Friday, October 18, 2013

BIO GAS: Reaping the Double Dividends

Aaron kaah  yancho
Bamenda /Cameroon.

Grass field of CameroonFor decades making good use of the earth’s natural resources for the improvement of their livelihoods was the challenging task faced by farm families in the grass field of Cameroon. The rapid population growth in rural communities saw an encroachment into forest land for the cultivation of food crops.

Unknowingly what the consequences will bring the disappearance of the forest attracted  desertification and soil erosion. “It was just a matter of time as these peasant farmers started experiencing droughts” 

Tah Kenneth Konsum the country Director of the …..Society for the Promotion of Initiatives in Sustainable Development  and Welfare SOPISDEW at the foot of the Kilum Mountain forest told this reporter.  These droughts in some areas brought prolonged dry seasons and  climate changes. As these farmers cultivated and planted densely on the same pieces of land, the output of their farm work was relatively low. “As a results of unfertile soils most of these farmers subsisted in poverty, unable to feed their families and to sources income for the education of their children” Kenneth remarked. In an effort to turn the tide these farming communities wanted to farm with in organic fertilizers but with no money means this was only a wish. “With no cash in our pockets to bargain for fertilizers, most of us women in the communities lived in agony” Mme Ndikum Mary a queen mother at the Akum community explained.

In search of hope  and external support most of these farmer groups were forging alliances and  working in cooperatives. “We wanted to share and market our ideas, animals and food crops together” one optimistic farmer Tamasang Elias said. However these plans were only well articulated on paper because of the stagnation most of the legalized farming self help groups in the communities were experiencing.
“Over burdened  by the worries of the farmers and their hardship we were guiding them to apply for external funding and technical support on how to skip out of misery through farming” Sama Claris an Agric Extension workers in Santa Sub division explained.  By good luck Heifer Project International (HPI) was already working in Cameroon. Some of these groups met them for help in any way. “We were assisting farmers in livestock development and care for the earth” Dr Njakoi Henry HPI country representative at the time said. According to the Heifer Staff, it was however a task to make local farmers accept  integrated  dairy cattle farming as a way to improve their livelihoods because the local farmers saw  this as a thing of the Fulani pastoralist. “Successful dairy examples set in  by some local farmers in the dairy project helped to changed this stereotypes” Dr Henry said. Gradually farmers were taught simple ways of pasture development for cattle, tree planting  and integrated livestock management skills by HPI Cameroon with the support of  some Government extension services.

“We came in and supported the initiative by asking farmers to fence their livestock so as to use the waste in repairing their farm fields” Dr Aghari Walter of the North West Regional delegation of Livestock, fisheries and Animal industries in Bamenda remarked. Constant Education became a vital key in the empowerment of these farmers. “We started enjoying opportunities we never believed could came through animals”. Akumbom Godlove a peasant farmer at the Babanki community in the outskirt of Bamenda told this reporter.    When Heifer Project International Cameroon introduced the integrated livestock farming systems to  Rural farmers in Cameroon, most farm families with 2-3 animals like pigs and dairy cattle wanted more out of the venture. “We wanted to reduce our workload of carrying fire wood for fuel and  cooking and by trimming utility bills through adopting and experimenting domestic bio gas installation units which we heard were assisting farmers in other countries of the world” Achiri Christopher a pioneer farmer with the Bamendakwe mixed dairy farmers group said. Wanting to dream like these farmers and to contribute to restoring land production potentials by reducing green house gas emissions, HPI Cameroon got the financial assistance of the Small Grant Programme of the United Nations Development Programme in Cameroon to adopt  domestic bio gas installation units for thousands of farm families involve in zero grazing cattle rearing.

                               More Ray’s of Hope
Accordingly these Bio Gas installation units are cheap and easy to install, simple to run and require no maintenance in the first few years after installation. The benefits came in two folds. “An almost free renewable green energy and a by product called Slurry –a very rich food crop fertilizer” Prof Ali Festus of HPI Cameroon said.  Produced by action of bacteria on organic material like manure or food crop waste in airless tight conditions, the concept is simple. Through Heifer Cameroon and some development stakeholders in the country, Farmers have learned how to build and install  the main parts of a basic  under ground gas plant. (The Inlet, Digester, Gas Holder, and Out let). The inlet is where manure families deposit  organic waste or manure. The digester is made of bricks  or stone walls. It is an airtight chamber where bacteria decomposes the manure until it decomposes in to  bio gas and slurry. This chamber is linked above to a gas holder where green energy is pipe to homes for cooking and lighting. Below the chamber there is an outlet through which the slurry flows and is collected as a rich food crop fertilizer for  food crops cultivation. This easy to manage procedures explains why  more than ten thousand farmers  in the grass field of Cameroon have turned to  domestic bio gas installations of recent. “Over time these bio gas installations which are constructed through micro finance programs generate the income with which these local farmers pay for the installation in their respective self help groups” Ali Festus this project coordinator for HPI said.

