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The 2017 edition of the world environment day celebrated on the 5th of June under the theme “Connecting People to Nature” amidst a lot of pump and pageantry. Celebrated under the auspices of the Governor of the North West Region, activities were coordinated by the regional delegate of Environment, protection of nature and sustainable development (MINEPDED) for the North West. With active participation of Sustainable Run for Development (SURUDEV), weeklong activities took the team comprising other active NGOs in the North West Region to the Abongphen Forest in the Tubah highlands where some over 500 trees were planted on some five threatened water catchments. Trees planted included Newtonia cameroonensis and Prunus africana. The second activity included a football tournament jointly organized by SURUDEV, The Regional delegation of MINEPDED for the North West region and other active organizations in the North West region of Cameroon. The tournament dubbed “Football for nature” with four teams in participation. Among these teams was the Chimpanzee FC of the forest comprising of the “Mbororo” pastoralists and other forest dwellers of Abongphen. The trophy was won by the Chimpanzee team composed of organizations from the Bamenda metropolis while the chimpanzee FC was the first runner up.

Prizes offered by SURUDEV comprised of a trophy and a cash prize of 10,000Frs CFA, Environmental books, Environmental leaflets, posters, T-Shits and other environmental valuables to the first best teams , the best player, the best goal score and the most disciplined player. These prizes were handed in the presence of the Governor of the North West Region, The Regional Delegate of MINEPDED, and other stakeholders

Many other activities which took place in the conference room of the delegation of MINEPDED for the North West included talks on the radio (CRTV Bamenda, Radio Hot Cocoa and Radio Sky Spots), an environmental quiz for pupils, students and students of universities around the North West Region. Six of over some 25 participants carried the day and went home with cash prizes. As usual SURUDEV stood tall during exhibition on the D-Day as she exhibited the best stand. SURUDEV exhibited Mushroom products from the COSMUF farms, Posters and activities of SURUDEV to the general public.pic 1

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The sun flits in and out of the clouds, illuminating the hill that surrounds the Bongom village. Their emerald green colour is so resplendent and bright that it almost hurts your eyes. But the village was not as beautiful as it seems now. Just 5 years ago, the agriculture lands of the village were barren and degraded. Farming was not considered as a viable source of income among the communities. But, gradually, things are changing now. The farmers are practicing agriculture which is eco-friendly, harvesting nutritious food and supplementing their household income. The land has once again started feeding its own people.

 

Maimo Winfred is a woman farmer of the Bongom village – she says “We used to grow a range of crops in our land and the yield was bountiful quite sufficient to meet our household’s food requirement and the surplus items were sold at the local market for income generation. But, now things have been changing very fast. The soil is no longer fertile. Yield has been irregular and less, not even sufficient to meet our household needs”.

Similarly, Lilian Beri another farmer of the village says “Before there was no such major investment in agriculture. We used to utilise locally available resources like indigenous seeds, farm yard manures and organic insecticides, pesticides to protect our crops from pest attack and infestations. But, now we have become dependent on purchasing external farm inputs like chemical fertilisers and insecticides. This has increased the cost of agriculture production and at the same time the harvest is also not regular”. “These were some of the desperate view points shared by the farmers during our initial discourse with the communities”, says Kari Jackson, Executive Director of SURUDEV.

Bongom village is located in the North-West highlands of Bamenda, Cameroon. The village has a population of around 3,000 people who mainly depends on subsistence agriculture for their livelihood. Due to the persistence practice of slash and burn cultivation the agricultural lands over the years have been degraded with increasing soil erosion. The extensive application of chemical fertilisers by the farmers has also contributed to decreasing yield and making the soil much harder than never before. The farmer’s community of the entire region complains about erratic and less yield. All these factors have severely jeopardised the livelihood of the community and aggravated the issues of food and nutritional security.

