Although it's a pity that Marli (my partner) has gone back to Germany because of sickness, we try to sort things out and i'm glad that many people in Nguti are very supportive! And I know that Marli will be working on her part as well. My stay is rather short, but I've learnt so much that out of my expectation. The ASA programme focuses not only on our projects, but how we see the culture differences and try to bring along what we see here back home and share to those in the Global North who knows less about Africa. 

More about the organization Nature Cameroon (donwload a brochure):

Monday, 1 October 2012

Introduction Meeting of ASA Volunteers

29th August 2012 (Wednesday)
1:00pm – 3:00pm
Location: Nguti Council Chamber     

Today we held our first meeting with the local communities of Nguti! We are so excited to get prepared: Marli and I presented our ASA-program and tried to explain with pictures ad flipcharts. We want to let the locals know who are we and what do we do during our 2.5 months stay in Nguti. The Mayor, DO (sub division officer) and agricultural delegate of the Nguti Sub-division all attended the meeting. We thought there might only be 10-20 people attend because of our short notice. Surprisingly, more than 30 participants were there and they are very interested in NC’s research project of The Banyang-Mbo Wildlife Sanctuary, which is the focus area of our research. I was surprised that many people raised questions in the Q&A session and they concern about hot issues like how to sustain subsistence agriculture, the Nguti Saw Mill waste wood management problems and bush meat market/hunting poaching problems. Next blog I will write more about the sawmill problems.

1:00 – 1:05 p.m
Opening Prayer
1:05 – 1:10 p.m
Welcoming speech and introduction of Nature Cameroon team
And ASA student volunteers
1:10 –1:15 p.m
Brief welcome by the Mayor
1:15 – 1:45 p.m
Part I: Presentation of Nature Cameroon
By Mr. Ngwese Dominic, CEO, Nature Cameroon
Ø   Foundation and mission
Ø   Research results of WCS
Ø   ASA project in Nguti
Ø   Strategic plan axis
Ø   Expectations and conclusions
1:45 – 2:00 p.m
Part II: Presentation of the ASA Programme
By Marleen Stein and Louisa Wong
2:00 –2:15 p.m
Q & A Session
Ø   Community expectations and concerns
2:15 –2:25 p.m
Closing remarks
By Divisional Officer
2:25 –2:30 p.m
Group Photograph

Programme d’Appui à la Société Civile (PASC)

Date: 18th August 2012
Venue: Conference Hall of Minepat, Buea

This PASC conference was the first time to be presented in English in the South West Region of Cameroon. SW region was chosen by the EU among the 3 out of 10 regions in the country to launch PASC. The aim of the conference is to elaborate and clarify the Work Program 1 of PASC (Civil Society Strengthening Programme in English). PASC is a program under the cooperation between Cameroon and the European Union (EU). The funding supports Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) by strengthening the State Civil Society Partnership in Cameroon.

As an ASA student volunteer for my partner organization Nature Cameroon, I am glad that I was invited to the conference, since I get to know more about the complementary role and potential contribution of civil society in Cameroon in the development process. It provides representatives from different CSOs or CBOs in the SW region a platform to gain insight about PASC and to learn from each other and from the invited experts of the field. This event provides invaluable network opportunities and information sharing among people from different professions. I especially impressed by critical questions during the Q & A session, and everyone has an equal opportunity to raise questions, and each question is answered and taken care of. Although I am only a visitor of the conference and my stay in Cameroon is short, I hope I could assist my partner organization to realize the preparation work for funding application and seek for more other funding opportunities to sustain existing and future projects.