Cecilia Jumni, a local farmer in the village of Bamendankwe in Bamenda I sub division, Mezam division of the North West region stands akimbo on the edge of her farm, as she gazes at what is left of the ridges she had made weeks back and on which she had planted seeds for food crops such as cocoyams, yams, cassava, maize, Irish potatoes and beans.
With a frown on her face, she moves around the farm, inspecting the gullies that have been dug by runoff from heavy rains.
In some areas, the runoff had completely swept away the ridges, also carrying away the seeds, some of which had already begun germinating.
“I prepared my farm weeks ago and it was ready for planting. I waited for the rains to come for me to start planting, but the rains took longer to come than it was usual. When the rains finally came, I planted, and now the rains were too heavy, leading to huge runoffs that have completely destroyed my farm,” she laments.
In a nearby farm, a neighbouring food crop farmer, Grace Atahsiri, is also worried.
“We used to produce a lot of cocoyams, yams, cassava, maize, Irish potatoes and beans, which we either consumed ourselves or sold in the market,” she said, pointing at the few shoots of crops germinating on her farm”.
“What we are harvesting now is nothing compared to 10, 20 or so years ago,” she says.
“The irregular and erratic rainfall is making growing food crops harder,” Atahsiri adds.
“The last three years have been the worst,” she says.
Weather patterns have changed so much that farmers can no longer predict when the rains will start or stop.
Hard time knowing when rains will begin or end
Farmers in the North West region have for years now been grappling with the problem of erratic rainfall. They have been having hard time knowing when the rains will begin or end as climate change is gradually rendering the traditional agricultural calendar unreliable.
Farmers around Bamendain years past, customarily planted in March, when they expected the rains to start. However, in recentyears, rains have started late, stopped early, or run long. Sometimes they start and then stop after only a few days, causing crops to wither.
As a result of this, farmers plant their seeds several times from March up until May or June when the rains begin. This means they spend more on seeds and other farm inputs such as fertilizers and by extension the revenue they generate from crops dwindles.
“Due to climate change, rainfall is now not onlyirregular and unpredictable but when it rains, floods in the form of runoffs come in and damage farms and crops. With the erratic rains and climate induced floods, local farmers have noticed a drop in crop yields, and by extension declining revenue,” Kari Jackson, Executive Director of civil society organisation, Sustainable Run for Development, SURUDEV, says.
On his part, Fongoh Eric, Executive Director of International Centre for Environmental Education & Community Development, ICENECDEV, says “erratic rainfall has an adverse effect on farmers’ harvests, and shifting in planting season, meaning families do not have enough to feed themselves or sell to generate revenue for other needs”.
Farmer, Cecilia Jumniadds that “the erratic nature of the rains are affecting us tremendously,” noting further that: “Some of the crops we produce we sell in the market to raise money to take care of the school needs of our children and other needs. But with more expenditure in terms of farm inputs and sometimes triple labour, the revenue we make from food crops has dropped drastically”.
On her part, Grace Atahsiri says: “Last year’s weather was particularly alarming. Rains fell for far longer than they usually did.I have never witnessed a year that rain falls from March right up to December”.
“When I planted my crops, the rains stopped and the crops languished. After I replanted, the rains fell heavily and runoff destroyed them,” Atahsiriregrets.
Atahsiri continues that: “This year I decided that I will only plant when the rains have started. They did in March. So I planted, but to my greatest dismay, they stopped a few days later and resumed in May. I was unable to harvest even half the quantity of crops I did the previous year. We are really in a dire situation”.
Huge negative impact on farmers
The traditional ruler of Guzang, Momo division of the North West region, FonGwanMbanyamsig III, who is president of the association, Cameroon Traditional Rulers Against Climate Change, CAMTRACC, says: “The devastating effects of climate change which some people still do not believe is real has had a very negative impact on Cameroon farmers in terms of drop of yield which is linked to revenue.When the rains come late, beating the calculations of the farmers, their seeds are seriously affected and when the theory of demand and supply is applied, the poor farmers are hard hit”.
“The only thing that can salvage farmers is a change of attitude from the traditional farming methods, use of fertilisers which government is promoting and the use of mixed farming techniques,” he advises.
He discloses that CAMTRACC, which has been existing for over 10 years, has been at work, trying to educate the rural populations on how to combat climate change in order to improve their crop yields.
“Since we traditional rulers are with the population round the clock, we sensitise them against some of those old traditional farming practices like the burning of the soil that instead reduces the fertility of the soil,the planting of eucalyptus trees along catchment areas which instead help to reduce the water table. We also sensitise them on the need toinvolve of women and the youth in the fight against climate change,” he says.
“Successively, we have succeeded in spreading the Bali example of how to curb ‘ankara’ (bush burning),encouraged the protection of water catchment areas in Guzang, Bambui and Baba I and the involvement of the youth of Guzang and Nsongwa in the sensitisation,” Fon Mbanyamsig III says.
“One of the most important actions we have succeeded in promoting is the rehabilitation of our sacred forests in Mankon,Nkambe and Nsongwa.Before the socio-political rough climate erupted in the North West and South West regions,we had plans of engaging traditional Doctors in the fight against climate change since most of their medicines come from the forest,” he discloses further.
Gov’t moves to mitigate
Nonetheless, the government of Cameroon is not lying on its laurels as far as mitigating this situation is concerned. It has set up a National Observatory on Climate Change to monitor its effects on the country’s agriculture and ecosystems.
To make sure climate and weather predictions are available for useful decision-making, the Cameroon government has about 15 meteorological surveillance centres around the country.
However, some of the meteorological centres are broken down and lack of people trained to use them means farmers are often frustrated by a lack of information they can use. Sometimes, also, the information comes late.
*Solomon Tembang is the Managing Editor of Cameroon’s lone English-Language daily, The Guardian Post.He has special interest in environment, politics, extractive industries, human and digital rights, health, agriculture