 

 

SURUDEV a NGO based at Bamenda is committed to the sustainable development of the marginalised communities and has been working in the Bongom village for the last 4 years. Jackson says, “We firmly believes that the poor economic condition of the community of Bongom can be improved by organising participatory training programmes on sustainable and integrated agriculture. We felt an urgent need to promote organic household based vegetable gardens to address food and nutrition security. Thanks to the support of The Pollination Project, USA, today, around 30 widows and 10 unemployed youths has been successfully cultivating their organic home vegetable gardens and regularly generating income to sustain their livelihood. Remarkably, the model has become an eye opener for several other farmers and youths of the village and they are seeing a ray of hope in farming as a sustainable livelihood option. One can see the growing importance of organic agriculture among the communities, and the impacts of this are even more visible in the farmlands and the diverse food plates of the community”.

 

The initial task was to educate and raise awareness in the farming communities on the adverse impacts of shifting cultivation and indiscriminate use of chemical inputs. Jackson continues “We gave much emphasis on promoting the concept of “learning by doing” and therefore SURUDEV has organised numerous field trainings on a common bio-demonstration plot of 4 hectares where the farmers took active participation in learning various methods and techniques of land management, soil conservation, organic manure and insecticides preparation process, inter-cropping and mixed-cropping, ect.More or less, this bio-demonstration farm has become a result demonstration for the farmers and thereby played a critical role in translating the concept into action”.

 

However, it was not easy to establish food crops on soils whose fertility had been depleted by the years of slash and burn cultivation practiced for generations. Much of the soil in and around Bongom was degraded and depleted of nutrient and biota. The most important strategy for managing this degraded soil and bringing back the soil biota was to build up nutritious top soil using composted chicken manure, plant-derived compost and mulch. SURUDEV encouraged farmers to add lime to the soil, which increased the soil pH and reduced aluminium toxicity, while providing the calcium that plants needed.  Improving the soil was the first step for farmers to bring back the biodiverse farms they had left behind.

 

To complement their traditional knowledge in establishing small-scale vegetable gardens and food production systems, several demonstrations were given based on different composting methods and small farm methods on modern scientific principles. These methods included small plot home gardening, micro-gardens, raised beds, agroforestry, and integrated farming with livestock. Broadening local indigenous knowledge on soil management and food production by incorporating scientific knowledge was essential given the physical and chemical properties of the soil in Bongom. Much emphasis was placed on synthesising traditional knowledge and modern science.

To counter the existing mono-cropping system of agriculture, SURUDEV initiated a vibrant campaign on reviving traditional inter-cropping and mixed-cropping among the farmers. Some of these cropping patterns are; cereal-legume, particularly maize-cowpea, maize-soybean, maize-pigeonpea, maize-groundnuts, maize-beans, sorghum-cowpea, millets-groundnuts, rice-pulses, while intercropping of water melon with beans, okra, carrot, cabbage, cucumber, garlic, onion also yielded bumper harvest.

Take for the instance of cowpea which is extremely drought resistant and adapted to poor soil, making it a useful staple crop for farmers in areas that face increasingly water scarcity and hot temperatures due to rapid climate change. Perhaps for this reason alone, it is understandable that cowpea is the second most widely grown legume in Africa. Mungwa Victor a farmers says “We eat cowpea at different stages throughout its development and forms the basis of our wide variety of meals. The leaves and young pods are eaten like vegetables, and seed are consumed as a side dish or made into sauces or dry grain. Seeds are also ground into flour that can be pressed into puddings, porridges, and soups. During very dry years, when animal feedstocks are low, the stems and leaves of cowpea are used to feed our livestock. The stems and leaves can also be dried and stored for the off-season when fodder for livestock is scarce”.

In addition to being a healthy option for the people who cultivate and eat it, the cowpea is beneficial to the soil in which it grows. The plant deep tap root – the part that makes it so tolerant to dry growing conditions and helps to stabilise the soil, while its shade and dense cover help preserve moisture. Like all legumes, cowpea fixes nitrogen in the soil, making the locations where it grows more hospitable to other vegetable and staple crops. An annual crop, the cowpea bears seeds that remain for several years, and farmers are now intercropping it with maize, cassava, groundnuts, sorghum, or pearl millet.

