Advancing innovation for food production in Cameroon

Eveline (black top) conducting field practice with one of her trainees.

Agriculture plays a significant role in economic growth and poverty reduction in Cameroon. Recent World Bank estimates suggest that the agricultural sector employs almost 60% of the economically active population and contributes more than half of the country’s non-oil export revenues, valued at about 4 billion AUD, as at September 2017. As such, the government of the day has continued investing heavily in agricultural productivity in line with 2003 Poverty Reduction Paper, recognizing that this investment would not only play a pivotal role in reducing poverty but also in sustaining the growth of the economy and achieving food security.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Cameroon is advancing agricultural productivity through various strategies including offering free seeds to farmers, availing modern farming equipment and financing agricultural research. Their investment in agricultural research involves a wide range of crops including root and tuber crops, legumes, cereals and fruit trees.

Alumna Eveline Ngumbi Epse Alombah is an Agricultural Engineer, working under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and currently serving as a lecturer and the head of the crop production department in the Regional College of Agriculture (RCA) Bambili. Eveline is coordinating a project that has established demonstration and learning farms at RCA. She was part of the first cohort of the Increasing the Development Impact of Agricultural Research (IDIAR) short course delivered in November 2015 by the University of Sydney in partnership with University of Nairobi.

The initiative that Eveline is leading at RCA, is part of the ProCISA (Green Innovation Center in the Agri-food Sector), project aimed at creating a ‘world without hunger’ and reducing poverty by improving the income of smallholder farmers. It achieves this by creating employment and regional food supply through agricultural and agri-food innovation in cocoa, solanum potato and poultry value chains. The initiative aligns to Eveline’s Reintegration Action Plan aimed at improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers engaged in vegetable production.

RCA has set up green innovation centres in the solanum potato value chain in Boyo, Ngoketunjia, Bui and Donga Mantung Divisions of the North-West Region of Cameroon. Other activities also include the identification of potato producers through farmer cooperatives, the sensitisation and training of farmers on farming innovations, the setting up of learning farms for rural farmers and the coordination of meetings to evaluate activities on the field.

“Smallholder farmers, who are the main food producers in Cameroon, continue to languish in poverty because they farm for subsistence rather than business. Given that the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is promoting root and tuber crops like the solanum potato, we believe that our project will continue to give good results in potato cultivation as farmers adopt innovations such as cropping techniques, irrigation, and mechanization. In return, this will guarantee food security and development” says Eveline. Investing in root and potato tubers is critical because they are major components in traditional diets in African homes. In addition, root and potato tubers easily adapt to diverse soil and environmental conditions, various farming systems, and they are an efficient source of edible carbohydrates, compared to other food crops.

As part of her role, Eveline also coordinates and supervises the activities of other trainers who are in-charge of facilitating the sessions, and establishing the learning farms. The five-year project, which started in April 2017, has reached 558 women, 433 men and 355 youth, who have received training on the technical make-up of potatoes and tested the new varieties (Jelly and Sevim) on group learning farms. So far, close to 500 farmers have transferred what they learnt, through the project, to their farms. Those who have already applied the new techniques testify that their yields have increased from 5 tonnes to about 8 tonnes per hectare.

Eveline pays a glowing tribute to the skills gained during her award, noting that the IDIAR short course helped her appreciate the participatory training approach used in facilitation. “I have effectively implemented the participatory approach when facilitating training for agro-pastoral entrepreneurs in Cameroon. Moreover, using the adult learning tools that I acquired during the award, has made the training more interesting. The leadership skills gained through the award have also helped me lead and train the groups of farmers who have adopted various innovations successfully.”

Owing to acceptance and implementation of new ideas and farming methods, agriculture in Cameroon is poised to continue growing the economy steadily, while at the same time creating more disposable income for smallholder farmers.

Eveline is a member of the Australia Awards Women in Leadership Network (WILN). The network is made up of over 350 female award Alumni who focus on leading change in their various spheres of influence, throughout the continent. For more information on the network, click here.

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