To teach sustainable farming to the Baka (Pygmies) of Cameroon, to replace slash and burn, thus improving their lives and saving rainforests
Cradled in the heart of the African rainforest is one of the oldest and most sensitive musical cultures on the planet. This is home to the Baka Forest People, Pygmy hunter-gatherers, living in a world of natural sounds where to listen is to ensure survival. Over thousands of years their culture has become extraordinarily musical, song and dance permeate their lives for ritual, for fun, and to unite and create harmony within the group.
Baka children. Photo Martin Cradick
Their traditional lifestyle is being denied them as they are being forced out of their forest home to live in roadside villages. While they lived in the forest without outside interference they lived well on the bounty of the forest. Now they face extreme poverty, discrimination and exploitation, and are made ashamed of their forest traditions.
As well as being hunter-gatherers, the Baka have always also planted some crops. Now that they are being forced to settle in smaller and smaller areas their traditional “slash and burn” method of agriculture is no longer sustainable. Without their being able to move to new fields, allowing the forest to reclaim the old, the fragile soil soon loses its nutrients.
We have had great success with the Inga method (see below) in re-fertilising seriously degraded soil. We have done on farm comparisons of adjacent plots, sown and harvested at the same time with the same seed, with and without Inga. These have been on previously used, severely degraded land. Invariably the Inga plot produced a much greater yield, in one case 75 kg of maize from the Inga plot, compared to only 5 from the comparison plot. So the Inga method should be of great benefit to the Baka.
The Cameroon Inga Project plans to work with the Baka village of Lakabo near Abong Mbang (map below). Being both connected to populated cities by tarmac roads, and next to the Dja Reserve, the Baka have been living in this village for over 40 years. Old abandoned plantations have been taken over by bracken, poisoning the soil and denuding it of nutrients. Farming with Inga will rejuvenate this land and provide a sustainable future for the Baka.
In association with Global Music Exchange, the project will show local Baka how to farm using the Inga Alley Cropping method that we are pioneering. We will also invite Baka from other villages further afield to learn the techniques, including 2 Baka from Gbiné, the village where Global Music Exchange works, which is near Moloundou. They will travel to Lakabo to learn Inga Alley cropping techniques.
Our Cameroon partner, Gaston Bityo Delor will deliver the project. Rainforest Saver has worked with him for eight years. He is an expert in implementing Inga alley cropping, and has given three successful trainings to farmers and community leaders in Cameroon.
Gaston Bityo Delor
Rough map of Cameroon. People from the marked towns to the East and North of the Baka region have had trainings from Gaston.
He and his assistant and co-driver, Denis Amougou, will travel to Abong Mbang from Yaoundé (about 230 kilometres) and give three days training with slides and practical experience of planting out Inga seedlings, explaining how to do it, what the benefits are and what crops can be grown in an Inga alley (a great many). Additionally the growing of fruit trees can be included, as well as discussion of wider issues like climate change, the effect of deforestation on local and wider rainfall, and even some discussion of the adverse effects of excessive hunting in that animal populations help disperse rainforest tree seeds.
If we manage to raise enough money with the stretch goals Gaston will also give a second training at Mindourou.
FURTHER REASONS WHY THIS PROJECT IS NEEDED
Inga alley cropping will help the Baka, who are a very marginalised group and in need of help, both now and, once the Inga system is established, in the future as they will be able to expand it and benefit for many years to come without depending on further input from us. Furthermore, by introducing the Inga to the Baka in this new region of Cameroon we hope that it will disseminate widely to the surrounding community after good harvests are seen to have been obtained.
Baka carrying firewood from the forest. Inga alley cropping provides firewood as well as good crops. Photo Martin Cradick.
At the same time it will help to reduce the loss of rainforests. Unless the many different groups who currently live by slash and burn farming are provided with a sustainable alternative they have little choice but to slowly destroy the forests in order to survive. So teaching sustainable farming is essential to save the rainforests. We hear a lot about the roles of logging and palm oil and cattle ranching, etc. as destroyers of rainforests, and of course these play an increasingly big part, often by pushing the small slash and burn farmers off their land. But slash and burn farming is still very important, particularly in Africa.
Degradation of the environment can lead to the to loss of livelihoods, which in turn can lead to migration, and even to young men joining terrorist groups.
It is not easy to count how many small farmers there are in the tropics, but the best estimate would be about 250 million over all the tropical rainforest regions. It is clearly important to help them, for their sake and ours. Small farmers, though many not as small as the ones Rainforest Saver works with, produce as much as 70% of the world’s food.
Baka in the forest. Photo Martin Cradick
WHAT HAS BEEN ACHIEVED SO FAR
Rainforest Saver has projects in Cameroon, Honduras and Ecuador.
We work with local people and organisations. Our Cameroon partner, Gaston Bityo Delor, president of the Cameroon NGO Volunteer Serving Development (VSD) invited us to support his work in Cameroon, and the Baka invited him. We have worked in partnership with him for 8 years.
