Before we arrived in the Bamendjinda community of Cameroon, the farmers there were stuck in a cycle of poverty. With obsolete technology, they struggled to grow enough crops to provide for their families. They regularly burned valuable grass deposits in their farm fields at the detriment of the soil and the environment. This practice caused barren soil, which led to the farmers turning to expensive chemical fertilizer that they typically could not afford.
Determined to survive the low crop yields and ignite some change, 22 farm families joined together to create the Maraicher Common Initiative Group. “It was good for us to put our heads together,” said Djeutieu Jean Felix, the president of the group. “However, we didn’t exactly know what to do next.”
The group members thought that raising animals would be a good means of survival, but due to their general lack of knowledge and the custom techniques they were using, the members were faced with excessive air and land pollution, environmental degradation and farmer-grazer conflicts. The farmers had limited knowledge of what to do with the animals while maintaining productivity and which breeds to keep. The group was once again struggling.
That’s where we came in. Levering the group’s eagerness to move out of poverty Heifer International Cameroon offered the farmers training in livestock management, composting, animal healthcare, pigsty construction, group dynamics and human nutrition. They also gave them each two piglets.
The farmers saw these donated pigs as a ready source of manure, which is a rich crop fertilizer. They constructed pigsties with raised floors instead of the ground floors they’d used in the past. The new model for roofs on the pigsties also helped to secure the pigs, keeping them away from harsh sunlight and rain. The new, healthier pigs introduced by Heifer helped the farmers to grow their pigs to incredible sizes versus the tiny pigs they raised in the past.
“The benefits were immediate,” said Madou Rose, one of the group members. The raised floors provided a way for the farmers to easily collect their manure and start making compost. Other members of the group like Nkukize Mathew began experimenting with compost by starting vegetable gardening projects.
“I could not believe how much we were missing,” Mathew said. “Our secret was hard work because we were cultivating with animal manure and compost. We applied the compost around the plant and there was no waste.”
The families were producing three times what they had in the past. This new wave of farming became the model for members of the Common Initiative Group. The determined farmers were finally seeing success with their farms and healthier production for their livestock. Mathew was now harvesting four tons of maize instead of his usual one ton. Chumela David and Madou Rose harvested six tons. “We took the surplus to the market and immediately our living conditions changed,” Rose said.
Annual household incomes within the group rose from $500 to $1,600 as a result of the increased food crop yields.
Due to the growing popularity of compost manure, other community members adopted the practices of the Common Initiative Group and began trading corn and food crops in exchange for animal waste with farmers in their community. “The cheap and affordable manure had enabled the group to start a tree nursing farm,” Felix said.
The leguminous trees had also helped to repair the damaged soil. Group members saw the trees as a benefit instead of an obstacle, as they had in the past. The tree leaves provided feed for livestock, shade for the farmers and attracted bees to pollinate the crops. Each farmer planted an average of 150 trees this past year.
According to Felix, “The revenue earned from the proceeds of tree planting helped to buy items sorely needed like books, tables and chairs for the group.”
The Common Initiative Group shares their skills and experiences with other farmers in their community. Alone, this group has helped transform the Bamendjinda community from its poverty and ignorance, into a thriving agricultural mecca. Today, members of the group have great confidence and hope that they can continue to be agents of change.
Story courtesy of Kaah Aaron, freelance consultant
Edited by Basam Emmanuel, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager