Ecological Balance Sets up Food Bank

Due to the ever increasing need for food, Cameroon-based environmental non-profit organization, Ecological Balance, has set up a food bank that will grow and donate food items to families that have been internally displaced by the Anglophone crisis, natural disasters like floods and other, persons living with disabilities, the aged and other needy persons in Buea, South West Cameroon.

The food bank, which also aims at connecting smallholder farmers to share knowledge and exchange indigenous seeds, was set up in March 202. “We started reaching out to farmers and collecting different indigenous seeds by January this year. We already have 3 local varieties of maize, 4 varieties of beans and many varieties of assorted vegetables,” the Executive Director of Eco Balance disclosed, adding that the Organization intends to plant all varieties and land races of the major food and tree crops in Cameroon. “We also want to encourage the planting of marcotted and grafted forest species, so we will be planting many of them,” she said. The goal, according to her, is to have indigenous seed banks for various crops, especially looking at how it is helping to preserve culture, boost nutrition and protect the environment in other places around the world.

Seed banks are backup copies of crops that might otherwise be lost due to natural or human factors. Experts say seeds from traditional agricultural varieties could solve the problem of food shortage and malnutrition, as well as boost food system resilience to climate change and cultural challenges. The over one hectare farm serving as food bank is ear marked to donate food to about 50 families this year.

Agborkang Godfred

International Women’s Day: Rural Woman, Impacting Lives through Forest Gardening

As Cameroon joined countries the world over to celebrate the tremendous efforts made by women around the world in shaping a more equal future last March 2021, Ecological Balance zooms on Mama Nkeng Juliet, a 66-year-old mother of three, who is impacting lives in Cameroon through forest gardening. With skills developed from personal endeavours and seminars, Mama Nkeng has been able to sponsor all her three children, including two girls, through to the University in a country where girl child education still stands at about 30%, according to UNESCO Institute of Statistics.

Besides other farming activities, she sells marcotted trees and trains others on the skill at almost no cost. In June 2020, she trained 4 youths on forest gardening whose skills are now being used for Eco Balance’s forest garden that will also serve as a food bank to donate food families in need. She also trains students and women usually referred to her by the departments of agriculture and community development on marcoting, given the importance of this tree propagation method. “Marcotting adds value to trees; it enables them to produce fruits in half the normally required time, and as  such, are sold  at much higher prices,” Mama Nkeng Expounded. Apart from generating income, the rural woman said forest gardening makes her home food-sufficient.

Though with no records on the number of trees she has marcotted and the income generated this far because of little skills in book keeping, the forest gardener, who is apparently separated from her husband under unclear circumstances, recommends forest gardening to all.  “You don’t need to go to the forest for spices as you can have them in your garden. This works very well and helps you to sell different crops, fruits, nuts at different times of the year. The garden also serves as my pharmacy,” she testified, maintaining that agriculture is not un-dignifying as many youths today think. “Growing vegetables in the dry season in your forest garden is very profitable and can help you generate and save money for bigger exploits,” Mama Nkeng maintained.

Though she is faced with a plethora of challenges including no land of her own, in adequate capital and constant harassment from men, her dream of owning an orchard remains valid. The gardener things “every compound needs at least a shade tree”.

Speaking on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, she said many women have been relegated to the background of life, and the day often brings them out of their shells. Mama Nkeng however, cautioned that there should be no competition between genders.

Miyawaki Revolution: Strides, Lessons from Cameroon

I met Shubhendu Sharma in Kerala, India in December 2018, and within 45mins of watching his TedTalk recording and discussing the miyawaki method, I had regenerated the entire Congo Basin Forest in my mind. When I came back to Cameroon, the passion in me was so ardent that I had to do everything humanly possible to make what was in my mind a reality.

Case of First Miyawaki Forest, Boduma

The desire to kick start a Miyawaki Revolution in Cameroon started bearing fruits in November 2019 when we planted our first miyawaki forest at the Bonduma water catchment. The 600 native tree forest supported by The SUGi Project was the first of many. There was a battery of opinions running wild during the tree planting exercise; ‘the trees are too close, how do they breathe’? ‘Why is organic manure added into soils that are already very rich’ (volcanic soils)? At one point, the team had to put their foot down and have the instructions followed to the latter. The catchment had become a dumping ground for all sorts of refuse and including disposable pads and baby dippers. One could not help but wonder how humans would so heavily pollute a water body that they depend on totally as a source of drinking water. Indeed, humans are strange beings!

Beyond human resources management, there were other challenges; getting good quality native saplings and mulching material was challenging. This is to say, we are in a forest zone but not many people grew native trees. We were used to taking from the forest but not giving back. Then, we had to include wildings to the seedlings we could find.  Then came the challenge of having to replant trees that had been uprooted by the children of the neigbourhood. This pointed to the fact that we needed to do more sensitization/education; a recommendation that was quickly adopted for the next planting site and that gave birth to The SUGi Akademy. This is a project that would provide conservation education to children between the ages of 8-15 in a bid to build the next generation of rewilders.

