Ecological Balance trains IDP Seamstresses on Reusable Pads Production

Ecological Balance has within the framework of her sustainable menstruation project, trained some 3 internally displaced seamstresses in Buea, South West Region of Cameroon on how to produce comfortable and affordable cloth pads. The training, which took place from August 17 to 20, 2021, was carried out to ensure continuous supply of pads that are good for the body & the earth for posterity.

With at least 6 million women and girls in Cameroon of menstruation age, with about 30,000 tons of menstrual waste are generated from disposable pads annually, according to the National Institute of Statistics, the organization of this training came just at an opportune moment. The 4-module intensive training took the women, who had not seen cloth pads before, through hands-on lessons on pad paper patterns, production of pads with adhesives, hand stitching of cloth pads and machine sewing.

The workshop facilitator, Miss Rose Malley Ekema, stressed on the type of materials that are suitable for cloth pad production. “The material on one end should be saying welcome and come in! The one inside should be saying welcome and stay here, and the one on the other end, should say no trespassing here, stay back,” she expounded. A wide range of materials were experimented on their  ability to; welcome and let in menstrual blood, absorb menstrual blood  and stop blood from passing through respectively.

There were also discussions around the choice of colors. “Menstruation is already very stressful. Please let’s give it some optimism by using bright and beautiful colors,” the trainer underscored. The project Coordinator, Ms. Hendretta Konjieh, took out time to explain that the prices of materials to be used should be carefully considered as it would not be sustainable if cloth pads are too expensive.

 

Period poverty is an overwhelming reality in Sub-saharan Africa. And many girls simply stay away from all human gatherings including schools during menstruation. It should be recalled that in 2019/2020, the project produced and donated over 150 cloth pads to girls and women in Buea. The feedback of which prompted the project team to organize a crowd funding campaign ( https://www.omprakash.org/global/ecological-balance/crowdfund/menstruation-is-not-a-choice–please-help-) targeted at raising $3000 to provide puberty literacy, menstruation education and  reusable cloth pads to over 500 young girls in rural Cameroon.

The team also joins their voices to that of thousands of women all over the world to say that sex is a choice but menstruation is not. Hence, basic menstrual hygiene materials and services should be subsidized instead of condoms.

By Limbi Blessing

Irvingia Project, Boosting Small Businesses in Buea

Mrs. Anyi Ruth Nsai and Mrs. Nyaba Patience Ikoh  of Bomaka-Buea, South West Region of Cameroon have emerged winners of the maiden edition of Ecological Balance’s Irvingia Business Boost programme, with each bagging home the sum of FCFA 100,000 to boost their businesses.  The duo, who were amongst 56 others trained by the irvingia project in 2020 were recognised Sunday August 28, 2021 in Bomaka-Buea during an event that brought together past trainees, friends and well-wishers of Ecological Balance.

Pioneer beneficiary of Irvingia Business Boost programme

These maiden winners of Irvingia Business Boost, were rewarded for their steadfastness in translating the knowledge gained during their training into a practical reality. “Today, we celebrate these extraordinary entrepreneurs not because they participated in our trainings but because they set up businesses after training and remained steadfast. The aim of this is to enable them to produce more, and our hope is that the businesses should grow to employ many people,” Ms. Limbi Blessing, Executive Director of Ecological Balance expounded.

Unlike many other trainees, Mrs. Nsai Ruth had set up the Olive’s Millinery for head fascinators and other accessories from raphia fibre and Ankara, while Mrs. Nyaba settled on Pathen Berger, an energy drink business, shortly after participating the Irvingia Project training programme in 2020.  Both of them could not hide their feelings as a pioneer beneficiaries of the Irvingia Business Boost Programme. “Eco Balance, you have really surprised me today. I was not expecting such a day nor this massive support. I am thankful to Madam Limbi and the entire Team of Ecobalance. This money will go a long way to enable me get established and increase productivity,’’ Mrs. Nsai said.

