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AGRICULTURE: Cultivating Rural Prosperity in Cameroon

Tamfu Hanson

YAOUNDE, Aug 4 2009 (IPS) - Emilie Nyate has a two million CFA smile on her face these days. She’s one of the beneficiaries of the Roots and Tubers Market- Oriented Programme, known better by its French acronym of PNDRT, which is transforming the lives of small-scale farmers in Cameroon.

Over five years, the PNDRT programme claims to have raised production of cassava from 8-10 tons per hectare to 25- 30 tons per hectare. Credit:  Tamfu Hanson/IPS

Over five years, the PNDRT programme claims to have raised production of cassava from 8-10 tons per hectare to 25- 30 tons per hectare. Credit: Tamfu Hanson/IPS

Launched in September 2004, the PNDRT is a joint programme of the Cameroon government and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Its main objective is to boost farmer incomes through increased production, better access to markets, organising cooperation amongst farmers, and improving rural infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

More than 550 hectares have been set aside to produce improved seeds and cuttings for distribution to farmers at subsidised rates: farmers in 221 villages have received 5.5 million improved cassava cuttings from by PNDRT.

In 2004, Emilie Nyate was typical of women in the village of Ngam – living with her husband and six children in their four- roomed house. Her husband had lost his job as fire fighter with the now-defunct Cameroon Airlines Company, in the IMF-imposed privatisation schemes of the 1990s, and the family fortunes had declined steadily since then.

Paul Nyate offered me a wooden chair before disappearing behind the house. He soon reappeared with some fresh palm wine, as Emilie tells me the life before the PNDRT.

What to do with all that cassava?

Cassava is widely eaten across the West and Central African sub-regions

Garri: grated, dried and fried into a course flour that can be eaten in many forms. Soak in cold water and eat with sugar and roasted peanuts, or add hot water and stir to a thick consistency to eat with spicy vegetable soup.

Water fufu: grind cassava into a finer flour for a markedly different consistency when mixed with hot water.

Miondo: mix fine-ground cassava flour with cold water, and wrap the resulting paste in plantain leaves and steam. Delicious with roasted fish

“I used to make 200,000 CFA ($400) a year, but today I can boost of 2,000,000 CFA in my account,” she says. She points proudly to a new bungalow under construction and other innovations on their old house as signs of her farming success.

Later, showing me round her cassava farm, Nyate describes how using high-yielding, fast-maturing cassava cuttings, she increased the planted acreage of her farmland from one hectare to five hectares.

The PNDRT stresses women’s participation in the programme and she has seized the opportunity with both hands. Her husband generously allowed her access to his share of the village land, and working along with her two sons, a brother-in-law and her husband, she quickly accumulated experience, becoming one of the village’s largest producers of cassava.

Her skills have not gone unrecognised: she is president of the local coordination committee and PNDRT secretary general for the whole district. “I am sometimes hired by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and other groups as a trainer in workshops for women groups involved in roots and tuber cultivation.

“I am highly respected today because of my role in cassava business. I sponsor all my children in school – two of them at the university level,” she stresses proudly.

Nyate’s story is a shining example of the impact of this programme on its 7,500 beneficiaries.

PNDRT has significantly boosted the production of cassava and other crops in the regions where it is active. Ninety-three percent of the programme is dominated by cassava; a root crop which is benefiting spectacularly as a result of intensive research. Cassava grows very well in almost all regions of Cameroon due to the many improved varieties and adaptation to many soil types.

The PNDRT Programme has organised previously-isolated farmers into Village Coordination Committees (CVCs). The 250 CVCs are involved in the construction and management of rural infrastructure such as markets, bridges and road maintenance, all financed by the programme.

“It was necessary to discourage individualism and inculcate a spirit of enterprise through training,” says Benjamin Bidjoh, the South Cameroon Regional Coordinator of PNDRT which has some 50 CVCs. This region borders Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, where farmers have found an expanding market for cassava in all its forms.

“I think we have concretely translated into practice the spirit behind PNDRT – that of organising and facilitating life for farmers through the creation of infrastructure and outreaching for marketing of produce,” he concludes.

In addition to cassava, potatoes are also doing quite well under the PNDRT project.

In the western region of Cameroon, many farmers have virtually abandoned other crops to concentrate on potato production according Gilbert Focachouet, the traditional ruler of Latchouet village.

“Gabonese traders come right to this village to buy potatoes and that is what gives us the inspiration,” Focachouet told IPS by phone. He says potato cultivation has been transformed from a subsistence activity to mass production, thanks to improved seeds and the use of pesticides.

“Before the arrival of PNDRT, we used to plant potatoes in smaller quantities and side by side with other crops but today we plant hectares of potatoes only,” says Tsakeu Daniel, a potato seed producer in Latchouet village.

“From 2005-2009, we have attained 40 percent of our targeted objectives in terms of the activities: production, transformation, capacity building”, says Ngue Thomas Bissa, the National Coordinator of the PNDRT. “I think we have sufficiently laid the base. By 2012 when the programme is expected to end we should have covered the remaining 60 percent,” he adds.

According to Ngue, the execution of the project has radically improved production of cassava from 8-10 tons per hectare to 25- 30 tons per hectare today. “Increased production has provoked other needs. We have constructed two warehouses for cassava at the cost 17 million FCFA (34,000 dollars) and five drying facilities for those producing cassava pellets for eventual processing into flour.”

On the whole, the PNDRT will be producing about 24,000 tons of cassava in 2009. “This year, our objective is to put 800 hectares improved cuttings at the disposal of farmers for this programme which is impacting 250 of Cameroon’s approximately 6000 villages,” concludes Lydie Ngiumbous, the programme’s evaluation expert.

In the process broadening the smiles – and confidence – of women like Emilie Nyate.

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