Cameroon: Documenting the eru management project
The Centre for Nursery Development and Eru Propagation (CENDEP) was created in 1999 as a farmer group and legalized as a Common Initiative Group (CIG) on the 19th July 2000. Its mission is to assist and/or train local people in the domestication, sustainable production and marketing of Non Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) and agricultural products of economic importance and in the sustainable management of natural resources.
CENDEP’s activities cover principally the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon. In the NW Region our activities are indirectly aimed at addressing issues of climate change. This is through our Analogue Forestry programme, through which we are assisting local communities to establish permanent forests to buffer extreme weather events and also to act as carbon sinks.
The interest and participation of the local population is driven by their assurance on the water supply services of permanent forests. In the SW Region our activities are centred on the domestication and development of the value chain for eru. This is a perennial crop which starts to produce after 3-5 years, and then can be productive for 30-50 years. Value chain development activities are carried around the Mount Cameroon Region and in the buffer zone of the Korup National Park. Being a shade loving plant, eru domestication is promoted together with agroforestry. Sustainable agriculture and environmental education activities are carried out in the two regions.
CENDEP’s target groups include traditional rulers, local councils, Forest and Water Management Committees, farmers, pastoralists, women groups, youths and students. CENDEP also works with government services, especially the ministries in charge of agriculture and forestry.
"Conservation through cultivation"
Eru (Gnetum spp.) is a forest vegetable with high economic and social importance in the forest regions of Cameroon and the Central African sub region. This vegetable is very much liked. But local and regional demand has resulted in economic depletion of the product in the Western part of Cameroon that formerly supplied the international and local markets. So, harvesting pressure has now shifted to East Cameroon, where the product is still available in commercial quantities.
East Cameroon is now responsible for meeting the increased demand from the local, regional and international markets. This species is now seriously threatened by habitat loss, poor methods of harvesting (such as uprooting), and by the over-exploitation and destruction of useful trees that provide support to the plant.
Several studies show that this over-exploitation intensified after the economic crisis of the 1980s. NTFPs were considered to be used to offset the declining revenues from cocoa and coffee, but their over-exploitation was not expected.
The CENDEP project team adopted two approaches to tackle these problems, namely conservation and value chain development. The conservation approach adopted was that of “conservation through cultivation”.
The process adopted to accomplish this was that of building the capacity of the farmers on how to establish and manage their farms, as well as how to sustainably manage the wild stocks of the vegetable.
In terms of conservation, there has been success, especially in ex-situ conservation through the establishment of nurseries and pilot farms that now serve as sources of seed materials for seedling production.
A short documentation process
Interested in sharing the lessons learned with our work, the project co-ordinator developed guidelines for a documentation process on the basis of the manual “Learning from Experience”, and explained them to project staff during a monthly staff meeting at the head office. This occurred in September 2009.
The two field staff then went to the field where they organized meetings with project stakeholders in their respective working areas (eight villages). Participants at the meetings were mostly project beneficiaries (farmers, village authorities) and extension workers of the Ministry of Agriculture. The data collected was sent to the head office for analysis by the project co-ordinator.
Comprehensive data was simultaneously collected by project staff and an independent evaluator of the project through the administration of questionnaires to project beneficiaries (eru farmers & potential eru farmers, other development agencies, government services and private organizations) operating in project villages.
The data collection process took 20 days for a team of 4 persons. After a preliminary analysis, complementary information was gathered through focus group discussions. We used a few indicators for this analysis, such as the access to financial and human resources (extension support/financial support); the interest of participants in project activities, the number of organisations intervening in eru activities, the area of farmland under eru cultivation, the participation in farmers (and others) in group activities, etc.
A SWOT analysis was also carried out at various instances to assess the success and limits recorded in the implementation of the project. This was not always an easy process, and we sometimes experiences rowdiness in some of the meetings where we had to prioritise issues. This was basically a result of disagreements amongst participants - because of the different educational backgrounds of the participants they interpreted questions asked differently.