One year after the Bonduma forest was planted, even when no scientific data was collected on the depth of the water table etc prior to tree planting, we got some testimonies; ‘I noticed that the water is much cooler’ one woman said. Standing near the storage tank a young man told our team ‘this place is always dry but this time around it is not’. We saw several batches of bright yellow caterpillars and then butterflies and a variety of other both leaf and ground insects. The biggest insinuation of the locals however has been that the gods might soon be returning to the dwell in the neigbourhood. According to them, when the forests were destroyed the gods had to relocate.

Our coverage guy had to make magic to get good pictures and videos because of the topography. I remember some strong boys had to carry him up in order for him to get some good shots.  It was worth it I must say. The Bonduma water catchment forest was handed over to the community after 12months of constant picture taking, watering, de-weeding, nurturing, data collection, monitoring and shouting. One species from this forest that caught the eye of our forest friends is Communis edulis probably because of its round thorn-looking fruits. Locally, however, mostly the oil-rich seeds are considered important as it is milled locally and used in treating ailments, taming twins, chief naming ceremony and as body cream.

Case of Second Miyawaki Forest, Bulu Village

By March 2020, the team was planting another forest few kilometers away from Bonduma this time at the Bulu water catchment. Bulu was a real community deal as Chief Mafany came out severally in full traditional regalia- the traditional Shanja, shirt & cap and holding the symbolic staff of unity. The statement was loud and clear; the ancestors are well aware and united for this project. Pa Stephen (over 70) became the chief security officer of the Bulu forest, always walking around with a whip in hand ready to beat and scare detractors.

Many lessons learnt from Bonduma were addressed at Bulu; by February 2020, the team had gathered the much needed mulch (grass and farm waste), sensitization/education sessions had begun and a drone & better camera had been acquired. Again, getting good quality native saplings was still a challenge and although no highly scientific protocols were conducted still, we took note of the absence of some key species that indicated the health of a freshwater ecosystem like crabs, water daphnia (‘kaka bobby’). Yet new challenges sprang up; a good quantity of the mulch material was carried away by running water (due to the topography) and the remainder had rejuvenated and became weed. At some point the trees were dying because of too much water. The SUGi Global Rewilding Community came to our aid as we got techniques on how to help trees survive in water.

One year after planting, we have seen many burrowing animals, insects, birds and especially crabs and water daphnias etc. The forest is already self-reliant I would say as underground weeds can no longer survive under the already flowering trees. In fact, we are warming up for wild honey harvesting from the forest. The over 6m tall roadside forest already serves as a hideout for farmers from the scorching sun to many en route to various destinations.  The forest is so cool that even the very selfish Pachira aquaticas  aka money trees have finally given up the food they stored at the base of their stems. From a capacity building stand point, the team has gotten great lessons on the choice of native species and their combinations at planting.

Prospects

As we gear up for our third forest, the Bwitingi water catchment forest, the stakes are really high. It is not just about climate change, recharging ground water & improving the water table, providing habitat for returning biodiversity & the gods, and restocking natural sources of non-timber forest products any longer, it is about helping a community live up to its name. According to the custodians of the culture of the Bwitingi people, Bwitingi means half water, half land. Apparently, when the Germans came into Buea they had difficulties navigating Bwitingi as half of the land was covered in water and hence its name. Today, the community has lost this sagesse as they only boast of one flowing stream. The revolution is on, Cameroon is not left out and we go miyawaki all the way.

By Limbi Blessing Tata, Executive Director of Ecological Balance

Team Work Pays: Bulu Forest at 1

Objectives: To recharge ground water and improve water table; regenerate biodiversity; restock non-timber forest products and allow for honey gathering.

Method: Miyawaki

March 2020:

Stats: 3000 saplings, 20 tree species, 25 volunteers, 5000 homes

 

 March 2021:

Stats: trees over 3m tall, 90% tree survival rate, cleaner cooler water, many crabs, butter flies, birds, snakes, pollinators etc., cleaner & cooler water all year round

Community Youths Engage in Fruit Trees Marcotting for Income Maximization

After a 2-month training on vegetative tree propagation, crop seed multiplication, acclimatization and out planting amongst others, some four community youths within the Buea Municipality have begun marcotting tropical fruit trees.

The training, which took place from April to June 2020, organized by Ecological Balance within the framework of the Irvingia project sought to maximize farmers’ income and render them resilient to fluctuating market prices. To speed up the realization of the project goal, the four agile youths who are already gainfully putting the skills acquired into practice, are expected within the next two months, to train at least 25 more farmers on various techniques and processes in forest gardening.

