Farmers in the region of northwest Cameroon used to watch their vegetable patches dry up and die in drought periods, even though nearby rivers and streams offered a steady flow of water. Getting the water to the fields was nearly impossible because the area’s steep, rocky terrain made carrying it hugely difficult.
Now a channel irrigation system is allowing farmers to access water for their fields, helping them grow vegetables throughout the year and better manage worsening drought associated with climate change. The system uses a network of farmer-built canals that rely on gravity to bring stream water to fields in Cameroon’s Akum and Santa districts. The two districts sit in a semi-arid area of the country, but streams from the lush highlands flow through it, making irrigation a good option.
Farmers built the canals starting in 2013 with financial help from Cameroon’s government, backed by a $25 million loan from the African Development Bank. Some farmers also built small water storage tanks to capture water when plenty is available and save it for very dry periods. The project is part of an effort to provide climate change adaptation assistance in drought-hit areas, said Benjamin Fobuzo, who is in charge of project execution for government rural development efforts in North West Cameroon.
The irrigation project has raised annual vegetable production in the two districts by about 37,000 tonnes since 2013, and boosted farmer income from an average of about $425 a year in 2013 to about $615 this year, according to Gregory Muluh Ngu, the head of government rural development programs in the North West region.
The building, monitoring and maintenance of the irrigation system – including channels, water catchments and small dams in a few areas – is carried out by farmers. The systems serve around 139,000 farmers and 84,600 agricultural laborers, who use it to grow vegetables such as tomato, cucumber, lettuce and okra, Muluh said.
The irrigation project has helped cut shortages of vegetables, particularly during the dry season, and helped boost the planting success of farmers during that period from less than 10% to over 90%, Nutoto said.