- A total of about 50 farmers have started Inga alley plots and a similar number have added Inga trees as shade and fertiliser to their cocoa plantations. A lot of cocoa production is by small farmers. Inga trees in these farms increase the yields substantially, thus benefitting the farmer and reducing the need to clear more forest. Our aim is however to persuade these farmers to also take up alley cropping so that they grow their basic food as well.
- Gaston has worked more intensively with 11 farmers with small plots. Comparison plots without Inga were planted beside these plots. Invariably the Inga plots yielded more, the best one producing 75 kg of maize compared to only 5 kg from the comparison plot. Clearly the land was degraded, and the Inga fertilised it. This demonstration is invaluable in convincing both the farmers and our supporters of the value of the Inga
- In 2016 Gaston trained 8 community leaders and 10 farmers in three training meetings to become competent promoters of the Inga system.These have trained several farmers in their regions, and are set to do much more. The trainings were much praised by the participants
- Gaston himself and some of his trainees have introduced the Inga to at least 8 Cameroon schools, both primary and secondary. More schools are due to be included soon. Parents are invited to see the Inga project at the schools, thus educating them as well as the next generation.
These numbers may not look large, but it is inevitable that this work proceeds slowly for the earlier years. Most farmers are sceptical – what, plant trees to grow crops?! Most will only try it after seeing the more enterprising ones get good harvests. We are however noticing quite a bit of interest from neighbouring farmers, and anticipate a much faster spread over the next several years, with the help of the people Gaston trained last year.
Preparing to plant Inga seedlings at the school at Lakabo when Gaston visited in March. Photo Gaston Bityo.
- Gaston made a preliminary visit to the Baka in March this year. He planted some Inga seedlings that he brought to them at a school at Lakabo, and we have provided money to set up two nurseries to grow Inga seedlings. They are waiting and hoping that he will return and give them proper training and help with the Inga system. Please make a pledge and help us not to let them down.
HOW YOUR MONEY WILL BE USED
Rainforest Saver is run by volunteers. There are almost no overheads in the UK. All your money goes to the project. Of course we have to make payments to our Cameroon colleagues.
Gaston has an ancient truck, which we bought him in 2012, thanks to the very generous donation of one of our members. Gaston has given the truck very hard wear, taking Inga seedlings to far off places on terrible roads. So truck repairs and fuel cost a lot.
Such difficult travel makes the work very hard, but Gaston is a man of great dedication and perseverance.
Gaston’s truck bravely negotiating the hills and valleys on a typical rural Cameroon road to deliver Inga seedlings to where the slash and burn farmers live. Photos Gaston Bityo
Simply sitting the Baka down in a hall and giving them a lecture does not work well. It is not their way to learn. Indeed, it is not the way many of us learn best either. So there need to be slide shows and little video clips. Gaston already has a projector, but there is no electricity in Lakabo, so he needs a generator and screen too. These will be useful for many years to come.
He will travel with his co-driver and assistant, Denis Amougou. They will need food and accommodation in a hotel at Abong Mbang, which is about 40 to 50 km from Lakabo. Unfortunately they will have to travel daily between Lakabo and Abong Mbang. Gaston and Denis, particularly Denis, are tall, while the Baka are short. Their houses simply do not have adequate accommodation for tall people who need to be fresh to give good training.
We will provide some laminated instruction leaflets as reminders of how to farm with Inga, and for people to take away to show their friends and neighbours.
All the participants will be given at least one meal during the training. We hope to train some 20 people at Lakabo, but who knows how many more may turn up, and we will not turn them away.
There is another Baka community at Moloundou (see map above). We will pay the two days return travel for two people to come from there and for their food and accommodation during the training.
The Baka are very poor people and could not attend such training without us providing for them.
In summary the money will go towards:
- Fuel and maintenance for the truck for travel from Yaoundé to Abong Mbang and several trips between there and Lakabo
- Purchase of a generator and a screen
- Five nights food and accommodation for Gaston and Dennis in Abong Mbang
- At least one meal per day for at least 20 people over 3 days
- Return travel for two people to come from Moloundou to Lakabo, a two day trip each way
- Some payments to our Cameroon colleagues who have to manage the program, and of course to Denis Amougou to accompany Gaston on the trip
- Production of leaflets
- Some gifts, like basic tools, for the Baka
The target of £4325 covers only the essentials to enable Gaston to do the training with the Baka at Lakabo.
We would need another £1500 to include Miroundou as well. So for a third of the cost we could double our reach.
But we also need smaller amounts to buy equipment like a camera (with solar charger) for the Baka. Photos of how the Inga is progressing could be sent us from Abong Mbang and would enable us to give invaluable advice and encouragement,
A few extra pounds would buy them more useful tools. There is always a lack of basic tools for all the farmers we have worked with in Cameroon.
