Nelly Bassily | April 30, 2012
Olivier Forgha Koumbou washes some freshly picked carrots in a small brook and eats them with relish. His thriving farm in Cameroon’s North West region looks like a miracle in an area where vegetables have withered and died on surrounding farms.
Rains fell lightly here in early March, but it was not enough to prevent crops from dying. Traditional methods of irrigation failed. This year, the region has received only a fraction of its normal precipitation.
Forty-three-year-old farmer Tembene Tangwan says his farm failed him this year. Because of the low rainfall, he cannot use his usual method of irrigating his crops. He explains, “We used to pipe water from a higher altitude to our farms, and used sprinklers for irrigation. But now, the water sources are drying up, and the low pressure in the system cannot carry water through the pipes. We can only pray that the rains will come back.”
But his neighbour, 32-year-old Mr. Koumbou, is doing more than praying. Instead, Mr. Koumbou began harvesting water. He explains, “I discovered that during the night, the volume of water in the nearby stream increases. So I bought containers to store water in, and at night I take my farm workers to collect it. The water is then used during the day to irrigate the crops.”
Other farmers are now starting to follow his methods. Christopher Neba is one. “It’s the only way out,” he says.
Mr. Koumbou has been growing vegetable crops for 25 years. His mother introduced him to farming at a tender age. He remembers, “When I turned seven, I began accompanying my parents to the farm. I have remained a farmer ever since.”
Today, he makes an average annual profit of just under $5,000 U.S. He expects to do even better this year. He explains, “The fact that many farmers lost hope and abandoned their farms means that prices will rise significantly this year, and that means more profit for me. I do sympathize with my neighbours, but that is how things stand for now.”
Cletus Awah is the North West regional delegate for agriculture. He blames the water shortages on reckless agricultural practices. He explains, “We have told farmers to limit their farmlands to at least 15 metres away from water sources. But very often, they farm right on the riverbeds, destroying the vegetation that protects these water sources … therefore, water levels are bound to drop.”
Mr. Awah believes that solutions to the dwindling water supply will come when farmers begin to protect water sources. He adds, “Farmers must immediately stop farming too close to streams, brooks or wetlands.”
Mr. Koumbou has heeded the call, and admits that farmers are to blame for the dry water sources. He says, “We discovered that the marshy lands here were so fertile that we cultivated them without thinking of the consequences. Gradually, the water receded, and now we are paying the price. This year, I did not cultivate the marshy land on my farm. And that is why I still have some water.”
The regional department for agriculture supports water harvesting as a short-term solution. Mr. Awah continues, “As a matter of urgency, we plan to construct water storage facilities so that the little available water can be harvested and stored for eventual use by farmers to irrigate their crops.” He adds that a longer-term strategy is to plant trees that can help protect water sources.