Farmers are also very delighted to cultivate okra with other crops as intercropping. In African context, okra has been called as “a perfect villager’s vegetable” because of its robust nature, dietary fibres and distinct seed protein balanced in both lysine and tryptophan amino acids. Farmers also used to dry it, make powder, store for long periods (unlike other perishable vegetables) and consume as soup/souse much like a staple food. Half a cup of the cooked pods (fresh) provides about 10 per cent of the recommended levels of vitamin B6, folic acid and vitamins A and C. The seed (usually consumed with pods) protein is distinct from cereals and legumes. On the degraded land, okra has proved to be an important rainfed crop. A common intercropping combination is maize-okra relay cropping followed by watermelon or bush greens and jute mallow or fodder crop sweet potato.

The production of water melons in the bio-demonstration farms was outstanding. Farmers have successfully intercropped water melons with maize or sorghum, tomato, cabbage. From the nutritional point of view, the red and sweet watermelon flesh is an important source of carotenoids, including lycopene and β-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Further, water melon flesh is a rich source of citrulline, which can be metabolised to arginine. This amino acid is substrate for the synthesis of nitric oxide and it plays a role in cardiovascular and immune functions.

Similarly, the Bambara bean may have originated in Mali, but it is also popular in Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe. One reason the bean is growing popularity is because it is hardy plant, able to withstand high temperatures and dry conditions. The leguminous plant, in the same family as peanuts, produces seeds that taste partially similar between chickpea and haricot bean. “The seeds are boiled, canned, roasted, or fried, then ground and blended into many traditional dishes. When boiled, they are eaten as a snack, but they can also be added to stews and used to produce flour” shares Kifum Unity, a woman farmer. The Bambara bean is high in protein, particularly methionine, which makes the protein more complete compare to any other beans. In addition, the bean has the highest concentration of soluble fibres, a trait that has been shown to reduce heart disease and certain type of cancer. Jackson says, “Its high protein level makes the Bambara bean not only a low cost and dependable cash crop for subsistence farmers, but also a valuable weapon in the battle against hunger and food crisis across Africa”.

The initiative taken up in the bio-demonstration plot and individual home vegetable gardeners are completely owned and managed by the farming community, while SURUDEV has only provided the necessary training and facilitation support. The bio-demonstration farm has become a platform for the farmers to learn and share their experience on sustainable farming and many of them have been applying the successful models in their own home vegetable gardens and farmlands. Within a span of just 2 years, the impact of household based organic vegetable gardens has starting showing promising results.

Maimo is very happy with the result. She elatedly says “I have learned the process of making organic manure, insecticides and how and when to use it during the training programmes organised by SURUDEV in the bio-demonstration plot. We have cultivated several vegetables as mixed-cropping and inter-cropping in the bio-demonstration plot and used only organic manures like dried cow dung, and applied residues of previous harvest crops as mulching. The yield was really bumper. All the farmers including me were convinced that this model of agriculture can really work well in our land and we need to replicate the same method and process in our own farmlands. Today you can see in my land, there are several vegetable crops like cabbage, okra, onions, cucumber, carrots, pumpkin huckleberry, green beans, pepper, green pepper, water melons, and green spice”.

After several crop cycles, we noticed that traditional and science based knowledge, along with human ingenuity, had helped the communities to successfully re-establish biodiverse home gardens. Sustainable practices such as mulching the soil and agroforestry have increased the climate resilience of these small farmers. Today these home gardens have become sustainable food production systems containing mixture of traditional root, crops, fruits and vegetables” overwhelms Jackson.

