Women farmers in western Cameroon are leading the way in commercial rice production, benefiting from new seeds and marketing opportunities that are helping them cope with climate stresses and provide for their families.
A program run by the Upper Nun Valley Development Authority (UNVDA), a government agro-industry body, aims to help rice farmers adopt better crop varieties, use water more efficiently and adapt to climate change. Cameroon’s Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD), together with international partners, has developed improved rice varieties that are more resistant to climate extremes, as well as farm technologies to increase rice productivity. In the last 15 years, scientists have released 18 varieties under a line called New Rice for Africa (NERICA), developed by the Africa Rice Center which crossed an African species tolerant to local stresses, including drought and pests, and a high-yielding Asian species.
“These varieties can resist submersion, droughts and high temperatures including pests and diseases,” said UNVDA General Manager Chin Richard Wirnkar.
The local development authority is involved in a project led by the Africa Rice Center which has established a “rapid impact” seed program to distribute new high-yield seed varieties to farmers. It also promotes post-harvest technologies like rice milling and packaging, processing activities, and stronger links with input dealers and micro-finance institutions. The project gives households opportunities to raise their income by developing new rice-based products like rice flour and husks for fuel, and exploring the use of rice in fortified foods, including vitamin-rich cereals.
The government acknowledges that achieving its plan to make Cameroon an emerging economy with double-digit growth by 2035 and implementing the new U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty and hunger depend largely on the economic empowerment of women. With renewed government interest in the rice sector in recent years, Cameroon has the potential to become a rice granary for the Central African region, according to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
Mary Agoh, 52, farms rice on 15 hectares (37 acres) of land in Ndop, in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, from which she now comfortably feeds her family, selling her surplus to wholesale buyers to boost her income. In a country where 40% of the population lives below the poverty line, Agoh is now counted among the wealthy. She and Ndop’s other women rice farmers are helping boost Cameroon’s rice production to unprecedented levels.
Cameroon’s 1996 constitution grants women the same rights as men to access, own and control land, and also allows them to participate in decision-making on land matters, but customary norms have made it hard for women to obtain land. When UNVDA launched its project in 2012 to support over 13,000 rice farmers nationwide with improved seeds, fertiliser, herbicide, information, training and equipment rental, the women in Ndop did not want to miss out. With help from the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests (REFACOF), they held a series of protests, pushing local authorities to allocate them land so they could join men in commercial rice farming.
Ngang and Agoh are just two of millions of African women farmers who have suffered from cultural practices or laws denying them access to land. But their success in overcoming those barriers suggest things may be changing in Cameroon.
Source Elias Ntungwe Ngalame