Cameroon: Helping marginalized farmers find a voice (IPS)

| January 13, 2014

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Lydia Njang is a widow and mother of five from Cameroon’s Northwest Region who has lost her farmland three times.

The first time was when her husband died and her in-laws inherited his land. Although the in-laws gave her another plot to use, she had to give that up when her brother-in-law married. She was allowed to farm on a third plot of land, but this was eventually sold.

Mrs. Njang said: “I’m left with a very small plot of 150 square metres, where I can only grow [maize]. But this is not even enough to feed my family. Before, I had farms in very fertile places and I used to sell my surplus harvest, but I no longer have the right to farm there.”

Mary Fosi works at the Myrianthus Fosi Foundation, a local NGO involved in promoting a sustainable environment in Cameroon. She says Mrs. Njang’s experience is a common one in Cameroon.

Ms. Fosi says: “The rich buy large portions of land for investment, leaving the poor community members, most especially women, with nothing to farm on and [leaving] poor people to fight over the remaining small pieces of land.”

Princely Njong works for Initiative for Equality, a global NGO. Mr. Njong organizes public meetings for local communities as part of the NGO’s Equity and Sustainability Field Hearings project. He has found that Cameroonians want land reform to be part of efforts at reducing poverty.

Deborah Rogers is the global coordinator of the Equity and Sustainability Field Hearings. She says that the NGO is assisting rural people to “… empower themselves to have a direct and collective community voice. [This] is much stronger than isolated individuals or the thoughts of civil society groups.”

It is difficult for private individuals to acquire title deeds under Cameroon’s current land tenure system. The process is a costly and drawn-out procedure that only the wealthy can afford. According to the 1974 Land Law, all unregistered land in Cameroon belongs to the State. This includes farmland and communal land held under customary law.

There have also been a number of cases of land grabbing in Cameroon, with hundreds of thousands of hectares of land taken away from local communities by national- and foreign-owned agricultural companies.

Celestin Ondoa works with Cameroon’s Department of Rural Engineering and Improvement of the Rural Living Environment. She agrees it is vital that poorer Cameroonians have a say in the decisions that affect them if they are to benefit from economic growth.

Ms. Ondoa says, “In the past, vulnerable women, youth, indigenous people and other marginalized groups have been excluded from the formulation and planning of development activities.”

She adds that communities in Cameroon lack access to basic services, and are marginalized from social and economic opportunities. Rural people struggle with land conflicts, poor infrastructure, corruption and land grabbing, all of which are aggravated by environmental degradation.

Irene Kimbi farms in the small village of Nshi-o-doh in Cameroon’s Northwest Region. The community of about 1,500 grows beans, maize and potatoes. She agrees that working together would strengthen farmers’ position when facing companies which come to the community to buy up land. Mrs. Kimbi thinks that creating an agricultural co-operative in her village would improve their

She says, “It could help us cope with farming and market difficulties and will also reduce poverty in our community.”