Cultural and socio-economic factors have profoundly influenced crop diversity. Families engage in food production for subsistence, but these home gardens, multi-functional agro-ecosystems, are also important for social and cultural spaces where knowledge related to agricultural practices is transmitted. A return to home garden modelled on traditional systems hold particular cultural and social significance for the Bongom communities, as they have been able to re-establish the multi-faceted benefits that traditional agro-ecosystems have provided them with for millennia.

The model of bio-demonstrations and home vegetable gardens promoted by SURUDEV are well accepted by the communities because they build on their traditional practices. In addition, these interventions help communities achieve their short term needs of food security in urgent situation, while building a lasting and environmentally favourable solution. Jackson emphasises “We will continue to promote wide participation in sustainable food production and restoration of agrobiodiversity, of farmers and scientist working together. Our outreach and education efforts can be easily replicated in other locations of the West and Central Africa”.

However, even though home gardens provide advantages for smallholders, often they are seen as small and complicated for inclusion in development programmes. This requires appraising diverse and often location-specific economic, cultural and environmental conditions in traditional farming systems. Nevertheless, policy makers and advisors need to integrate home gardens into development programmes and provide training and promotion for such initiatives. Finding pragmatic ways to alleviate hunger, malnutrition and poverty does not always depend on new crop varieties that are bred in a laboratory. Instead, reigniting an interest in and a flavour for indigenous foods can significantly help improve nutrition, increase household incomes, reinforce agricultural biodiversity, and safeguard local cultures.

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SURUDEV’s 50,000 capacity tree nursery with Nkambe Council (Nkambe municipal Nursery Ptoject) sees light of day

The fruits of Cooperation between Sustainable Run for Development (SURUDEV) and the Nkambe council are beginning to bear. After signing an MOU with this municipality, a year later, SURUDEV has begun the giant nursery project. The project comes again a backdrop of acute water problems associated with precarious planting of economically very potential but environmentally unfriendly eucalyptus trees. The nursery site situated near the new magnificent Nkambe council chambers has already been constructed and seed beds are receiving seeds. The nursery has the capacity of producing 50,000 seedlings of environmentally friendly trees which will be planted in some eight very threatened water catchments in the municipality. Main deserted water catchments include nsahkop, njeimoh, njeimah, binshua, Bih, mbarkam just to name but few.

Main tree species in the nursery will include Acsia, Leucaena, Prunus (pygeum), Maesopsis, Vitex, Glyricidia, Cordia, Nutonia and Grevillea

This project that has just entered its initiation phase will cost some 50 million francs CFA worth some $90,000 for four years. From the fifth year, the project will become sustainable as we shall embark on seed collection. The species Grevillea robusta will be used in replacing some over 10,000 eucalyptuses planted around water catchments while the rest of the species will be planted on 8 main water catchments.

SURUDEV still believes in the magic of the beginning and in this regard, initiating this project means it must be successfully says the Executive Director Kari Jackson. He added that apart from making use of the expertise (Staff and some board members) at SURUDEV’s discretion, SURUDEV will also use the technical savoir-faire of the ministry of environment, protection of nature and Sustainable Development (MINEPDED) as well as the technical section of the Nkambe Council. We shall also carry out sensitization camps with the beneficiary communities about choice of tree planting with regards to the usefulness of the species cognizant of the site chosen for planting; educate extensive Fulani grazers on the need to conserve these water catchments though our main target is water catchment conservation. We also believe in mindset transformation for the realization of any environmental project especially in the Bamenda highlands.

