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.

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