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Cameroon: Farmer harvests drought-tolerant sorghum in dry season

Moda Mahamat diligently transplants dry season sorghum, known locally as muskuwaari. She holds a bundle of seedlings in her left hand and places an individual plant in a previously drilled hole with her right. A friend walks in front of her, filling the holes with water to prepare them for the seedlings.

Mrs. Mahamat is a 27-year-old farmer from the village of Yonkolé, in the Far North region of Cameroon. She pauses between transplants and wipes the sweat from her brow with a hand towel. She has worked these fields since she got married ten years ago. The land is parched and barren in the dry season, and yields very little. She says: “I gave up trying to grow anything in these fields for two years. I didn’t think I could use the land in the dry season. The thought of the lost production on this useless land made me desperate.”

Mrs. Mahamat now grows sorghum on these heavy clay soils, which harden and become almost impervious to water during the eight- to nine-month dry season.

She finishes transplanting a row of seedlings and stops for another break. She perks up and says: “Before [adopting] muskuwaari, I grew millet and it took a lot of effort to water the field every day without any guarantee of a good harvest.” An extension officer advised her to try muskuwaari. Mrs. Mahamat is very happy that it needs much less water.

Carine Poaka is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Maroua, the capital of the Far North region. She is part of a team of researchers who developed a variety of muskuwaari at the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development.

Ms. Poaka says: “Muskuwaari is also known as ‘dry-season sorghum,’ or ‘off-season sorghum.’ [Its] main characteristic is its capacity to tolerate drought. Its roots are able to absorb the smallest of groundwater particles, and the plant uses these tiny reservoirs to grow. It is a capacity that no other [sorghum] seems to have.”

Ms. Poaka says that muskuwaari is a good crop to feed people when nothing else grows. She says: “In this region, clay soils were always unusable in the dry season. But the muskuwaari … does not like too much water and its growth cycle suits the dry season. Therefore, muskuwaari provides a second cereal crop [when nothing else will grow].”

Mrs. Mahamat now harvests about one and a half tonnes of sorghum per hectare during the dry season. The young lady pauses in her work for a few seconds to catch her breath. She says: “In the four years since I started growing muskuwaari, not only has my land become useful again, but I also have enough to feed my family, and I am even able to sell part of my harvest.”