The participation of project staff in data collection for the independent evaluation was intentional: it was meant to reduce the cost of the documentation exercise. It was difficult to get other people to participate as they were committed to farm and other income activities. Those who were interested arrived late at meetings and finally the project staff were forced many times to go from house to house collecting information.
However, we meet a cross section of all the people we targeted for interviews, even if some came late to the meetings. The final report was produced by analyzing data from the project document (project proposal), the project progress and evaluation reports, as well as the monthly reports presented by our field staff. Writing the final report took us some 7 days, though this will certainly be more if we develop the document further.
We did not have many difficulties in writing the draft. A meeting was held and deadlines agreed upon. Drafts were circulated for comments by project staff. A minor constraint was that sometimes comments were delayed because field staff had no access to internet.
Our documentation efforts have helped identify some of the factors that have contributed to the success of our project. Among these, we can mention the fact that there is a growing demand for eru, as it constitutes one of the main dishes in most parties and restaurants within the national territory, and features conspicuously as a regular menu in several households, especially in the humid forest zone.
The techniques used to cultivate it are simple, and can easily be adopted and adpated by the rural opulation, at relatively low costs. Another positive aspect has been the consistent donor support which we had. Of particular interest to this project was the support of the US embassy, as they financed the first community-based eru seed multiplication and distribution farm.
The Netherlands Committee of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, NC-IUCN, financed the extension activities carried out in the Mount Cameroon Region. Equally important was the support of ICCO, which permitted the spread of this technology to the project area. At the same time, another positive factor has been the interest taken by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
We were also able to identify difficulties: the ability of the farmers to establish their individual farms depended on the capacity of the nurseries that supplied seedlings to group members. Only eight nurseries were established to serve over 255 farmers. The nurseries (propagators) in the communities had low capacity estimated at 600 seedlings per annum. This explains why needs in seedlings could not be entirely met at this production capacity.
This low production capacity coupled with slow growth rate of the vegetable dissuaded many willing farmers from joining he initiative. And although some local farmers had the technical capacity to produce seedlings, they did not have the entrepreneurial motivation to do so. They still believed that it is the role of an outsider to assist them in the production of seedlings. A contributing factor to this was the effect of some past projects that used incentives to encourage farmers to participate in project activities.
Because of over exploitation it was not possible to get viable material in the communities for seedling production. To collect suitable materials the farmers needed to trek for about a day in the forest. So material for the nurseries was supplied by the project from her demonstration farm. Because of long distances to the project area and the frequent bad roads, some of the material deteriorated along the way leading to poor results. This limited the number of seedlings that were raised in the group nurseries.
At the end of the project, CENDEP planned a specific exit strategy based on the understanding that donor support cannot continue indefinitely and that the departure of CENDEP should take place in such a way as not to jeopardize the work so far done. Our main objective is therefore to ensure the continuation of the eru chain activities, for which we are working in order to improve the abilities of project beneficiaries to act as eru domestication trainers; build the capacity of local farmers to embark on commercial seedling production; and also improve farm income.
This is our first attempt in documenting our project experiences and we are sharing the learning process with our project team involved in the promotion of Analog Forestry in the NW Region of Cameroon. We started it because we wanted to make our work available to other people. We also wanted to build the capacity of our staff in documentation (learning by doing) without necessarily stopping our activities in the field (distant learning).
By embarking on a documentation process of our project we were also hoping to get editorial advice from an organisation like ILEIA, as we have no resources to pay for this at the local level. Finally we think this could arouse donor interest for support in the implementation of our exit project. So we are using this document as a fundraising tool.
We strongly believe that it is useless to document an experience if the final product will stay in the shelves or computers in an office. We therefore plan to share the final result with donors, our field-based collaborating organisations, as well as with all the other individuals and institutions who show interest in our work. This is an important lobby tool for us and we are planning to make good use of it.
When the means become available we shall present it to other actors/stakeholders who may not have access to the internet. For instance, MINADER may buy our idea and go ahead with the training of local trainers to ensure proximity and long term support to eru farmers in the villages rather than contracting organisations that will provide one off interventions and then disappear.