Empowering farmers with knowledge and skills changes lives
To visit with Cameroonian farmer Louis-Marie Atangana is to witness first hand how farmers’ empowerment with knowledge and skills can change lives and landscapes.
Until 4 years ago Atangana, 45, was a cassava farmer struggling to feed his family of 14 children. But in 2010 he and several members from his village self-help group decided to join an agroforestry training offered by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)-Cameroon, through a Rural Resource Centre. He has had three such trainings to date, dealing with different aspects of tree nursery establishment and management.
He has put the knowledge and skills gained to good use, establishing a tree nursery next to his house soon after his first training. Atangana’s home nursery in Nkenlikok village, deep inside the forest zone that surrounds Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital city, is now serving his community’s needs for accessible and affordable good quality tree seedlings.
Over 300 healthy seedlings of traditionally important food tree species with high market value are thriving in his nursery; safou (Dacryodes edulis), bitter cola (Garcina kola), bush mango (Irvingia gabonensis), njansang (Ricinodendron heudelotii), and allanblackia (Allanblackia spp.) seedling lots stand side by side. He has grafted many of the trees, using the techniques he learned at the trainings. There are also seedlings of several popular, high-value timber species. The nursery floor is swept clean, and every group of seedlings is labelled, so farmers can browse the nursery before selecting the seedlings to buy.
Atangana has raised all these the seedlings from seeds, cuttings, wildings or marcottes. With two non-mist propagators—humid chambers where tree cuttings develop roots—and a giant propagator to help young plants acclimatize until they can be grown in the open or under shade, he is assured of high survival rates for all his seedlings.
Early fruiting is one of the main benefits of seedlings developed through vegetative propagation (using branches, cuttings, or vines); another important advantage is that the seedlings produced are identical to the ‘mother tree’— the origin of the cutting. As such, it is possible to select mother trees with attributes like large, tasty fruits or kernels with high oil content, and multiply them. Farmers can even grow trees with fruit or nut attributes that various processing industries want.
So far Atangana has added about 75 trees of improved varieties of cocoa, safou and njansang to his farm. Three years on, some of these new trees have started to produce marketable fruits, bringing welcome income.
From the sale of seedlings from his nursery and fruits from his agroforestry farm, Atangana’s fortunes have changed. He is comfortably educating his children and taking care of his ageing mother’s medical bills, in addition to meeting his normal household expenses.
“The training from ICRAF has changed my life. I enjoy this work. I am leaning everyday and I have made many new friends. I make a point of visiting ICRAF’s tree nursery in Nkolbisson at least once a month – the people there support me and there’s always something new to talk about,” he says.
Atangana now supports farmers in his area with tips on tree management for better yields, supported by ICRAF-Cameroon.
According to Zac Tchoundjeu, Regional Coordinator for ICRAF-West and Central Africa, training farmers in the use of vegetative multiplication techniques to produce seedlings directly contributes to raising rural people’s incomes and livelihoods.
“We have been able to roll back poverty in many families. These fruits have a high demand on both local and international markets, and having farmers who can produce their seedlings within communities is the essential,” says Tchoundjeu, whose work on participatory Tree Diversity, Domestication and Delivery won the Equator prize.
Integrating useful trees on farms, furthermore, helps meet pressing sustainable development goals such as producing enough nutritious food for all people; curbing deforestation and land degradation; improving soil fertility; and intensifying food production on the same amount agricultural land.
A recent European Commission/IFAD-funded study by ICRAF and partners in Kenya found that if sets of fruit trees species with different harvest times are cultivated on farms, a year-round supply of products for consumption and sale can be assured.
Skilled, enthusiastic tree nursery owners and farmers like Louis-Marie Atangana are front and centre of the effort to put more useful trees on farms.
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