Maize Cultivation, Key Way to Enhance Food Security in Cameroon

The cultivation of maize (Zea mays) has been widely acclaimed as one of the key solutions to fighting food insecurity in Cameroon and beyond. This is especially true given current population growth rate, which according to FAO’s projection, will be 9.1 billion by 2050.

The role and or potential of maize in enhancing food security is evident by it wide and varied cultivation across the globe, and it’s consumption pattern and ever increasing demand. For example the cash crop is consumed directly and or transformed to serve as the main component of animal feed. It also provides the basic raw materials for many industries including the brewing industry.

The nutritive nature of maize has also made it a force to reckon with in the fight against food insecurity. For instance 100g of maize contains; 360kj of energy, 18.7g of carbohydrates, 1.35g  of fat, 3.27g of protein, 75.96g of water, 0.46mg of zinc, 89mg of phosphorous, 270mg of potassium, 6.8mg of vitamin C, 0.52mg of iron and 37mg of magnesium.

The high nutritive value of maize has induced a high consumption in Africa to an extent that many have resorted to calling it “The Black Man Ice cream”. In Cameroon, the ‘king crop’ is roasted, boiled, fried and eaten. It is also used for the preparation of a variety of traditional dishes like corky corn, corn chaff, pap corn-fufu etc., and drinks like corn beer, scha, etc.

Beside these, maize cultivation has become a veritable source of income to many farmers in Cameroon and beyond. “I do large scale maize farming at least 1ha/season. This is my major source of income and from it, I feed my family, sponsor my children in school”, said Mr. Ancha Desmond a farmer in Bokwango-Buea.

It with this shared understanding of the role of maize in enhancing food security that Cameroon’s environmental non-profit organization, Ecological Balance, set up a 1ha maize farm in March 2021, to help feed internally displaced families in Buea.

By Agborkang Godfred

Eco Balance Embarks on Castor Seed Valorisation

Ecological Balance has embarked on the valorization of Castor (Ricinus communis), an indigenous plant located in the southeastern Mediterranean Basin, Eastern Africa, India and the tropical regions, and well known to pharmaceuticals for its oil. An in-house training aimed at empowering the Organization’s team for an upcoming session that will train 10 women on the extraction of oils from seeds and 10 others on the transformation of these oils to cosmetic products was organized June 1, 2021 in this regard.

Carried out within the framework of the Irvingia project, castor seeds are readily available, with great cosmetic & cultural uses. “Castor oil is the best and most powerful laxative we know. It has been used from time immemorial to treat constipation and food poisoning. It is so powerful a laxative that some belief it can purge twins of all witchcraft powers” Mr. Epie Hans, a traditional medical practitioner explains.  “It also promotes the healing of stubborn wounds” the trade-practitioner adds. A claim, which aligns with medical research findings as Venelex (mixture of castor oil and Peru balsam) is a popular ointment used in clinical settings to treat wounds.

According to Mrs. Che Claudin, an elderly citizen, castor oil is very good in the treatment of burns, acne (blackheads and pimples) and keeps the hair and scalp healthy. “In our days, it was a very popular beauty product especially for the face and hair. And in my opinion, it was more effective in smoothing the skin, keeping it fresh than all the products I see people use today. We used it to treat dandruff easily as it made hair soft and kept the scalp clean,” she narrated.

The castor plant is also used in landscaping. This is because as it can survive a wide range of environments. Castor plants grow to about 1.5 to 2.5metres (4.9 to 8 feet) in a single season with its giant fanlike leaves producing seeds throughout the year. Its ability to survive a wide range of habitats come from the fact that it reproduces with a mixed pollination system which favors self-pollination (by geitonogamy) but at the same time can be cross pollinated by wind or insects. The seeds are made up of 40% – 60% oils that are rich in triglycerides, mainly ricinolein but also a water-soluble toxin.

Historically, Castor oil has been used as an effective motor lubricant for internal combustion engines since World War I. It is used in some racing cars and some model airplanes. Global castor seed production is around two million tons per year.

Hendreta Konjieh

Bush Mango, Gold on Tree

Though seen by many as an edible mango-like fruit, bush mango (Irvingia wombolu) has been described by forest adjacent communities in Cameroon as “gold that grows on tree”. This is attribute has been orchestrated by the breath-taking financial returns which they get from the sales of this non-timber forest product in Cameroon and neighbouring Nigeria. 

“A 25kg basin of dried bush mango seeds ranges between XAF 30,000 and XAF 90,000 at the Mamfe main market, depending on the time of the year. Money gotten from the sales of these seeds help us to pay school fees, provide for our homes etc. Bush mango is thus, a major cash crop in this area. Without it, families will starve and most of our children will not be able to go to school,” Noel Ojong, a Mamfe denizen attested, adding that “I am who I am today because of bush mango, we cannot do without it”.  Prince odisso of Mamfe corroborated Mr. Ojong, noting that bush mango is a great livelihood source to many families, beside cocoa.