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SURUDEV enhances community Development and climate change mitigation through tree planting One must have certainly heard of programs that aim at promoting the tree population in our environment and forests. Many species are fast disappearing and in a bit to curb the increase in deforestation activities of man in his environment, SURUDEV engages in tree planting exercises in schools and around water catchments and supporting forest projects in communities in Cameroon. Many trees need to be planted to help reduce the increasing release of toxic gases in our environment due to our daily activities and the use of machines mostly in towns and cities. This rampant increase of gases is not met by a corresponding increase in the number of trees or other activities to contain them. Many of our settlements today were once forests and man in the course of settlement aggressively cut down and even burn many of the trees to have building space, get timber for commercialization, get wood for furniture, cook food, keep himself warm to name but few. The wind of deforestation in the recent past blows across the world and even protected species in many of our protected forests still suffer this terror by unscrupulous individuals who have engage in trade in both timber and non- timber products. In spite of all the efforts done by SURUDEV on the field the mindsets of some individuals is yet to be transformed for the better. SURUDEV however continues her campaign for afforestation, reforestation, conservation of endangered flora and fauna strategizing via community engagement and the educating the population on the choice of trees, purposes for which the trees are planted and the sites for tree planting. Trees planted by SURUDEV serve as source of food, medicine, shelter to man and animals, fodder, landscaping the environment, supply of water (help water catchments to remain fresh and not dry up or be exposed to the sun), and slow down wind from causing disasters. Tress also degas the atmosphere by reducing the concentrated amounts of carbon dioxide due to recent activities and industrialization that lead to the emission of these gases to the atmosphere that affect biodiversity especially man negatively when he inhales the carbon dioxide. It is against this backdrop that SURUDEV enjoins everyone to engage in tree planting exercise to protect water, ensure food security and others. The planting of more trees enhances healthy breathing in the process of respiration because man will send out carbon dioxide and take in the oxygen released by these trees. Therefore, we sustain life when many tress are planted and it is a direct-indirect way of engaging in the environment protection battle from many fronts

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ABHIJIT MOHANTY an Indian Volunteer expresses Satisfaction Volunteering with SURUDEV

Since I have embarked my career in the development sector, I have had a keen interest and quite enthusiastic to work for the development of the indigenous communities - especially the African countries. I have started my professional career in Odisha State of India and have been involved in implementation of a range of development projects such as promoting climate smart agriculture, eco-village development, and women empowerment, elementary and adult education for the sustainable development of the ethnic communities.

In the course of my professional assignments, I have gain a rich array of experience and expertise which I intend to share with the likeminded organisations working in the countries where the magnitude of poverty is alarming. And in doing so, I will also be able to learn many new models of development promoted by the local organisations. Thus with these noble objectives, I have joined Sustainable Run for Development (SURUDEV), Bamenda, Cameroon. I sincerely owe my gratitude to Kari Jackson (Executive Director) for providing me such a great opportunity to work with his esteemed Organisation. I am very much excited that my dream of working in an African country finally turned true. Now I am at The Republic of Cameroon popularly known as the “miniature of Africa” due its rich diversity. I am speechless, elated and jubilant.

I will do my best for the overall organisational growth of SURUDEV. Hence, in consultation with Mr. Jackson, Mr. Tansi, (Prog. Coordinator) and members of the Board of SURUDEV, I have planned to make a 10 years Strategic Planning which will help to select the thematic areas where SURUDEV can work, how it can expand its present activities/initiatives, what will be the fundraising and resource mobilisation strategy and most importantly how the visibility of SURUDEV will become more prominent.

SURUDEV firmly believes in “working the talk, not talking the work”. This has also attracted and inspired me a lot. Based on my previous experience, I am very much eager to replicate the innovative models of development like the Eco-village, climate smart agriculture, farmer field school, Grain-Cum-Seed Bank, etc in the operational areas of SURUDEV. And I cannot wait the day when these models will be promoted here. I am also anxious on how the local communities will accept these models and replicate it successfully. I believe in team work. Hard works always yield results. Yes, we can do it.....

Though my official association with SURUDEV is for the 2 years initially, but I strongly believe that my relationship with SURUDEV and the communities for which it works will be strengthened over the years. No matter in which part of the world I will be after that. The seed of cooperation and mutual bond between SURUDEV and I, India and Cameroon has already sown. Sealing the deal with SURUDEV. Jay Hind. Amen.    

Abhijit Mohanty