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‘Permaculture the African Way’ in Cameroon’s Only Eco-Village

Scene from Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village in Bafut in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, the country’s first and only eco-village which is based on the principle that the answer to food insecurity lies in sustainable and organic methods of farming. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

YAOUNDE, Aug 2 2015 (IPS) - Marking a shift away from the growing trend of abandoning sustainable life styles and drifting from traditional customs and routines, Joshua Konkankoh is a Cameroonian farmer with a vision – that the answer to food insecurity lies in sustainable and organic methods of farming.

Konkankoh, who left a job with the government to pursue that vision, founded Better World Cameroon, which works to develop local sustainable agricultural strategies that utilise indigenous knowledge systems for mitigating food crises and extreme poverty, and is now running Cameroon’s first and only eco-village – the Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village in Bafut in Cameroon’s Northwest Region.

“Biodiversity was protected by traditional beliefs. Felling of some trees and killing of certain animal species in certain forests were prohibited. They were protected by gods and ancestors. We want to protect such heritage” – Joshua Konkankoh
Talking with IPS, Konkankoh explained how the eco-village organically fertilises soil through the planting and pruning of nitrogen-fixing trees planted on farms where mixed cropping is practised. When the trees mature, the middles are cut out and the leaves used as compost. The trees are then left to regenerate and the same procedure is repeated the following season.

“Here we train youths and farmers on permanent agriculture or permaculture,” he said. “I call it ‘permaculture the African way’ because the concept was coined by scientists and we are adapting it to our old ways of farming and protecting the environment.”

While government is keeping its distance from the project, Konkankoh said that local councils and traditional rulers are encouraging people to embrace the initiative, which is said to be ecologically, socially, economically and spiritually friendly.

“I was active during the U.N. Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. In studying the reason why many countries failed to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we realised that there were some gaps but we also found out that permaculture was a solution to sustainability, especially in Africa. So I felt we could contextualize the concept – think globally and act locally.”

The permaculture used at the eco-village makes maximum use of limited agricultural land, and villagers are taught how to plant more than one crop on the same piece of land, use a common organic fertiliser and obtain high yields.

Farmers, said Konkankoh, are encouraged to trade and not seek aid, to benefit from their investment and prevent middlemen and multinationals from scooping up a large share of their earnings. The organic agriculture practised and taught in the eco-village is a blend of culture and fair trade initiatives.

Joshua Konkankoh, founder of Cameroon’s first and only eco-village, shows off some nitrogen-fixing trees. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

Joshua Konkankoh, founder of Cameroon’s first and only eco-village, shows off some nitrogen-fixing trees. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

“We encourage rural farmers to guarantee food sovereignty by producing what they also consume directly and not cash crops like cocoa and coffee.”

Farmers are trained in the importance of manure, of producing it and selling it to other farmers, as well in innovative techniques of erosion control, water management, windbreaks, inter-cropping and food foresting.

Konkankoh also told IPS that it was a mistake to have left the spiritual principle out of the MDG programme. “Biodiversity was protected by traditional beliefs.  Felling of some trees and killing of certain animal species in certain forests were prohibited. They were protected by gods and ancestors. We want to protect such heritage.”

The eco-village has started a project to replant spiritual forests with 4,000 medicinal and fruit trees in a bid to reduce CO2 emissions.

Fon Abumbi II, traditional ruler of Bafut, the village which hosts the Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village, believes that the type of cultivation of fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants used by the eco-village will improve the health of local people.

He is also convinced that with many firms around the world producing health care products with natural herbs, the demand for the products of the eco-village is high, guaranteeing a promising future for the villagers who cultivate them.

Houses in the eco-village are constructed with local materials such as earth bags and mud bricks, and grass for the roofs. Domestic appliances such as ovens and stoves are earthen and homemade.

Sonita Mbah Neh, project administrator at eco-village’s demonstration centre, said that the earthen stoves bit not only reduce the impact of climate change by minimising the use of wood for combustion but the local women who make then also earn a living by selling them.