Mrs. Nyaba Patience on the other hand was simply speechless for a while before remarking: “I don’t know how I can express my heart for this gesture. It has not been easy going alone after acquiring these skills. Today, Ecological Balance has shown me sunlight. Thank you for the support. It will really go a long way to boost productivity.’’ Mr. Nyaba (husband to Mrs. Nyaba Patience) could not also hide his feelings. I am really happy for today. I used to pity my wife on how restless she became after the training. She sits for up to 4 hours to produce just one thing at a time. I also believe this will encourage her to go for a larger production. This organization is really doing a great job,” he stated.  

At the end of the event several community members came to the Ecological Balance expressing their desire to get trained. “I wish to be trained by Ecobalance. I had desired the most recent training but some emergency restricted me.  Pleases let me know when next you have training,’’ Cecile of Bomaka requested.  

Madam Esther of Bomaka also made a similar request. “I have really realized how needful it is for me to obtain your future trainings.  Please remind me about upcoming trainings. I want to learn fascinators. I love the ones I just saw,” she said.

The first fruits of the Irvingia Project harvested with much gratitude to The Pollination Project, The Leopold Bachmann Foundation and Kanthari Switzerland Foundation

Abang Louis

Destruction of Bulu Water Catchment Trees, Height of Ignorance?

Forests serve as homes to biodiversity species, improve air, and suck carbon from the atmosphere amongst others. However, growing urban forests can be quite challenging especially when people are blind to the magic forest (trees) play in the environment.   

Measure put in place fight against deforestation

                  

Statistics show that Cameroon losses an estimated 30ha of natural forests every hour. This is mainly due to timber & fuel wood harvesting and the search for arable land (for urbanization, agriculture etc). In a bid to counter this high rates of deforestation and in mitigating an over 2decade long water crisis, Ecological Balance in 2019, took a commitment to reforest 5main water catchments in Buea, South West Cameroon.

In March 2020, the Bulu water catchment forest (forest number 2 out of 5) was planted, with a survival rate of over 88%.  In March 2021, the community celebrated the first anniversary of the catchment only to discover 3 months after that most thriving trees of the forest were chopped down by some unknown individual. This was a great shock to the community, Chief Mafany of Kombo village (one of the villages getting water from the catchment) promised severe punishment for anyone who will be identified as the perpetrator.  The traditional ruler immediately put up a ‘no trespassing’ sign post and opened investigations to track down those who destroyed the trees and bring them to justice.

The ruthless destruction of trees at the water catchment, points to a missing clue of the link between trees and water conservation. A senior citizen, who lives adjacent to the catchment attributed the act of cutting trees around the water site to a fall and lack of respect of cultural taboos and traditional laws that hitherto regulated deforestation in that area. After nursing and transplanting tree seedlings to increase recharge and solve the problem of water crisis in this community, it was disheartening to lose “the giants of the forest” to some ignorant humans.

 

Difficult Path Treaded to Protect Water Catchment

The challenges were enormous from the very beginning; at planting, we could not find high quality tree seedlings and mulch on time. In strict compliance with the miyawaki protocol, we had to get native trees and organic mulch. These were only gotten after some weeks of scouting. One month after planting, the dried grass that was used as mulch had germinated to become weed, hence deweeding commenced. Again, a portion of the catchment area had been persistently replanted at least 6 times yet the survival rate in that portion was less than 60% notwithstanding.

Putting together the lessons learnt from four forests grown by Ecological Balance so far, ignorance remains the single biggest challenge in urban reforestation.  Simply put, growing forests without the awareness of all, both adjacent community and other users is almost a waste of time and resources. Ignorance is expensive and might cost us our world.

Njiafu Benardin

Forest Gardens Establishment; Prospects, Steps Involved.

