Improved soil management practices and better farming habits are putting smiles on the faces of women in Bafut, a community located about 400 kilometers (240 miles) from Cameroon’s capital Yaounde.
These innovations all fall within the field of “permaculture,” a system of sustainable agriculture and design principles aimed at creating a more ecological relationship with the environment.
The innovation was brought to the women by Joshua Kankonko, who grew up in the area. Women say they are experiencing better harvests and putting more money in their pockets as a result.
Kankonko is the developer behind an eco-village built using only local materials. Farmers in the village have implemented permaculture practices aimed to benefit residents through better management of soil and environmental resources. Simple practices such as composting and erosion control are helping to increase yields.
“This is the way our parents used to farm. All the kitchen waste was thrown behind the house where the vegetables were harvested. Everything that we produce, we get from the environment then we give it back to the environment,” Kankonko said.
Small plots, big yields
Pressures on scarce fertile lands in Cameroon’s northwest have historically fueled tribal conflicts. Permaculture sets out to replenish the soil and maximize yields on relatively small plots thereby limiting the need for conflict.
According to Project Coordinator Sonita Mdah Neh, one of the best ways to do this is through natural and mechanical erosion control. Natural erosion control uses plans to hold the soil and moisture together.
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“Natural erosion control is done with vertiva grass. We can also use pineapple, so we use what we call a plant family meaning that you put two plants together and they form a web. When they form a web, they hold the soil and water together,” said Mbah Neh.
Mechanical soil control means that local, natural materials like bamboo and other woods are used to create barriers.
The project also stresses the use of organic fertilizers and the use of different plants and practices to maintain or even boost the amount of nutrients in the soil.
“A lot happens in the soil which we don’t see. There are a lot of interactions between soil organisms,” she said.
The system is already working. Farmer Justina Lum hails the system. She says within two years her yields have doubled. She says even at home she switched to using traditional cooking methods.
“Smoke is channeled through a chimney and therefore our eyes are not exposed to smoke. Besides, it uses less wood and is not costly to build,” said Lum.
Kankonko remembers his mother who used compost manure to fertilize her crops. As a student in the University of Yaounde, he was already making a living from township gardening. After leaving university, he decided to bring his experience home to his Bafut community.
Kankonko notes that the entire experiment has been a success story, not only improving family incomes, but also restoring the natural environment that continues to suffer from irresponsible use.
But the sustainability of the system will depend largely on youth involvement. Kankonko complains that many youths do not think there is a future in agriculture but instead leave to pursue white-collar jobs in the cities.
This article was originally published by DW in August, 2015.