Crowd funding for the Baka

Aim

To teach sustainable farming to the Baka (Pygmies) of Cameroon, to replace slash and burn, thus improving their lives and saving rainforests, in response to their requesting this help.

 

Background

Cradled in the heart of the African rainforest is one of the oldest and most sensitive musical cultures on the planet. This is home to the Baka Forest People, Pygmy hunter-gatherers, living in a world of natural sounds where to listen is to ensure survival. Over thousands of years their culture has become extraordinarily musical, song and dance permeate their lives for ritual, for fun, and to unite and create harmony within the group.

 

Baka children. Photo Martin Cradick

 

The problem

Their traditional lifestyle is being denied them as they are being forced out of their forest home to live in roadside villages. While they lived in the forest without outside interference they lived well on the bounty of the forest. Now they face extreme poverty, discrimination and exploitation, and are made ashamed of their forest traditions.

 As well as being hunter-gatherers, the Baka have always also planted some crops. Now that they are being forced to settle in smaller and smaller areas their traditional “slash and burn” method of agriculture is no longer sustainable. Without their being able to move to new fields, allowing the forest to reclaim the old, the fragile soil soon loses its nutrients.

 Our solution

 We have had great success with the Inga method (see below) in re-fertilising seriously degraded soil. We have done on farm comparisons of adjacent plots, sown and harvested at the same time with the same seed, with and without Inga. These have been on previously used, severely degraded land. Invariably the Inga plot produced a much greater yield, in one case 75 kg of maize from the Inga plot, compared to only 5 from the comparison plot. So the Inga method should be of great benefit to the Baka.

 

THE PROJECT

The Cameroon Inga Project plans to work with the Baka village of Lakabo near Abong Mbang (map below). Being both connected to populated cities by tarmac roads, and next to the Dja Reserve, the Baka have been living in this village for over 40 years. Old abandoned plantations have been taken over by bracken, poisoning the soil and denuding it of nutrients. Farming with Inga will rejuvenate this land and provide a sustainable future for the Baka.

 In association with Global Music Exchange, the project will show local Baka how to farm using the Inga Alley Cropping method that we are pioneering. We will also invite Baka from other villages further afield to learn the techniques, including 2 Baka from Gbiné, the village where Global Music Exchange works, which is near Moloundou. They will travel to Lakabo to learn Inga Alley cropping techniques.

 Our Cameroon partner, Gaston Bityo Delor will deliver the project. Rainforest Saver has worked with him for eight years. He is an expert in implementing Inga alley cropping, and has given three successful trainings to farmers and community leaders in Cameroon.

Gaston Bityo Delor

Rough map of Cameroon. People from the marked towns to the East and North of the Baka region have had trainings from Gaston.

 

He and his assistant and co-driver, Denis Amougou, will travel to Abong Mbang from Yaoundé (about 230 kilometres) and give three days training with slides and practical experience of planting out Inga seedlings, explaining how to do it, what the benefits are and what crops can be grown in an Inga alley (a great many). Additionally the growing of fruit trees can be included, as well as discussion of wider issues like climate change, the effect of deforestation on local and wider rainfall, and even some discussion of the adverse effects of excessive hunting in that animal populations help disperse rainforest tree seeds.

 If we manage to raise enough money with the stretch goals Gaston will also give a second training at Mindourou.

 

FURTHER REASONS WHY THIS PROJECT IS NEEDED

 Inga alley cropping will help the Baka, who are a very marginalised group and in need of help, both now and, once the Inga system is established, in the future as they will be able to expand it and benefit for many years to come without depending on further input from us. Furthermore, by introducing the Inga to the Baka in this new region of Cameroon we hope that it will disseminate widely to the surrounding community after good harvests are seen to have been obtained.

 

Baka carrying firewood from the forest. Inga alley cropping provides firewood as well as good crops. Photo Martin Cradick.

 

At the same time it will help to reduce the loss of rainforests. Unless the many different groups who currently live by slash and burn farming are provided with a sustainable alternative they have little choice but to slowly destroy the forests in order to survive. So teaching sustainable farming is essential to save the rainforests. We hear a lot about the roles of logging and palm oil and cattle ranching, etc. as destroyers of rainforests, and of course these play an increasingly big part, often by pushing the small slash and burn farmers off their land. But slash and burn farming is still very important, particularly in Africa.

Degradation of the environment can lead to the to loss of livelihoods, which in turn can lead to migration, and even to young men joining terrorist groups.

 

 In slash and burn farming the forest is cut and burned to clear the land for cultivation. The first year the soil is fertile and the crop is good. But after harvest the soil is left bare and the rains wash out the goodness from it. In a year or two it becomes infertile, and a new plot has to be cleared. Gradually the forest is destroyed, but the farmers remain poor. In earlier times with lesser population densities it worked because the cleared plot was given plenty of time to recover. But now a plot has to be reused too soon and so it keeps losing fertility, and eventually can become useless.

 Slash and burn farming is a leading cause of rainforest destruction.

 

                                       The destruction caused by slash and burn

Everyone loses:

•       To live, farmers must keep destroying new forest

•       The farmers remain very poor

•       The local ecosystem is destroyed

•       Carbon is pumped into the atmosphere and biodiversity is lost

•       Forests help to maintain rainfall, so that too is diminished

With Inga Alley Cropping

Inga trees are planted as hedges with alleys between them. The trees are pruned and crops are grown in the alleys, with the prunings fertilizing the alleys. After the crops are harvested the trees regrow and the cycle is repeated year after year.

 Everyone wins: 

•       Farmers can grow enough to eat and also sell cash crops or surpluses

•       The same plot is used long term so no new rainforest has to be destroyed

•       No artificial fertilizers or pesticides are required, so the system is affordable and safe

•       The production of firewood by this system takes pressure off the rainforest

This solution is unbelievably simple and yet very effective. It is not a hand out. It is a way for local populations to break out of poverty and become successful independent farmers without destroying the environment. 

 

Why does Inga alley cropping work?

The fertility of rainforests is in the trees, not the soil. In an intact rainforest the nutrients are recycled from leaf litter through the tree roots to the trees. As the trees drop leaves they rot, release their nutrients, the tree takes these up, and the cycle is repeated.

Root nodules of the friendly bacteria in an Inga seedling that fix the nitrogen from the air to make it available for plants. Photo Gaston Bityo.

 

The Inga tree is a legume (like peas and beans) that increases fertility by fixing nitrogen (making it available to plants) and recycling nutrients, particularly phosphorus, with the aid of bacteria and fungi in its roots. Inga alley cropping imitates the natural rainforest by recycling the nutrients and providing a permanent protective cover of leaf litter on the ground so rains don’t wash the nutrients away, and it protects young crop seedlings from the hot sun.

 

A mature Inga alley, CURLA (the University), Honduras.

 

The crowd funding for this project was successfully completed on 31st July 2017, and the project will go ahead in the near future.

 

THANK YOU VERY MUCH