Building resilience to food insecurity one bean at a time

By Mirabelle Enaka Kima, IFRC

Heavy rains and flooding are nothing new to the people of Cameroon’s Far North region. Almost every year, they bring devastation and misery. Last year was the worst in recent memory, with heavy downpours causing rivers to burst their banks, damaging and destroying homes, valuable farmland and people’s livelihoods.

To help families rebound quicker, the Japanese government, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and the Cameroon Red Cross Society launched a food security project in March. Its goal is to teach people in the communities of Pouss and Guirvidic improved farming techniques in order to sustain their livelihoods.

Project beneficiaries include 11 Common Initiative Groups (CIGs) which were allocated a total of 29 hectares of land for the cultivation of maize, rice, rainy season sorghum, groundnuts, beans and vegetables. The project also has a small ruminant and poultry rearing component.

“We are very happy to have benefited from this initiative, especially since we lost everything during last year’s floods,” says Houmssa Fabrice, a CIG member in Taiguedougui village, which received three hectares for a rice farm. “We have been working hard since we started planting and are more than determined to make good use of what we harvest.”

Planting started in July and a couple of months later, crops of maize and sorghum, already as tall as people, now grace the landscape. However, there have been some challenges and crop yields will be slightly lower than expected.

“The gaps can be attributed to the clay in the soil of the site allocated for this maize crop,” says Tinga Tchaoussala, the project’s technical supervisor. “As for the rice, weeds invaded farms and greatly affected yields, while sorghum and groundnut farms were severely attacked by insects.”

The project is currently entering its second phase, which consists of preparing and guiding CIGs in the management and marketing of their produce. During this phase, crop-drying areas will be constructed and a training workshop on drying, storing and conservation techniques will be organized in October. A management module will also be addressed.

However, the project goes beyond the growing and marketing of vegetables. With support from the French Red Cross, villagers are being taught about nutrition and how to get the most from their food. During a pilot cooking demonstration, women learned about good household feeding practices, how to prevent malnutrition, and the basics of a proper diet for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Lessons also focused on the composition of local foodstuffs, good cooking methods for preserving food nutrients, and traditional food preservation techniques, such as drying, smoking and salting. In addition to these basic elements of nutrition, participants were also briefed on good hygiene practices, with the women participating wholeheartedly in the hand-washing exercise.