Regenerative Agriculture and Forest Gardening; Way-out of Climate Change and Food Insecurity

Traditional modern agricultural practices are no longer healthy for the planet. This is why more and more farmers are being encouraged to turn to regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture relies on practices that emulate nature in a way that farms are not just sustainable but are actually beneficial for the land and the creatures that inhabit it. This system of farming secures supply, strengthens livelihoods, and sequesters carbon. It is a  nature-based solution to climate change.

In recognition of this, Ecological Balance Cameroon recently adopted the forest garden model. “Some people call it agroforestry, while others say it is permaculture. Local farmers in the communities do not understand the jargon. They understand gardens and forests. So, we explain to them that forest gardening is forest moving into the garden. They have clearly expressed understanding of this concept,’’ the Executive Director of Ecological Balance Cameroon, Limbi Blessing explains.

The Cameroon-based environmental non-profit organization is setting up a 2ha demonstration forest garden in Buasa village, Buea SW Cameroon. Madam Limbi notes that in setting up the forest gardening prototype “we will not till the soils nor use of chemicals, but we will keep the soil mulched always as we plant bothcrops and trees. We will plant fertilizer trees in alley cropping at 5m distance in conjunction with fruit and forest trees”.  She added that “we are looking at least 5 different plant species per unit time to ensure diversity. This is to encourage the thriving of soil fauna. We will use black soldier fly to hasten the breakdown of farm waste and have animals graze on the it once every while’’

The establishment of the forest gardening demonstration site, will bring to total four demonstration farms set up by Ecological Balance. Since 2019, the Organisation has been involved in training farmers around the Buea Municipality on climate-smart agriculture since 2019.

 According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, if we continue with agriculture as it is today, by 2050, ninety percent (90%) of topsoil may be gone. Again, research shows that land degradation has had, and will have, severe impacts on crop production and supply chains in Cameroon, Africa and other parts of the world in which most of the population relies on agriculture to survive. Regenerative agriculture has been recommended as a way forward.

Regenerative agriculture centers around topsoil regeneration, expanding biodiversity, further developing the water cycle, enhancing ecosystem services, supporting biosequestration, expanding flexibility to environmental change, and fortifying the wellbeing and vitality of farm soil. Regenerative agriculture does not just “causes no damage” to the land but actually further develops it, utilizing advancements that recover and rejuvenate the soil and the environment. It leads to healthy soil, capable of producing high quality food at the same time improving (instead of degrading) land.  It is dynamic and holistic, incorporating permaculture and organic farming practices, including conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, composting, mobile animal shelters and pasture cropping, to increase food production, farmers’ income and especially, topsoil.

By Agborkang Godfred Ebot

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.

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.

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