Mount Cameroon is one of many important watersheds in West Africa and is critical to the people of South West Cameroon for their water supply. In the rural communities, people depend on drinking sources such as springs, streams, rivers and lakes. In urban towns and cities, over ninety percent of the city dwellers depend on secondary drinking sources such as pipe-born water. The ever-continuous running streams and rivers have long shaped the infrastructural development and agricultural patterns of these communities.

In recent times, however, increases in population and farming fields have negatively affected the traditional infrastructural patterns. Firstly, since places like Buea are cosmopolitan towns, the rapid increase in population has necessitated an expansion of infrastructure to accommodate more people. To meet up with this, individuals (especially immigrants from outside the region) have neglected to consider the indigenous settlement patterns which took into consideration environmental risk factors such as the overflow of running rivers.

Secondly, an increasing population has led to higher demands for agricultural produce and thus an increase in the size and number of agricultural fields. However, communities within this area are located on the slopes of the mountain and thus face the real challenge of dealing with severe erosion from run-off or overflow from the rivers. The indisputable need for food and income has influenced some farmers to waive the risk of the overflowing rivers and run-off.

On the other hand, the long periods during which the rivers have stayed dry have equally pushed people to waive the risk of the rivers ever flooding. For decades, many of the river valleys have remained dry, giving farmers the idea that they are reclaiming good farming space.

Today, climate-induced challenges, including strong winds and irregular but heavy rains, have greatly affected the farming calendar and output. Plantain and yam farmers face serious challenges when strong winds erode the soil. Other crops like tubers are often washed away by flooding water. To worsen the situation, the current frequent rainfalls have caused long-dry streams to run again, taking the population by surprise. To this effect, we have witnessed frequent flooding of buildings and overflow on highways which disrupt traffic.

With all of the above, some communities are taking action to mitigate the dangers of the frequent floods and strong winds. Amongst other things, we have encouraged community efforts to reopen or create proper drainage patterns that will channel all the flooding water out of these communities without causing any threat to life or property. In addition, we continue our campaign by encouraging the local administration and council to review the settlement plan and develop good drainage systems.

It is said that the settlers around the Mount Cameroon Area migrated from the Congo Basin and thus are Bantus. As part of their activities, they find interest in fishing, agriculture and hunting. In that regard, from time immemorial these have been the primary activities of the occupants in the area. The more than 58,178 hectares of forest cover in this area positively influenced the settlement of the hunting and farming population.

However, increasing worries about the loss of forest cover and valuable biodiversity—that is, plants and animals alike—drew the attention of the Cameroon Government and other international NGOs and governments as a call for concern. In order to protect and conserve the huge biodiversity found in this geographical setup, the government declared the area a National Park, thereby controlling the hunting and farming activity. Later, the emergence of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List further restricted local residents from hunting (wildlife and honey), as well as from the timber exploitation and extensive farming that was negatively impacting the forest cover.

To help achieve the objectives of the Cameroon Government towards biodiversity conservation and forest cover protection, we are using community education programs to inform, sensitize and educate locals on the importance and need to conserve the biodiversity, and strategies for farming alongside the forest cover. For a more sustainable livelihood for locals and communities, the Mount Cameroon National Park Service—through the Program for the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (PSMNR) South West—has identified over fifty local hunters who will be empowered on alternative green income generating activities such as piggery, beekeeping, yam/plantain cultivation and poultry. To ensure that the beneficiaries are well equipped, a series of training sessions are being held. Following the training, the trainees are given some supplies (including piglets, pig feed, and a drum each) and other necessary equipment.

All this is to ensure a more sustainable protein and income source for all the park communities (communities sharing direct boundaries with the park). It is believed that upon finalization of the project, pressure on natural resources and biodiversity and the communities’ interference in the park will be reshaped positively, with an increase in wildlife populations and regeneration of the carbon sink, habitat and vegetation.

Global Hand Cameroon was fortunate to be able to participate in an excellent training course recently on the topic of ecosystem restoration and poverty alleviation through Forest Gardening. Our report follows:

Forest Gardening:  A Resilient Farming System

Over the years, local farmers have had great success using traditional farming techniques. In the past, the majority of farmers around the Mount Cameroon area and beyond relied on the traditional farming calendar and natural ecosystem services and restoration opportunities. Farmers worried less about soil nutrient, structure and texture enhancements. Back then, the soil was just good enough to produce what the farmers needed, taking into account other environmental aspects that manipulated the ecosystem positively such as the moisture level, temperature, and forest cover, to name just a few.

With the recent climatic and other related environmental challenges that have negatively affected traditional farming knowledge and practice, local populations have had to resort to various solutions to their individual challenges. In addition, changing agricultural conditions have influenced the introduction of new crops such as maize, sweet potato and cassava, which require cutting down the forest carbon sink in order to provide the required sunlight to crops, and tilling of beds which destroys the soil. In one way or another, these practices alter the entire landscape and expose the earth surface to direct sunlight, resulting in high water loss which in turn can lead to long-term drought, as well as exposing soil microbial organisms to intense sunlight, reducing their effectiveness or even killing them altogether.