Farmers like Wih Linus a father of 7children in the depths of the Babanki community and along side some 21 farm families belonging to the “help the children’s future” common initiative group  are now prizing the protection of their environment above all things  in their community. “We are trimming utility bills   and  avoid cutting of trees for fuel wood thanks to the installation of these bio gas installations” Linus said. The fortunes trapped  by these individual families from not paying electricity bills or buying paraffin  for lighting  has reverberated  in to their communities. “Our children study well at home  at night and we are enjoying being able to charge our cell phones” Akumbom Godlove a farmer in that community said. At the  santa community  some 15KM from the city of bamenda, barren soils had long frustrated  the wishes of more than five thousand farmers in that community. “In agony most of our youth migrated to the cities in search of odd jobs” Chief  Joe Akuforgwe in the community remarked. The introduction of  bio gas slurry manure was a stitch in time that saved nine at the locality.

 “Our achievement are more than what we expected  after  experimenting  our farm work with this manure” Atanga Max  a  father of  12 children living at the edge of a farming slope  told this reporter. Pointing  to a green slope  of  Irish potato, maize, cocoyam and  plantain, Max said  intensive cultivation with slurry had  spring surprises  for  farmers  experimenting this technology. “I harvested 12000 bags of vegetable  thanks to slurry manure from my bio gas unit as against 500 in the past and 3000tins of Irish of
Potato as opposed to 20 in the past years”  Ndifor George  told us at his food crop ware house where he was  loading  food crops to the market. Income saved through farming with the slurry compost manure has helped farmers across the score board not only to secure full bellies in Cameroon but to pay for emergency expenses like the education of their children, new houses  and the to afford hospital bills. At the Babanki , Akum,  Santa , and some  areas of north Cameroon women farmers who were once relegated to the back ground due to poverty are now taking up positions as community leaders and bread winners  thanks to this latest farming technique which has brought them  double dividends.  “I’m able to pay  my children ‘s school fee…… and I have what it takes for a widow to be a happy” Agnes Bih leader of a women’s mobilization force told us elatedly.

Trying endless possibilities with slurry manure has resulted to some  unimaginable achievements for some farmers. “When we are farming in distant areas we dry the slurry manure to make it lighter to carry” Mme Atungsirri Martha  told us as he loaded  the  stuff in to bags. Though the dry and wet slurry are good for the fertilization of farm fields,  experts in this technology like Mary Ndikum at the santa community think the wet slurry is better because  of its high nitrogen content. Showing us   round a large hectares of pepper and  carrot fields another farmer Achirri Chris  opined that the after spraying the leaves of  his vegetables with slurry water… the liquid acted as an insecticide  and fungicide. “We have been overwhelmingly glad to discover this cheap and affordable technology” Chris told us.

                                                         Looking beyond

Without livestock  these successful Cameroon farm families will find it challenging in future to  sustain their projects. According to experts  they must be a steady depositing  of dung in to the inlet for the bio gas  unit  and for all necessary procedures to be followed  for the plant to function properly. Accidentally putting cosmetic oils in to the plant have caused most units not to function well. “I just discovered that because we had connected out toilet and bath to the inlet  the plant was no longer working” Marie Ndifor narrated  to us. The lack of adequate expertise on the part of women to manage these bio gas plants  is  a concern for Heifer International Cameroon. “if women who are mostly concern with running the homes are not properly taught how to  manage these bio gas plants they is an issue of sustainability”  Njini Victor director for the center of appropriate technology  told us. Because  slurry also generates a lot of weeds in the farm fields which neccesistate intensive cultivation it is feared that with income some of these farmers will go back to chemical fertilizers despite the benefits that accrue  from slurry.
Co-opting women in to the training  sessions of how  to handle these plants is ongoing.  The  effort by some of these farm families to market this green renewable energy to their neighbors is brewing quarrels over  how the bills should be meted  out. While these farmers and their neighbors are exalted to share their  fortunes in love some farmers not aided externally are trying to build  bio gas installation units on their own. “We have experienced  some poor installations which are now a source of pollution to the environment”. Achirri George a  technician on this technology claimed.  What ever the few challenges   experienced,  they are strong  testimonies from the field from farmers who on one hand take the liberty to thank the development stakeholders  for assisting them to improving the wealth of their environment  by reducing the emission of green gases, save their forest and land potentials and for achieving their goals in life. As these farmers continuously stick together  and as they show  love  and care in kind and cash it is hoped that food security in Cameroon is guarantee for many years to come. This report was produced with the support of The African Story Challenge @ African Media Initiative.

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