Lanci Abel, mayor of the Bafut municipality, told IPS that his council is mobilising citizens to embrace permaculture. “You know, when an idea is new, people only embrace it when it is recommended by authorities. We are carrying out communication and sensitisation of the population to return to traditional methods of farming as taught at the eco-village.”

Abel also had something to say about the performance of genetically modified plantain seedlings planted by the Ministry of Agriculture at the start of the 2015 farming season in Cameroon’s Southwest Region, which recorded a miserable 30 percent yield.

The issue had been raised by Mbanya Bolevie, a member of parliament from the region who asked Minister of Agriculture Essimi Menye about the failure of the modern seeds during the June session of parliament.

Julbert Konango, Littoral Regional Delegate for the Chamber of Agriculture, said the failure was due the fact that seeds are often old because “there is inadequate finance for agricultural research organisations in Cameroon as well as a shortage of engineers in the sector,” a sign that the country not fully prepared for second-generation agriculture.

Commenting on the incident, Abel said that citizens using natural seeds and compost would not have faced these problems, adding that “besides the possibility of failure of chemical fertilisers, they also pollute the soil.”

The eco-village, which would like to become a model for Cameroon and West Africa, is a member of the Global Ecovillage Network.

Edited by Phil Harris   

 
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  • Joshua Konkankoh

    Farming for Bafut is not merely an activity that generates income but rather is a way of life which strengthens identity,communal action and resilience. The vision of Bafut Ecovillage is to revive traditional indigenous farming techniques, connect younger generations to their roots and promote healthy and sustainable lifestyles in Africa and beyond.

  • wordscanhelp

    Instead of slick organisations like AGRA and the new Alliance of a Green Africa, pushing for foreign monocrop farming and sneaking in GMO’s, models like this (there are others for other climates in Africa, and for demographics such as women smallholders) should be the basic farming footprint in Africa. This keeps people out of city slums (which are the worst outcome for women and girls), gives them some extra to send kids to school, and keeps engaging and reforming traditional culture.

    The Big Ag commodification of African agriculture, being touted as the ‘saviour” is the worst model, it is top-down, riddled with corruption, pushes people off their land,(and even if the big companies fail, as had happened, the original people never get their land back – government people and elites grab it). Research shows that the presence of foreign corporations is the biggest enabler of African elites to loot their countries and send billions abroad. They both set up various levels of front companies etc.

  • Roy Barrett

    From what I have read and seen of the practices of ‘Big Ag’ / ‘Industrial Agriculture’ I have to agree that it is ultimately destructive of agricultural soils and communities.

  • http://www.ranchodelicioso.com Rancho Delicioso

    The more the idea of permaculture will spread all around the world, the more people will aware of taking care of nature by working with it not against it. This discipline can help us develop a sustainable community. There are many eco villages that offers permaculture projects where we can work as a volunteer and help them with our talent as well as learn something valuable from them.

    Rancho Delicioso Eco Village
    RANCHODELICIOSO.com

  • http://maravi.blogspot.com/ MrK001

    I sincerely doubt that Cameroon isn’t full of eco villages. Check out this documentary on a very old permaculture system near Kissidougou, Guinea. There are similar articles on Nigeria, all of the West African region. The people take savannah, plant trees, burn the grass and residue, plant crops, graze it, then let the forest grow up, cut it down for new fields, ad infinitum. Check it out, because again, Africa leads the way:

    (YOUTUBE, STEPS) Second Nature

    There would not normally be forests where they are now. However of course, the colonials to this day interpret this as evidence of a missing and ‘destroyed’ rainforest. However Melissa Leach and James Fairhead have pieced together the fact that over time, when people move out, the forest disappears, and where they move in, the forest expands. Putting on it’s head the racist colonial notion that Africans were slowly destroying the rainforest. Carbon sequestration and wealth creation, aided by population growth. Think about that.

    See for yourself.