These climate change-induced challenges have added to the challenges which already exist, making it almost impossible for some farmers to provide food for their families, much less make a surplus that can fetch the family some money to support their basic needs. In response, farmers have resorted to adopting some modern farming techniques and methods even when they are aware of the negative consequences that may result from it.

As an example, local farmers have adopted the use of chemical fertilizers, chemical weeding, and the use of pesticides and fungicides (to fight new and resistant pests and crop diseases) to improve their output. All of these practices affect the soil negatively in the long run. Moreover, the acquisition of these materials can put farmers in debt, which at times has been paid with their harvest—and yes, the poverty cycle continues.

In order to avert this situation, we are looking back to the traditional farming system to sort out those techniques and methods that can be revised, and which if properly applied will not only impact the environment or ecosystem positively but will also provide a year-round nutritional food supply—while at the same time fetching a sustainable income for the family. It is in that light that Global Hand is applying the Forest Garden Technique in individual farms within targeted communities around Mount Cameroon. We intend to expand this project to other areas and households. This will help farmers maintain the soil, provide high-value nutritional meals from their garden, and make more income than before from their excess harvest and other marketable products such as fruits, fodder, timber, non-timber forest products (NTFP) and compost.

Global Hand Cameroon recently participated in a multi-day event to mobilize and facilitate the opening and rehabilitation of hiking trails and eco-lodges in Mt. Cameroon National Park.  This activity was organized by Mt. Cameroon National Park with the support of local organizations and individuals who have a good mastery of the area.

Infrastructure development in the park ranges from improving the network of both footpaths and motorable roads, to the construction of eco-lodges and campsites with tent platforms.  All of this is to facilitate the stay of visitors within the park.

To recognize and celebrate World Soils Day on 5 December 2019, Global Hand Cameroon visited pupils at a local school to discuss soil protection and conservation.  Mindful of the fact that the parents of most of the students are farmers, we took time to educate the children on the importance of soil and the role of human influence on soil pollution and its resulting consequences.

Local farmers currently face serious environmental challenges in the form of prolonged and severe wet/dry seasons, strong winds, erosion and pests.  Because of this, many have resorted to the use of chemical weeding, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.  These non-traditional methods of farming have had negative effects on the soil as well as producing crops that rot faster and, in some cases, have an inferior flavor.

Our discussion with the school children focused on ways in which traditional farming methods could be modified without the use of chemicals to protect our soils and increase production, thus improving our lives.

Mr. Ferdinand Ikome Wonganya
Mr. Ferdinand Ikome Wonganya

Following our community education program during the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October 2019, we talked to some local community members, including Mr. Ferdinand Ikome Wonganya.

Ferdinand is a good example of someone who has overcome poverty by finding new and better opportunities right in his own community.  He was once a hunter because his parents did not have the opportunity to go to school, likewise himself.  As a hunter at a very young age, he would spend three to four days in the bush without a kill.  Today, however, he is a tour guide with an income of at least XAF 30000 (45€ / $50) for every three-day trip on Mount Cameroon.  With this income, he has been able to send his children to school and provide for their basic needs and amenities.

In sum, Ferdinand testifies that life is much better now that he is working in the conservation field.  Not only does he make more income than before, but working as a guide is less strenuous than work as a hunter.  Ferdinand advises other hunters to work in sustainable natural resource fields such as ecotourism and modern beekeeping rather than hunting to eradicate poverty in their families and communities.  In this way, our children will have a better life.

As part of our ongoing work to promote alternatives to the old, unsustainable practices of hunting wildlife and wild honey, it was natural to identify ecotourism and modern beekeeping as positive alternative activities.  Not only do these activities benefit the environment and ecosystem at large, but they generally provide a more reliable source of income.

However, in light of the recent socio-political situation in Cameroon, we have seen the need to diversify income generating activities and improve marketing strategies.  Global Hand Cameroon thus recently participated in a three-week training course, learning to produce mead (also called honey wine) from local honey.  This new endeavor will allow local beekeepers to add value to honey production, as well as create a new job market for individuals to produce and sell the mead.

On 18 November 2019, Global Hand Cameroon organized an “on-the-farm” training session on modern beekeeping and colony management practices.  Local residents attending the training included honey hunters, farmers, traditional beekeepers and tourism porters and guides.  Educational topics included the importance of melliferous and medicinal plants, fruit trees and other flowering crops that provide nectar for bees.  This is just one of many ways we are attempting to integrate tree planting, restoration of forest cover and expansion of the carbon sink in a way that is more profitable not only to the local people, but also to the entire ecosystem.