Forest gardening, which involves integrating trees and animals into already existing farms according to the Executive Director of Ecological Balance, Limbi Blessing, will optimize the use of resources within farm lands by maximizing the use of both horizontal and vertical space. “Integrating trees, crops and animals on the same piece of land is a combination that maximizes beneficial interactions and minimizes negative effects on each other to produce a variety of products (food, meat, milk, non-timber products, timber etc).  It also enhances environmental services while at the same time reducing dependence on wild sources,” she expounded. The Eco-balance boss added that through forest gardening, soil nutrients are actively being added (organic) and efficiently recycled, which makes it possible for farms to be cultivated for longer time periods thus, reducing the rate of shifting cultivation.

Funded by the Leopold Bachmann Foundation through Kanthari Switzerland Foundation, the forest gardening initiative is meant to train at least 25 rural women on the sustainable growing of non-timber forest products. It should be noted that marcotted seedlings cost three times more and bear fruits at half the time.

Buea Ladies Confirm Cloth Pads as Better Alternative

After continuous sensitization of young girls and women via workshops and during the World Environment Day on cloth pads and its advantages to health, finance, moral and even the environment at large, some ladies within the Buea Municipality have confirmed that cloth pad is a better alternative to be used during menstruation.

 

 

Haven had the experience of also using the cloth pads as recommended by Ecological Balance, Lambi Sonia, disclosed recently that the difference with other menstrual pads is clear.  “Cloth pad is very comfortable and economical. It doesn’t pollute the environment nor smell because there is room for moisture to evaporate. The pad is highly hygienic and requires little water for cleaning,” she added.

Corroborating Ms. Lambi, another Buea-based lady, Anita Ngalla, hinted that “truly cloth pad is environmentally friendly and healthier than single-used pads. It is cheaper especially on the long run and could be readily available if trained local tailors engage in the production”.

The sustainable menstruation project of Ecological Balance geared towards engaging young girls and women in the use of environmentally friendly pads and to take responsibility for their menstrual waste was launched in February 2020 in Buea, South West Region of Cameroon. The project is aimed at protecting the environment, salvaging young girls and women from spending much money on menstrual pads, and to demystify the shame around menstruation and revalue it because life depends on it. Besides sensitization, there is a capacity building arm of the project that  trains local seamstresses on cloth pads production, and  a social business arm that sells high quality cloth pads produced, and donates some to vulnerable young women and institutions.

Ecobalance Staff Acquire Skills on Project Communication

Some staff of Ecological Balance have acquired skills on project communication that will assist them in giving visibility to the Organization and effectively communicating with partners and project stakeholders. This was during a 2-month training in Buea organized with the technical support of Voice of Nature.

According to the Executive Director of Ecological Balance, Ms. Limbi Blessing Tata, the organization of the training came from the understanding of the importance of communication in maintaining a cordial relationship with partners, and expanding the network of the Organization.

Haven gained fresh knowledge on impact reporting, information gathering & project article writing and basics on project photo taking, participants left the training determined to make a difference. “I have greatly improved on article writing, impact reporting and other aspects of project communication. This new knowledge will help me better communicate on any project I am attached to within the organization,” Njiafu Bernadine, one of the staff said.

Another staff, Hendreta Konjieh, expressed gratitude to Ecological Balance for “the opportunity given to us to acquire knowledge and the basic skills in article writing, photography and impact reporting. I now know how to gather information on the impact of the Organization, and how to produce a good impact article”.

It is thus, expected that each of the staff will use the skills gathered to contribute to the Organization’s mission of empowering local communities to independently undertake actions that ensure long term sustainability of their adjacent ecosystems.

Over 88% of Trees Planted at Bulu Water Catchment Using Miyawaki Method Survive!

The efforts of Ecological Balance to clean recharge and conserve underground water of the Bulu water catchment in Buea is yielding success. Out of the 3000 tree seedlings and cuttings planted in March 2020, 2700 of them are growing well giving a survival rate of over 88%.

This statistics is generated from monthly data collected during monitoring field visits to the site under the auspices of Head of the Reforestation Unit of Ecological Balance, Njiafu Benardin. While collecting the monthly data, the monitoring team noted visible signs of clean recharge. “We have seen all types of crabs. This is an indicator of a clean fresh water ecosystem,” Mr. Njiafu opine.

Few months after the tree planting exercise, community members are already witnessing a mark difference.  “Since  the trees were planted, I have noted that the catchment has remained ‘unusually’ clean” Chief Mafani John, traditional ruler of Kombo village attests. He added that “I have not seen any project that planted and maintained trees. Most of the trees are surviving and the environment is gradually becoming green. This initiative should be replicated all over Buea. I have taken upon myself to educate my fellow chiefs on this project”.

Conserving the Bulu water catchment, according to the Executive Director of Ecological Balance, Ms. Limbi Blessing Tata, is a unique contribution to saving humanity,  especially given that many neighbouring communities depend on it for drinking water.

