Smallholder farmers in Cameroon benefit from landscape restoration efforts

Capacity building and needs assessment at the local level
Arnaud Ngoumtsa, Josephine Makueti and Sven Schuppener
People pour water from watering cans onto decomposing vegetation
Making compost GIZ/Josephine Makueti

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Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH’s Forest and Environment Programme (ProPFE) piloted several community-based reforestation projects across Cameroon’s Far North Region. Since 2017, various soil rehabilitation and landscape restoration techniques in Mogazang, Laf and Moudine have been tested. These techniques can help scale up forest and landscape restoration in a region threatened with soil degradation and desertification.

By Arnaud Ngoumtsa, Josephine Makueti and Sven Schuppener

Laf is located in the Mayo-Kani, a department in the Extreme-Nord Province of Cameroon. “Mayo” means dry riverbed. It refers to a vast empty trench during dry season, which turns into a torrential river as soon as the rains come. We visited in early October and by mere chance we did not get wet.  Instead, we waded through the mud to visit a few fields. The land owners, a group of smallholder famers, toured us around and explained how they had restored the degraded soils. We were led to a previously abandoned plot of land that farmer Adaroung Tchamba told us is comprised of hard and unproductive soils.

We were there to find out how subsistence agriculture can help restore degraded landscapes. As we continued our walkabout, some straw yellow blossoms, a species called crotalaria, caught our attention. The plant is not endemic, yet it is a very important flower.

“It provides nitrogen to the main crops,” explained Adaroung, who had adopted intercropping and crop rotation, combining such species as Mucuna pruriens, Crotolaria, and Dolichos lablab (which provide nitrogen to the soil) with forage species such as Bracharia ruriziensis (which will be used to feed livestock), food crops (millet, maize, cowpea, rice), and cash crops such as cotton. In a small nursery nearby, the farmers grow the plants themselves.

Advanced composting techniques make the farmers independent from costly chemical fertilizers and growing boundary hedges (Acacia nilotica) helps stop animals from roaming into the field. Cattle invasions, for instance, can devastate a field and cause conflicts between farmers and pastoralists. The biomass of the hedges also serves as additional beneficial fertilizer for the field.

“The results are incredible — now my neighbors want to use all these techniques as well,” said farmer Hamidou Diguir.

   Plant production facility in Mogazang, Cameroon. GIZ/Josephine Makueti

Scaling up community-based restoration

So far, Adaroung and his colleagues have successfully restored 6.61 ha of abandoned fields in Laf and Maoudine. Additionally, 50 km away in Mogazang, another 10 hectares have been revitalized.

Josephine Makueti from the GIZ (Germany’s international development agency) Forest and Environment Programme (ProPFE) supported the farmers with a series of theoretical and practical training sessions.

“This year, we are restoring almost 23 hectares, which corresponds to the area of around 32 football pitches,” she said.

What might sound negligible at first has the potential to be used across the region.

“These farmers have developed very useful, localized agroforestry techniques and tested them over years,” said Malin Elsen, a forest landscape restoration expert at ProPFE who wants to scale up theses approaches. Makueti and her colleagues systematized this local knowledge and now plan to share and expand the soil restoration models they compiled.

From Laf to Mogazang

We continued to Mogazang, a small community just outside the regional capital Maroua. Here, nearly 80 percent of the adults involved in restoration were women. Atem Efluetlancha is a junior advisor and works closely with the communities; he thinks that engaging women and young people is the key to successful landscape restoration.  “You wouldn’t see any trees here if it wasn’t for the ladies,” he said.

Mogazang is a small valley lined with bald hills, stripped of vegetation. The landscape consists of agricultural plots and severely degraded grazing areas. Rainwater and winds drain the soil from the hillside slopes and silt up watersheds and sources. In a first step to restoration, the community has started to reforest the hills to protect the watershed.

Livelihoods and mosaic restoration

“We want to go a step further and work towards mosaic restoration,” Efluetlancha said. Especially in densely populated areas like Mogazang, diverse land use limits restoration options.

Mosaic restoration is a holistic concept that allows the integration of trees into fields and grazing areas. Then trees and bushes become a productive part of the landscape and increase its productivity – as they have done in Laf.

“In our nurseries, we grow popular and adapted local species such as balanites, vitellaria, moringa, azadirachta,” said Vorom Dedeo, a farmer in Mogazang. The community also uses herbaceous biomass for the production and sale of fodder essential for feeding livestock during the dry season.

“Depending on the season, we sell a bale of hay for up to 2,000 CFA francs ($3.40) – that’s how we make our living,” Vorom said.

   Weighing straw in Mogazang, Cameroon. GIZ/Josephine Makueti

“Local livelihoods must be at the centre of all forest and landscape restoration projects,” Elsen said.

She and her colleagues dedicated much of their time to capacity building and needs assessment at the local level. Now they plan to apply the techniques they developed in Laf and Maoudine in Mogazang and other landscape restoration projects across the region.

However, one obstacle prevails: land tenure.

In Mogazang, as well as almost everywhere in Cameroon, land titles do not exist. The country’s recently adopted national forest landscape restoration strategy highlights the importance of land ownership, yet, land disputes are usually resolved by traditional, religious and administrative authorities.

Currently, customary law seems to be the only way to secure land ownership. Another reason for Makueti, Elsen and their colleagues to continue working with local communities and their leaders.

All views are the authors own, and not those of the Center for International Forestry Research.
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