So we hope to raise a total of £7000 to maximise the benefits.
Rainforest Saver is a small UK based charity run by a small but passionate group of volunteers. We work with local organizations, currently in Cameroon, Honduras and Ecuador, to promote Inga alley cropping. As we are volunteers who work from home and communicate mostly by Skype and email among ourselves the overheads are small, so your donations go to the projects.
Inga alley cropping versus Slash and burn
In slash and burn farming the forest is cut and burned to clear the land for cultivation. The first year the soil is fertile and the crop is good. But after harvest the soil is left bare and the rains wash out the goodness from it. In a year or two it becomes infertile, and a new plot has to be cleared. Gradually the forest is destroyed, but the farmers remain poor. In earlier times with lesser population densities it worked because the cleared plot was given plenty of time to recover. But now a plot has to be reused too soon and so it keeps losing fertility, and eventually can become useless.
Slash and burn farming is a leading cause of rainforest destruction.
The destruction caused by slash and burn
- To live, farmers must keep destroying new forest
- The farmers remain very poor
- The local ecosystem is destroyed
- Carbon is pumped into the atmosphere and biodiversity is lost
- Forests help to maintain rainfall, so that too is diminished
With Inga Alley Cropping
Inga trees are planted as hedges with alleys between them. The trees are pruned and crops are grown in the alleys, with the prunings fertilizing the alleys. After the crops are harvested the trees regrow and the cycle is repeated year after year. The animation shows how this works in a section across one alley for the first three years.
- Farmers can grow enough to eat and also sell cash crops or surpluses
- The same plot is used long term so no new rainforest has to be destroyed
- No artificial fertilizers or pesticides are required, so the system is affordable and safe
- The production of firewood by this system takes pressure off the rainforest
This solution is unbelievably simple and yet very effective. It is not a hand out. It is a way for local populations to break out of poverty and become successful independent farmers without destroying the environment.
Why does Inga alley cropping work?
The fertility of rainforests is in the trees, not the soil. In an intact rainforest the nutrients are recycled from leaf litter through the tree roots to the trees. As the trees drop leaves they rot, release their nutrients, the tree takes these up, and the cycle is repeated.
Root nodules of the friendly bacteria in an Inga seedling that fix the nitrogen from the air to make it available for plants. Photo Gaston Bityo.
The Inga tree is a legume (like peas and beans) that increases fertility by fixing nitrogen (making it available to plants) and recycling nutrients, particularly phosphorus, with the aid of bacteria and fungi in its roots. Inga alley cropping imitates the natural rainforest by recycling the nutrients and providing a permanent protective cover of leaf litter on the ground so rains don’t wash the nutrients away, and it protects young crop seedlings from the hot sun.
A mature Inga alley, CURLA (the University), Honduras.
Why do we use the Inga tree (Inga edulis)?
Inga edulis was found to have special characteristics after much research by a British ecologist, Mike Hands, who studied many trees. It is a legume that fixes nitrogen, takes up phosphorus by mycorrhizae (fungi) in its roots, withstands repeated pruning, grows in the frequently acid rainforest soils, regrows fast and has a dense, broad crown that shades out weeds. Its leaves are thick and don’t rot too quickly, forming a permanent cover over the soil. Rainforest Saver is supporting research into other possible trees, but until these are tried and tested, we use Inga.
Why rainforests matter
You’re probably familiar with the immense value and beauty of natural rainforest, and how they store carbon, but here are some facts you might not know:
- They recycle water to provide rain over large areas
- By taking in water in their roots they reduce flooding and landslides.
- About a quarter of all our medicines, and half to three quarters of cancer medicines, contain a rainforest-derived ingredient.
- But we have studied less than one per cent of the plants and animals in them.
- The rosy periwinkle from Madagascar’s rainforest, which provided one of the earliest cancer cures, is now extinct in the wild.
- They are the wild source of many food plants. We need the wild genetic materials to improve pest, disease and climate change resistance
- They contain half the world’s species
We are doing this crowd funding in association with Martin Cradick of Global Music Exchange. We thank them for use of part of their video in our introductory video, for help with designing this webpage, for photos, for providing many good rewards, and for promoting this crowd funding.
Global Music Exchange works with the Baka musicians and gives the Baka a voice. For further information see http://www.globalmusicexchange.org/ and http://www.forestvoices.com
We also thank Kevin Miller (CEO, LiveCode Ltd) for doing the second half of our introductory video. Kevin is a founder member of Rainforest Saver, but before that ever existed at the age of 9 he founded a kid’s Save the Rainforest club, which provided some of the inspiration for this later adult version.
For more information visit www.rainforestsaver.org
Or email us at [email protected]
Rainforest Saver is a Scottish registered charity no. SC039007.
Global Music Exchange is a UK registered charity no. 1057668 http://www.globalmusicexchange.org
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Some images of rewards (not to scale and T-shirts, bags and cards may vary from those illustrated)