The Bulu water catchment is the main source of portable water to the Kombo, Bolifamba and Dibanda communities of the Buea Municipality.

With funds and mentorship from the SUGi Project and Afforestt, Ecological Balance had in March 2020 planted some 12 tree species at the Bulu water catchment in Buea, South West Region of Cameroon. These trees species included; Prunus Africana (pygeum), Entandrophragma angolensis (big leaf mahogany), Dacryodes edulis (African plum), Cordia platythistera (drummer stick) , (Persia americana) avocado, Artocarpus heterophyllus (jack fruit),  Mangifera indica (mango) , Erythrina spp, Jatropha curcas, Leuceana leucocephala, Acacia angiutissimma, and Pachira aquatic (money tree).

It is hoped that these trees will also allow for the gathering of non-timber forest products (spices, fruits, honey, nuts etc), serve as habitat for biodiversity and contribute in mitigating global climate change.

 

 

 

 

 

Pachira Aquatic Tree Planted at Catchment in Buea Demonstrates Strange Growth Pattern

One of the tree species, Pachira Aquatic, planted in March 2020 for the conservation of the Bulu water catchment in Buea, South West Region of Cameroon by Ecological Balance, is demonstrating a strange growth pattern. Seeds of the flora species were collected and planted at this watershed using the miyawaki technique of reforestation. Five months down the lane, an unusual increase in girth at the bottom of the stem and relatively little growth in height has been observed.

This strange growth pattern has made Cameroonian forest biodiversity conservation expert, Limbi Blessing Tata, who is also the Executive Director of Ecological Balance to cast doubt over its suitability in miyawaki forests in the equatorial type climate where conditions are hardly hostile. The Eco Balance boss also wonder if the dry season will be hostile enough for the tree to give up the food stored at the bottom of the stem.  “Nutrients are incorporated into soils of miyawaki forests, and the forests center mainly on increase in height and density. Does this mean that the pachira trees will become dwarfs?” the forest biodiversity expert ponders.

The origin of the Pachira aquatic tree species can be traced from the swamps of Central and South America and spread to other tropical forests. It is known to grow up to 23m in the wild. Indigenous knowledge points to the fact that the species stores up large amounts of food at the bottom of the stem in good conditions, hence the unusual increase in girth. It is thought to grow in height mainly in hostile conditions during which it is known to ‘give up’ its stored food.

The tree has been nicknamed “money tree” because it is believed to have the potential to bring great wealth to its owner, and the trunks are usually braided together to “lock in” luck and fortune. Though very unpopular in Cameroon, the tree is currently the most popular in Taiwan where it is believed to create “chi,” positive energy that brings luck in homes.

Tree propagation; ‘Cheating’ Trees, Saving Forests

Farmers in the Mambonko village in South West Cameroon have been encouraged to use mostly grafted and marcotted trees in their farmlands as it allows trees with poor rooting systems and good quality fruits to be combined with those of the same species that have good rooting systems for better yields.

Grafted bush mango tree

 

With grafting, you cut a tree from the middle area and replaces it with another upper part and then nurture. In the course of time, the two parts will attach nicely and begin communication. They must, however, have the same genes.  Marcotting on the other hand, ‘cheats’ trees by taking advantage of their memory cells. The branch of a two-year-old tree, for instance, is cut, rooting ignited at one end and then planted. The plant takes some time to adapt to this new condition (acclimatization) and then continues growing like a two-year-old. As such. many plants can be generated from one tree. This method reduces the fruiting time of trees by up to half depending on the age of the marcotted mother tree.

Marcotted Dacryodes edulis (African plums)

“The most sustainable promise for agroforestry, forest gardening or any profitable tree planting endeavour is tree propagation.  People need some form of incentive. It is not easy to plant trees that take up to 10 years to start producing fruits. Humans are not that patient,” said  Mr.  Shu Jerome as he distributed marcotted forest and fruit trees for planting into the Irvingia forest garden in Mambonko village in Cameroon.

The forest garden is composed of crops (maize, various vegetables, cassava, potatoes, plantain), forest trees (bush mango, njangsang), fruits trees (African plum, oranges, avocado and mango)  and animals (goats, pigs and fowls). The crops are planted  10m2  from each other and trees in order to minimize shading.

Animals, on the other hand, walk around the farm freely and their dung serves as manure. This farm will enable Ecological Balance train 25 women every 6months on how to incorporate indigenous trees into existing farmlands.

The rationale of this forest gardening practice is to combine crops, trees, and animals of different fruiting cycles, hence, enabling women to harvest all year round. This reduces their vulnerability to market prices as surpluses can be sold offseason. Forest garden also reduces dependence on forest for timber and other forest products, while also ensuring land optimization.

By Ndimuh B. Shancho