It is against this backdrop that the rewilding team of Ecological Balance last April 2021 nursed over 1500 bitter bush mango seeds at their central nursery in Bomaka – Buea, SW Cameroon, which will be planted in some community forests and forest gardens in the South West Region of Cameroon. Beside this, forest adjacent communities will equally be trained on how to add value to the spice in order to reap more benefits.

Bitter bush mango (Irvingia wombolu) is a big tree that grows up to 40m in height with good trunk diameter. Its wood is good for timber. The tree species is known and cherished in Central and West Africa for its fruits and seeds. The edible mango-like fruits are very delicious and eaten fresh. The seeds of its fruits have been widely commended for its role in inducing weight loss and eliminating obesity. Some preliminary research also suggests that bush mango reduces blood sugar and lipid level in type 2 diabetes as the extract is rich in fibre. Bush mango has also been known from time immemorial as a popular spice used in many delicacies like the ‘tanchoh soup’ in Mamfe-Cameroon, and ‘ogbono soup’ by the Igbos in Nigeria and many other countries of the sub-region.

By Njiafu Benardin

 

Irvingia Project: Adding Value to NTFPs in Cameroon

Mrs. Clara Likowo from the Bokoko Community of Buea, South West Region of Cameroon is now engaged in the production of medicated soap from Non-Forest Timber Products (NTFPs), thanks to her participation in the Irvingia Project, which trained over 56 women around Buea on how to transform NTFPs. 

During a Monitoring and Evaluation visits to the production sites of some beneficiaries in Buea, the Eco Balance team discovered that Mrs. Clara Likowo has transcended the production of just bathing soap as trained to the production of medicated soap.  “It is nowmedicated and not just bathing soap because of the effects it has on the skin; it rapidly clears skin rashes, scars and even skin dryness. With indigenous knowledge, I am adding many other ingredients with medicinal properties’’ she revealed.

The stride by Madam Likowo has motivated the Organization, which is now putting hands on deck to improve the quality and packaging of the soap. The feedback of this woman, has also birth the desire to train more women on soap production in villages of the West Coast Cluster of the Mt Cameroon National Park, beginning June 2021.

Eco Balance, Potting 5000 Mahogany Trees for Reforestation in South West Cameroon

Ecological Balance has embarked on the potting of 5000 mahogany trees, as part of the close to 30 tree species ear-marked for her 2500 capacity tree nursery in Buea. This nursery is expected to provide good quality planting material for the Organization’s 2021 rewilding endeavours.

Commonly known as big leave Mahogany, Entandropragma angolensis is one of the giants of tropical rainforest with broad leaves especially suitable for water catchment protection. Classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List, this iconic species is highly cherished locally as the back is used in the treatment of stomach ache and fever. It is one of the top 10 timber species foraged from the Congo Basin Forests and widely used in the furniture, plywood and fishing boat manufacturing industries amongst others.

Managed by a team of trained botanists from Ecological Balance, in the days ahead the mahogany seedlings from this nursery will be transplanted into water catchments within the Buea Municipality. This as a way of curbing the long-standing water crisis that the town has been plunged in over the years. The trees will be planted by the miyawaki method that is known to recharge, purify and conserve ground water 30times faster. Some of the trees will be planted at the Bakingili Community Forest to mitigate deforestation and revamp the wildlife haven.

Established in June 2020 following difficulties faced by the Eco Balance team in getting planting material during the first 2miyawaki forests, plans are underway to expand the nursery to 100,000 saplings of at least 50species found in the Congo Basin Forest, according to the Executive Director, Limbi Blessing.

Meanwhile, trees planted at Bulu Water Catchment, using to Miyawaki method, to clean, recharge and conserve the underground water by the Ecological Balance team in collaboration with the community is already serving as anchor  to many biodiversity species, one year after. With support from SUGI, Ecological Balance planted some 3000  trees at the lone water source in  Bulu, a small village in Buea subdivision, South West Region, following the Miyawaki method known to recharge ground water thirty times faster; tree growth thirty times faster, as well as purify water amongst others. Recent statistics from Ecological Balance’s Field Manager, Njiafu Benardin, shows that 90% of the trees have survived and are serving as habitat for biodiversity species like crab, butter fly, birds, bees, frogs, caterpillars, millipede, insects, beetles and others.

Community members are anticipating how the 20 different trees species including Prunus africana, Mahogani, Dacryodes macrophyla, drum stick, avocado, jack fruit, mango, erythrina, Jatropha curcas, leuceana, acacia, Voacanga angolense, richinis comunis, plums, guava, umbrella tree, apple, bauhinia and Pachira aquatic has and will help them and the environment. .  “Since the planting of these trees, we have noticed that, the water catchment is always clean,”Mafani John, Chief of Bulu village said.

Though geared towards increasing the recharge of water at the Bulu Water Catchment serving as the lone source of drinking water to the Bulu community and other neighbouring villages, the planting of these trees was equally motivated by the need to contribute to global afforestation efforts and the mitigation of climate change.

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.