Forests are one of the most stable ecosystems on earth. Thus, when we create edible forest gardens that mimic these systems, we get the ecological benefits of a forest with food as a bonus. Forest garden is a multi-layered integrated agricultural system that combines diverse plants and animals into one area to sustainably produce a variety of products and environmental services. A simple forest garden contains three layers; trees, shrubs and ground plants and anyone can have a small forest garden at their backyard because forest gardens are more about the principles than the size.

One may ask; why should I create a forest garden? Forest gardens are some of the most self-sustaining abundant ecosystems one can create. They have a host of benefits for both the environment and human beings. Forest gardens are an important source of diverse and nutritious food, especially for poor rural families and thus, are important contributors to food security and livelihoods of farming communities. It provides a safety net for households when food is served. The plant diversity in forest gardens, helps to enrich the local biological diversity.

Steps involved

In designing a forest garden, you have to choose the general layout, plan on the infrastructure like water accessibilities and structures. Water planning comes first, because without water, the forest garden will not thrive. Suitable places for water tank, irrigation lines or other natural water capturing elements.  The Ecological Balance food bank in Mutengene has a nearby river which helps for irrigation especially during the dry season.

After designing the water system, roads or paths are taken into consideration. This is to direct movement in and around the forest garden now and in the future. For structures, fencing is required to protect certain zones of the forest garden from animals. For example, nitrogen fixing trees or the so-called fertilizer trees have been used as life fences for the Mutengene 1 Eco Balance food bank. Other structures like creating seating areas for relaxation or structures for storing tools are necessary.

Third step is to make a master list of plants. Once the infrastructure are in place on the site map, it is time to choose plants for the forest garden; plants that provide edible harvest like nuts, fruits, vegetables, legumes, climbers, plants with deep roots, ground covers, supporter plants etc. Plants like plantains, cassava, cocoyam’s, Njangsa, bush mango, monodora, Okongobong were chosen for the food bank.

The fourth step is to create patch designs. Patch designs defines the planting areas and planting spacing in the forest garden. At our forest gardens for instance, trees (njangsa (Ricinodendron heudelotii), bush mango (Irvingia spp), Monodora myristica ) were planted at a distance of 10 meters apart from each other; plantains planted at a distance of 2.5meters by 2.5meters, and the other crops like cocoyam’s, cassava and okongobong (climber) were planted into the spaces between the trees and the plantains.

Once the canopy trees, shrubs are in place, it is time to design the lower forest garden layers which function as to create a living mulch of ground covering plants; these discourage invasive species, maintain soil moisture and prevent compaction. Plants to consider for this layer are edible plants, nitrogen fixers and animals with anti-fungal essential oils.

Executive Director of Ecological Balance, Ms. Limbi Blessing Tata, “So far, we have established 3forest gardens. One in Bokwangwo and 2 in Mutengene; one on the Southward side towards Limbe and the other on the East wing towards Tiko. The plan is  to establish a series of standard forest gardens with both timber and non-timber forest trees in combination that maximize beneficial interactions to serve as demonstration farms for training many farmers on forest gardening and plant propagation technics”

Forest gardens are designed following the natural patterns of plants and site throughout the year, taking into account important factors such as; soil and climatic conditions, production timing of selected plants and including the movement of wind, water and sun light across the site.

Agborkang Godfred

Ecobalance Fine-tunes Strategies to Bank Indigenous Vegetable Seeds for Future

Ecological Balance has, in consonance with its Climate-smart Agriculture Programme, begun fine-tuning strategies for the banking of indigenous seeds, while also enhancing exchange amongst farmers. Aimed at collecting a wide range of landraces, propagating them in the most organic manner and saving them for the future, the Climate-Smart Agriculture Programme Coordinator of Ecological Balance, Agborkang Godfred, said a mechanism will equally be put in place to ensure that indigenous vegetable seeds are distributed to interested farmers.

Indigenous vegetables are those that have been living naturally in a particular country or climate and adapting to the condition of the area they are grown. Their seeds are usually selected and managed by local people in the growing environment, and have been widely acclaimed by local farmers for being resilient.

“The seeds register more germination rates, and we don’t have to spray the seedlings with fungicides etc.  It is also very common to see indigenous seeds sprouting in farms where they were cultivated the previous year, just after the first rainfall. This especially true with small eye country pepper, bayangi bitter leaf, okongobong, pumpkin leaves, country njama njama, anchia and ‘black’ okra. I am not a scientist but I think our indigenous seeds have adapted to the seasons and developed resistance to organisms in the soil and air over time beautifully,” said Mama Juliet Nkeng of Bomaka village, Buea. The vegetable farmer added that with the indigenous seeds, she is sure of a harvest, irrespective of the climatic condition, unlike modified seeds.

On his part, Mr. Chi Denise of Bokwangho village narrated his ordeals with non-indigenous vegetable seeds.  “I registered 100% failure with non-indigenous vegetables. The most annoying thing is that they are very expensive and difficult to maintain that is spraying with fungicides and insecticides from time to time. Some seeds did not even germinate at all, while the few that germinated, were completely destroyed by insects even after I sprayed them,” he said. An experience, which other farmers confirmed.

To ascertain the validity of these claims, the Eco Food Bank team set out to experiment the germination and survival rates of indigenous vs modified vegetables in March 2021, just after first rains. Indigenous seeds like bayangi bitter leaf, okongobong, pumpkin leaves, country njama njama and black okra were planted on one part of the farm, while nonindigenous seeds like green pepper, onion, carrots, cabbage, celery, parsley and white okra were planted on the other part. There was no seed pretreatment and all were subjected to the same natural (farm) conditions. Three months later, the following results registered;

Table 1: Germination and survival rates of indigenous vs modified vegetable seeds 

Common name (local name) Scientific name Type of seeds % germination Survival rate  after 3months Remarks
Bitter leaf (bayangi bitterleaf) Vernonia spp   100 100 Harvested once every month
Fluted pumpkin (Okongobong) Telfairia accidentalis   100 100 Yet to be harvested
Pumpkin leaves Cucurbita spp   90 90 Harvested every 2weeks
Huckle berry (Country njama njama) Solanum spp   85 85 Yet to be harvested
Okra (black okro) Abelmoschus esculentus var. Ever Lucky   90 80 Yet to be harvested
Anchia Solanum aethiopicum   100 100 Harvested every month
Green pepper Capsicum annum   0    
Onion Allum cepa   20 20 Still to be harvested
Carrots Daucus carota subsp. sativus   60 50 Yet to be harvested
Cabbage Brassica oleracea var. capitata   50 0 Completely destroyed by insects
White okra Abelmoschus esculentus var. Greenie   20 0 Completely destroyed by insects
Parsley and Celery Petroselinumcrispum

Apium graveolens

  0    

 

Indigenous vegetable are an important source of micronutrients and income for rural people especially in Buea. They are increasingly prescribed by medics to patients with diverse ailments , especially those organically grown. Indigenous vegetables have also been noted for increasing appetite, providing fiber for digestion and preventing constipation. The valuable importance of these vegetables has increased consumption and demands for them both nationally and internationally. For example over 50% of all the Eru (Gnetum africana) consumed in Nigeria and beyond comes from Cameroon. This, beside the supply of other crops has made Cameroon to be considered the breadbasket of the Central and West African Sub-Regions.

Despite the importance of indigenous vegetables, and the ever increasing demand for them, their cultivation is unfortunately becoming more and more challenging due to the scarcity of indigenous vegetable seeds.  Though there has been a mass influx of genetically modified vegetable seeds into Cameroon, these exotic seeds have failed to stand the test of time. The genetically modified vegetable seeds have been noted for registering complete crop failure, in some instances, compared to their indigenous counterparts. There is thus, an urgent need to bank indigenous vegetable seeds and make them available to local farmers all-year-round.

By Limbi Blessing

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

 

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.